India’s dominance, Afghanistan’s ascent, Bangladesh’s runners-up finish, Pakistan’s confidence crisis and Sri Lanka’s rapid fall were the highlights of the Asia Cup.
India powered to a seventh Asia Cup title with a last-ball, three-wicket win over a resilient Bangladesh in the final on Friday.
But five-time champions Sri Lanka were the top of the flops while last year’s Champions Trophy winners Pakistan promised more but delivered less as both their high profile matches against India proved one-sided affairs.
Against expectations, Pakistan failed to put up a fighting total in both the games. Their total of 162 and 237-7 could not challenge a powerful Indian batting.
Despite missing their world class batsman Virat Kohli — rested to heal his aching back after a long tour of UK — India defied the stifling heat on their first visit to the UAE for 12 years.
It were minnows Hong Kong — qualified after beating hosts UAE in an event in Malaysia — who nearly gave a shocking start to the tournament as they gave India a scare before their inexperience failed them.
The first upset though came from Afghanistan who shocked Sri Lanka by 91 runs and caused another stir by annihilating Bangladesh by a big 136-run margin.
The two wins gave Afghanistan a surprise place in the Super Four at the expense of Sri Lanka.
In the Super Four Pakistan narrowly avoided a defeat against Afghanistan as veteran Shoaib Malik led them to cross the finish line by three runs in another last over finish.
Afghanistan’s best came against a depleted India — resting Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Yuzvendra Chahal — as they tied the game in the last over.
Only a three-run defeat off the last ball against Bangladesh deprived Afghanistan of a place in a dream final.
“Asia Cup had everything,” said former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja. “Powerful batting from Sharma and Dhawan, the never-say-die spirit of Afghanistan, the fight of Bangladesh and thrilling last over finishes.
“The two best teams came in the final and Asia Cup finished after a classic contest,” said Ramiz of the India-Bangladesh final on Friday.
Sharma said India dominated other teams.
“I think our performance was dominating in the bowling and batting department,” said Sharma who finished with 317 runs with a hundred and two half-centuries.
Fellow opener Dhawan was declared player of the tournament, knocking two hundreds in his aggregate of 342.
“Fielding is one aspect we can improve a bit but overall I am pretty happy.”
While Sharma will continue to challenge Kohli as stand-in captain, Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews not only forced to step down but was also dropped from the squad for England one-day series.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed admitted he lost his sleep over team’s performance while pace spearhead Mohammad Amir — who failed to take a wicket in three matches — was axed for the two-match Test series against Australia starting next month.
— India’s off the field clout —
The controversial scheduling of the tournament also irked Pakistan and Bangladesh.
India played all their games in Dubai while the other three teams had to switch from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, often reaching their hotel as late as 3 am in the morning.
Sarfraz lashed out at the schedule.
“If you talk about the pool, India remain in Dubai even if they lose,” Sarfraz said. “Travelling is an issue. If you travel for a one-and-a-half hour during matches (Dubai to Abu Dhabi), then it’s tough.
“In this weather, it is tough because after one day you play another game. I think it should be even for all the teams, whether it’s India or Pakistan.”
Bangladesh had to play Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi and the next day faced India in Dubai.
“Even a mad person would be upset at the schedule,” blasted Mortaza. “Basically what has happened is that we were made the second team in Group B even before we played the last game. It is frustrating.”
But sensational finishes in the Super Four and the last ball final wiped out all bitterness.