Asia Cup: History of the continental cricket tournament
Asia is probably the only continent which has a sizeable number of nations playing international cricket. Of the ten test playing nations, currently four countries (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh) are from Asia. Though Bangladesh is a relatively newer entrant to the test Cricket club; India, Pakistan & Sri Lanka have been regular test playing nations for a long time.
As a result, in 1983, The Asian Cricket Council (ACC); continent’s regional administrative body came up with the idea of having a tournament for the Asian countries to promote goodwill among them. The first tournament was held in the very next year in Sharjah and the participating nations were India, Pakistan & Sri Lanka.
Marred by political tension in the region
The tournament which was started as a means to promote harmony among the Asian neighbors has been affected by political tension in the region more than once. In 1986, the second edition of the Asia Cup; defending champions India did not participate due to strained relationships with their southern neighbors Sri Lanka.
Similarly in 1990, Pakistan stayed out of the tournament as they refused to tour India. The next edition in 1993 had to be cancelled completely due to the rising tension between India & Pakistan.
Sri Lanka has been the most consistent team
Thankfully for cricket lovers, the tournament has been going on smoothly since the 1995 edition in Sharjah. And over the years, it has been the stage for some great individual as well as team performances. Sri Lanka has been by far the most consistent team in the Asia Cup with a winning percentage of over 70% followed by India & Pakistan who have a winning percentage of 61%.
Given their consistency, it is no wonder that both the leading run scorer and highest wicket taker in Asia Cup are from Sri Lanka. While Sanath Jayasuriya is the leading scorer with 1220 runs, off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan leads the list of wicket takers with 30 wickets.
Since its inception in 1984, the tournament has seen 13 editions and three winners. India & Sri Lanka have won the Asia Cup five times each while Pakistan has won it on two occasions (Asia Cup 1993 was cancelled). Bangladesh is the only Asian test-playing nation not to have won the Asia Cup even once, though they came close to winning it in 2012.
Out of the first four editions, India were crowned the Asian champions three times in 1984, 1988 & 1990/91. The only time in this period when India did not win the Asia Cup was in 1986 when they did not participate in the tournament.
It was during this period that Sri Lankan cricket was growing and their victory in the 1986 edition was a testimony to the progress that the island nation had made in cricket.
The next three editions of the Asia Cup did not see domination from any one country in particular and there were three different champions in the 1995, 1997 & 2000 edition. India & Sri Lanka won it in the 1995 & 1997 edition respectively, whereas Pakistan were crowned the winners for the first time in 2000.
While the 1980s had seen a domination by the Indians, the new millennium belonged to the Lankans. The Lankan Lions won the tournament three times during this period in 2004, 2008 & 2014. This period also saw India winning the tournament in 2010 after a gap of 15 years.
There were two major highlights of this decade of Asia Cup. The first one being the inclusion of minnows Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates in 2004 edition. Though they failed to make a major impact, it paved way for the minnows to compete with their big Asian brothers.
Another highlight of this period was the 2012 edition which saw Pakistan defeat Bangladesh in the final by a margin of 2 runs. Although Pakistan were the winners, the team from Bangladesh earned a lot of respect for their consistent performance in the tournament.
They defeated India & Sri Lanka in the league stages and reached the finals for the first time in the history of Asia Cup.
The T20 Bug
With passage of time, Asia Cup is also coming to terms with cricket’s latest format – Twenty 20 (T20). In 2015, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced that Asia Cup events from 2016 will be played on a rotation basis between ODI & T20I formats. And as a result, the 2016 edition will be played in T20 format for the first time in the history of Asia Cup.
Given the craze for T20 cricket, especially in Asia and the success of T20 leagues around the world, the organizers have reasons to believe that Asia Cup in T20 format which kicks off from tomorrow in Bangladesh will be a grand success.