Of all of the changes and disappointments in the cricketing world due to COVID-19, the one set to have the largest impact is Afghanistan’s debut Test match in Australia later this year.
Inspired by Rustom Deboo’s throwback to the 2000 Asia Cup, I wanted to look back on a more recent edition of the tournament.
The 2018 Asia Cup ran from 15-28 September. Although it was initially meant to be hosted in India, political tensions between India and Pakistan led to the tournament being held in the UAE.
With six countries participating, they were split into groups of three before the top two would progress to the Super Four.
The top two from the Super Four would face off in the final in Dubai.
Here’s a throwback to the tournament.
Match 1 – Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka, Dubai
The only headlines leading into this match were Lasith Malinga playing his first ODI in 377 days. And boy did he turn up, removing Liton Das and Shakib Al Hasan in his first over for ducks. The situation got worse for Bangladesh as Tamim Iqbal retired hurt after fracturing his wrist.
Effectively 3-3, Bangladesh’s middle order was under pressure to score runs. Mushfiqur Rahim and Mohammad Mithun (63 off 68) put on 131 runs before Malinga dismissed Mithun in the 26th over. Wickets continued to tumble after that and despite Mushfiqur Rahim reaching his sixth ODI ton, number 11 Mustafizur Rahman was dismissed in the 47th over, and Bangladesh were all out for 229.
Or so we thought. After going to hospital for an x-ray and his fractured wrist ruling him out of the rest of the tournament, Tamim Iqbal walked in and batted the final ball of the 47th over with one hand. Rahim took charge after that and slogged the Lankan bowlers before he was dismissed for 144 and Bangladesh were bowled out for 261.
On a sluggish pitch, Sri Lanka never got going as they were bowled out for a paltry 124. Mushfiqur Rahim’s 144 beat Sri Lanka’s total by 20 runs. Bangladesh got their campaign off to a victory while Sri Lanka needed to bounce back against Afghanistan.
Match 2 – Hong Kong vs Pakistan, Dubai
The following day, Hong Kong played Pakistan on a used pitch. Batting first, Hong Kong were in deep trouble at 5-44. A 53-run stand between Aizaz Khan (27 off 47) and Kinchit Shah (26 off 50) brought brief resistance against the Pakistanis before they were bowled out for 116.
Off spinner Ehsan Khan dismissed Fakhar Zaman (24 off 27), and Babar Azam (33 off 36) before Imam-ul-Haq (50 off 69) took Pakistan home to a comfortable eight-wicket victory.
Match 3 – Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka, Abu Dhabi
After two consecutive matches in Dubai, the tournament headed to Abu Dhabi where Sri Lanka was under immense pressure leading up to the game. The Afghan top three of Mohammad Shahzad (34 off 47), Ihsanullah (45 off 65) and Rahmat Shah (72 off 90) gave Afghanistan’s middle order the perfect platform to cash in at 3-190.
But a Thisara Perera five-for saw Afghanistan collapse to 249 all out. Despite Perera’s efforts, Sri Lanka’s batsmen looked clueless against the Afghan spinners as they limped to 158 all out. The five-time Asian champions were knocked out, but it wasn’t surprising as their ODI team was faltering after the 2015 World Cup.
Match 4 – India vs Hong Kong, Dubai
With Virat Kohli rested for the tournament, Rohit Sharma led India in the 2018 Asia Cup. Since India was playing back-to-back matches, they played a second-string XI against Hong Kong. Despite losing Rohit Sharma early, Shikhar Dhawan and Ambati Rayudu (60 off 70) put on 116 for the second wicket before Rayudu departed in the 30th over. Dinesh Karthik joined Dhawan as the latter reached his century and India were in a comfortable position at 2-237 with ten overs left. But Dhawan’s dismissal for 127 saw India muster only 48 runs in the last ten overs as they finished with a competitive total of 7-285.
Hong Kong’s openers Nizakat Khan and captain Anshuman Rath were outstanding with the bat. Attacking India’s bowlers, Hong Kong passed 100 for no loss in the 18th over. Both batsmen passed fifty as Hong Kong needed 112 in 96 balls with ten wickets remaining.
