Asia Cup 2018 was a strange tournament. First of all, the scheduling of the tournament was a weird one, particularly for India. The tournament began just a few days after India’s tour of England and then Team India had to play two matches in two days. Even the likes of Bangladesh and Afghanistan were forced to play two matches in two days and doing this in the heat of Abu Dhabi is no easy feat. But in the end, it proved to be a great tournament which kept the fans on the edge of their seats.
We look at 5 things that we learnt from the Asia Cup.
1) What Has Happened To Sri Lankan Cricket?
Sri Lanka are one of the powerhouses of world cricket or we can say it used to be. The tiny island nation which won the World Cup in 1996 and has played in two finals since then, tumbled like a house of cards. They were pitted with Bangladesh and Afghanistan and were expected, at the very least, to qualify from the group stages and get a place in the Super Four. But two humiliating losses, first to Bangladesh by 137 runs and then to Afghanistan by 91 runs, saw them tamely exit the tournament.
No Sri Lankan fan could have imagined this fall from the grace for a country where the sport is so popular. One of the main factors for this is the lack of quality youth players coming from the domestic circuit. It seems as if the nation, which produced the legends of the game like Jayasuriya, Ranatunga, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, is out of talented youngsters.
2) The Curious Case Of Pakistan
Out of all the test playing nations in the world, Pakistan are the most unpredictable of them all. You just don’t know which Pakistan side will turn up on any given day. For the most part of Asia Cup 2018, it was the Pakistan side which found new ways of shooting itself in the foot. In their first big encounter, against India, the collapse of the top order batsmen meant that it was going to be one-way traffic.
But one of the biggest concerns for Pakistan is the form of its star bowler Mohammad Amir. Since that 2017 Champions Trophy final, Amir has just taken 3 ODI wickets in 15 months, at an average of almost 80 runs per wicket. It isn’t because of the quality of the opposition, either; half of his ODIs have been against the likes of Zimbabwe and Hong Kong. Apart from Shoaib Malik, none of the Pakistani batsmen failed to have any impact on the series. Pakistan needs to arrest this fall quickly otherwise it will be really difficult for them in the World Cup 2019.
3) Rise Of The Minnows
Afghanistan have been impressive in recent years in white ball cricket but this was their first attempt to rub shoulders with the giants of the cricketing world. They certainly punched above their weights. The big win against Sri Lanka was followed by two heartbreaking last over losses to Bangladesh and Pakistan. Then came the cliffhanger against India. This spirited Afghanistan side just didn’t accept defeat and pulled off an unbelievable tie against the World No.2 ODI side. The tale of a century of Mohammad Shahzad against India will be told for generations to come in the land of Afghanistan.
Bangladesh have been a test playing nation for almost two decades now. Yet when it comes to big tournaments, they are still the minnows. But Asia Cup 2018 was the closest they have ever come to shrug off this tag. Impressive wins over Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Afghanistan put them in the final. It was through their sheer determination that they gave India a real scare by taking the game to the last ball of the match.
4) Indian Subcontinent
If we go by geography books, India and its neighbouring seven countries are together called the Indian subcontinent. And it’s a similar tale in the cricketing world as well. It was always going to be India’s Asia Cup. Other countries were just the supporting cast. India were outright favorites for the trophy and in the end, defended their crown successfully.
There were a lot of positives for India in the Asia Cup as the duo of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma reminded everyone why they are the best opening pair in the world. Even Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, who was returning from injury, found his form quickly and combined brilliantly with Jasprit Bumrah. But it wasn’t all rosy for the reigning champions, especially in the middle order. The absence of Virat Kohli was felt and apart from the top three, none of the middle order batsmen impressed.
India needs to sort out their middle order woes as quickly as possible because the World Cup is less than a year away and they wouldn’t want a repeat of the 2017 Champions Trophy final.
5) An Advertisement For ODI Cricket
With the rise of T20 cricket and the T20 leagues around the world, ODI cricket had started to lose its glamour. With flat pitches around the world where a score of 350+ is a norm, Asia Cup proved to be a bowler’s paradise. Slow pitches which helped both the spinners and pacers alike made sure that there was not even a single 300+ score in the entire tournament. Almost all the matches of the Super Four went down to the wire which was a treat to watch.
Pitch curators in England should learn from their counterparts in the middle east and not create flat cemented wickets for once. If they create quality pitches like the ones in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, then the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 will be a startling affair.