But Rath (73 off 97) and Khan (92 off 115) were back in the sheds soon after and India found their groove. Hong Kong’s batsmen tried, but it was too much as India won by 26 runs. Before their clash against Pakistan the following day, they had avoided a massive upset and started the Asia Cup with an unconvincing victory.
Match 5 – India vs Pakistan, Dubai
This was the first time that the two sides were meeting each other since the 2017 Champions Trophy Final. If the last meeting burdened the Indian players, they didn’t show it as Pakistan lost both openers cheaply.
Babar Azam (47 off 62) and Shoaib Malik (43 off 67) put on 82 for the third wicket, but apart from that, Pakistan was atrocious with the bat. The lack of application and execution of their plans was evident as they were bowled out for 162.
Rohit Sharma (52 off 39) and Shikhar Dhawan (46 off 54) gave India a fast start, before Ambati Rayudu (31 off 46) and Dinesh Karthik (31 off 37) saw India home in 29 overs.
The heavily hyped clash had ended in a convinced one-sided Indian victory. The win came at a cost, as Hardik Pandya suffered a back injury that ruled him out for the tournament. The result of this would lead to India calling up one of the best fielders in the world into their ODI team since July 2017.
Match 6 – Afghanistan vs Bangladesh, Abu Dhabi
With the Super Four starting the following day and the clash being a dead rubber, Bangladesh opted for a few changes and rested some players as Abu Hider and Najmul Hossain received their maiden ODI caps. Despite an impressive 58 from Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afghanistan were in dire straits at 7-160.
But an eight-wicket partnership from Gulbadin Naib (42 off 38) and birthday boy Rashid Khan (57 off 32) saw Afghanistan hammer the Bangladesh bowlers en route to 7-255. The dream birthday continued for Rashid, taking 2-13 off nine overs as Bangladesh limped to 119 all out.
The first two rounds of Super Four matches happened on the same day before the third round (Afghanistan vs India and Bangladesh vs Pakistan) was played on two separate days.
Super Four – Bangladesh vs India, Dubai
With Ravindra Jadeja called into the squad for the first time since July 2017 and being slotted into the playing XI, India went into their clash confident against Bangladesh.
The Tigers were horrendous with the bat as they slumped to 7-101. Four of those wickets conceded to Jadeja. Mashrafe Mortaza (26 off 32) and Mehedy Hasan Miraz (42 off 50) put up a few lusty blows, but Bangladesh were bowled out for a paltry 173.
Bangladesh’s bowlers tried their best to put up a fight, but Rohit Sharma (83 off 104) ensured India’s chase was anything but challenging in a seven-wicket victory. As no replacement for Tamim Iqbal had been named, Imrul Kayes and Soumya Sarkar were added to the squad following this match.
Super Four – Afghanistan vs Pakistan, Abu Dhabi
In their first ODI meeting since the 2014 Asia Cup, Afghanistan was high on confidence after thrashing Bangladesh. Despite being in trouble at 3-94 in the 26th over, captain Asghar Afghan counter-attacked with a 56 ball 67. Hashmatullah Shahidi impressed yet again, finishing 97 not out as Afghanistan posted 6-257.
Mujeeb Zadran’s off spinners got the better of Fakhar Zaman in the first over, and it seemed it would be a cakewalk for Afghanistan again. But Imam-ul-Haq (80 off 104) and Babar Azam (66 off 94) put on 154 for the second wicket as Pakistan were cruising towards victory. Afghanistan clawed their way back into the game as Pakistan went from 1-154 to 6-226 with 21 balls remaining. The calming influence that is Shoaib Malik (51 off 43) took the game deep and hit Aftab Alam for a few boundaries in the last over as Pakistan won by three wickets in a nervy run chase.
Super Four – Pakistan vs India, Dubai
With both teams high on confidence, fans were hoping for India vs Pakistan 2.0 to be a much closer contest compared to the one four days ago. India’s bowling was top-notch as Pakistan faltered to 3-58. Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (44 off 66) and Shoaib Malik (78 off 90) put on 107 for the fourth wicket before a late flourish from Asif Ali (30 off 22) pushed Pakistan to 7-237.
Considering the slow nature of surfaces in the Asia Cup, a total of 237 seemed competitive, and India could finally be tested with the bat. Boy, was I wrong. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan walloped the Pakistan bowlers all over the park as they seemed clueless what to do to the pair. Both openers reached tons before Dhawan was dismissed, but India still won convincingly by nine wickets. The victory for India meant they had one foot in the final, should Bangladesh defeat Afghanistan.
Super Four – Afghanistan vs Bangladesh, Abu Dhabi
In a do-or-die clash, both sides were playing for survival in the tournament. Despite starts from Liton Das (41 off 43) and Mushfiqur Rahim (33 off 52), Bangladesh slumped to 5-87. Their batting was misfiring, and they almost had both feet out of the Asia Cup. But a 128-run stand by Mahmudullah (74 off 81) and Imrul Kayes (72 off 89) resuscitated Bangladesh’s innings. Posting 7-249, Bangladesh fought back very well, and their bowlers had something to play with.
Half-centuries from Mohammad Shahzad (53 off 81) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (71 off 99) ensured the Afghan middle order could bat with freedom. Despite losing Asghar Afghan (39 off 47) and Mohammad Nabi (38 off 28) in crucial stages of the match, Afghanistan would only need eight runs in the final over. But Mustafizur Rahman held his nerve as Bangladesh won by three runs. The victory ensured that India had qualified for the final while Afghanistan was knocked out alongside Bangladesh setting up a virtual semi-final clash against Pakistan.
Super Four – Afghanistan vs India, Dubai
Since India had qualified for the final, India made five changes as MS Dhoni skippered the Indian team for the match (Rohit Sharma rested himself). Despite a lack of support from his top order, Mohammad Shahzad smashed 124 off 116 in 40-plus degree heat in Dubai, spanking the Indian attack all over Dubai. Following his dismissal, lower-order performances from Mohammad Nabi (64 off 56) and Najibullah Zadran (20 off 20) helped Afghanistan post 8-252.
KL Rahul (60 off 66) and Ambati Rayudu (57 off 49) put on 110 for the opening stand before the latter fell in the 18th over.
From thereon, Afghanistan’s spinners were splendid. With the experienced Dinesh Karthik (44 off 66) departing in the 40th over, India were 6-205. Ravindra Jadeja got some support from his tail-enders, but even then, India went to 9-246 with one over to go. Rashid Khan was handed the final over. Jadeja slogged him for a four before two singles were taken. One needed off two. Rashid dished up a half-tracker, only for Jadeja to mistime his pull to the hands of midwicket and a tie was the result.
Afghanistan players went nuts and celebrated as they had somehow pulled this game back. To not lose against India was a commendable achievement, and a tie seemed the fair result.
Super Four – Bangladesh vs Pakistan, Abu Dhabi
In the virtual semi-final, Bangladesh were dealt a heavy blow prior to the match. Shakib Al Hasan had requested surgery on his injured finger before the Asia Cup, only for the Bangladesh Cricket Board president Nazmul Hasan delay the surgery until after the Asia Cup. The situation worsened during the tournament and Shakib was struggling to hold anything. He was ruled out of the match and tournament and flown back to Bangladesh for surgery. With Najmul Hossain struggling for runs, opener Soumya Sarkar was drafted into the Bangladesh playing XI.
The Tigers were in dire straits as they fell to 3-12 in the fifth over. But some proactive batting by Mohammad Mithun (60 off 84) and Mushfiqur Rahim put Bangladesh in a decent position at 4-156 in the 34th over. Despite losing Mithun and Imrul Kayes in quick succession, Rahim soldiered on and was set for a big score only for Shaheen Afridi dismiss the Bangladesh keeper for 99. Mahmudullah (25 off 31), Mehedy Hasan Miraz (12 off 11) and captain Mashrafe Mortaza (13 off 13) scored a few quick runs before the Tigers were bowled out for 239. Would it be enough with only four front-line bowlers and a few all-rounders at the helm for Bangladesh?
Mehedy Hasan Miraz and Mustafizur Rahman were outstanding with the new ball as Pakistan slumped to 3-16 in the fifth over. Shoaib Malik (30 off 51) and Imam-ul-Haq put on 69 before Mortaza took an absolute screamer at midwicket as Malik departed.
Another partnership came up for Pakistan between Asif Ali (31 off 47) and Imam as Pakistan were heading home. But some quality glove work from Liton Das (replaced Mushfiqur with the gloves in the 15th over) saw Ali and Imam (83 off 105) stumped in the space of ten balls.
From 5-165 to 7-167, Pakistan limped their way to 9-202 and Bangladesh had qualified for the final. Although they didn’t play their best cricket after the first game, the Tigers held on in crunch moments, but they would have to be at their best if they would want to compete against India.
Final – India vs Bangladesh, Dubai
Having won the toss, Rohit Sharma elected to send Bangladesh into bat on a good batting surface. Bangladesh did not have the best opening stands throughout the tournament, so Mashrafe Mortaza took a gamble and sent in Mehedy Hasan Miraz to open with Liton Das. Miraz gave Bangladesh the solidity they needed at the top order as Liton Das took on India’s bowlers. Even when Jasprit Bumrah was steaming in, Das danced down the wicket with no fear. A man on a mission, Das’ onslaught and Miraz’s solidity took Bangladesh to 0-116 after 20 overs. Rohit Sharma’s body language seemed very low as all of his bowlers were receiving treatment at the hands of Das.
Taking a gamble, Sharma called on Kedar Jadhav and his part-time offies. The risk worked as Miraz departed for 32. Despite Liton Das reaching his maiden ton, Bangladesh slumped to 5-151 in the 33rd over. With India fighting well, Soumya Sarkar and Das decided to take the innings as deep as possible. Putting on 38 for the sixth wicket, Das was gone for 121 in the 41st over, stumped by MS Dhoni.
Even after plenty of TV replays, the decision remains divided among Bangladesh and India fans. I felt it was out as nothing seemed behind the line. Sarkar continued to battle along for a 45-ball 33, but his batting partners faltered as Bangladesh were bowled out for 222 in the 49th over. From 0-116 in the 21st over, Bangladesh’s middle order failed to capitalise on their situation and were 40 to 50 runs short.
Despite scoring at a fast run rate, India lost two early wickets in eight overs as Shikhar Dhawan (15 off 14), and Ambati Rayudu (two off seven) were sent for early showers. India began rebuilding, but Bangladesh fought back as Rubel Hossain had Rohit Sharma hooking to deep square for 48.
With Rohit’s wicket, Bangladesh felt they were back in the game. At 3-83, it was game on. Mashrafe Mortaza brought the field up and stopped the easy singles. Even after Dinesh Karthik and MS Dhoni hit a few boundaries, Mortaza kept the field up and tried to create pressure. The plan worked as Karthik departed for 37 in the 31st over, missing a full toss and being trapped leg before.
Kedar Jadhav came out swinging, but his hamstrings got the better of him after taking a quick single. He continued to bat, but Mustafizur Rahman had Dhoni nicking behind for 36. India were 5-160 and Bangladesh were keeping themselves in the hunt. Jadhav would retire hurt soon after and suddenly, India had two new batsmen in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja. Bangladesh’s bowlers were creating pressure, but Jadeja and Kumar hit boundaries to pull the required run rate down just when it seemed to go out of hand.
With India needing 11 off 17, Hossain dismissed Jadeja for 23 before Jadhav came back in. Rubel’s spell of 2-26 with two maidens in his quota ensured India hadn’t won this yet and that they would need nine off 12. Rahman dismissed Kumar for 21, and soon after, India would need six off six. With his seamers finishing their quota and his spinners being under-par, Mahmudullah was given the final over. Despite keeping the field up, India hit a few singles and twos as won the game on the last ball to win the Asia Cup for the seventh time.
I remember crying after the game. But these weren’t tears of sadness. These were tears of joy. Words couldn’t describe how proud I was of the Bangladesh team. They lost key members throughout the tournament and still beat sides such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, who have much more experience in UAE conditions. And the final. Oh my, the way Mashrafe Mortaza led his men and pushed India to the final ball with a below-par score was a testament to how he led Bangladesh.
In the five Asia Cups I’ve followed since 2010, the 2018 edition was the best one. It was a real contest between bat and ball. Pitches ensured we wouldn’t see slog fests and batsmen had to change their styles to adapt on slower surfaces – 230 versus 230 was the norm in this tournament and only once was a total of 250-plus chased down throughout the 2018 Asia Cup.
India were the best side in the competition, and despite the odd blip here and there, they deserved to leave the UAE as champions.