The first edition of the Asia Cup, in 1984, was the first instance of international cricket being played without any involvement by the ICC since their inception in 1909. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Singapore had founded Asian Cricket Conference (now the Asian Cricket Council) in 1983. The inaugural Asia Cup featured only the first three.
The entire tournament was hosted in Sharjah, making it the first venue outside Full Member nations to host international cricket. The cricketers did not mind, for the prize money was huge: the three teams won USD 50,000, 30,000, and 20,000, while the Player of the Tournament won USD 5,000.
The uninterrupted run
As political tension intensified in Sri Lanka, India opted out of the second edition, in the country, in 1986.
Pakistan did not tour India for the fourth edition, in 1990/91.
Sri Lanka are, thus, the only team to have featured in every edition of the Asia Cup: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have missed one edition each. India have won the tournament seven times, Sri Lanka five, and Pakistan two.
Expansion and contraction
The tournament expanded to six teams in 2004, when the UAE and Hong Kong joined the fray. The two teams also played in 2008, but they returned to the four-team format for 2010 and 2012. Afghanistan’s steady rise led to an expansion to five in 2014. Since 2016, a Qualifier has preceded the main phase.
This time, Hong Kong pipped the UAE, Singapore, and Kuwait to join India and Pakistan in Group A of the main stage; Group B comprises Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the UAE.
The other Asia Cup
The Women’s Asia Cup began in 2004, and has featured – apart from the ICC Full Members – China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Nepal, and Thailand. India won each of the first six editions (in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2016) before losing to Bangladesh in the 2018 final.
Of the first five editions (between 1984 and 1995), India had won four and did not participate in the other. They have also won in 2016 and 2018. However, in the interim 21 years, they've won just once.
In their 15 Asia Cup matches, Sri Lanka have beaten Pakistan 10 times and lost 5. This makes curious reading, for Pakistan hold a 121-73 advantage in other matches.
Pakistan’s head-to-head numbers against India bear a similar look – though the difference is not as stark as in Sri Lanka’s case. India hold an 8-5 advantage the Asia Cup, but Pakistan lead 82-62 outside.
Until 2010, Bangladesh had never made it to the top three of an Asia Cup (barring, of course, when there were only three teams). However, since then, they have reached the top two in 2012, 2016, and 2018, missing out only in 2014.
In fact, until 2010, they had lost each of their 27 matches against India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Since 2012, they have won 6 and lost 9 against the same three teams. Yet, over the same period, Bangladesh have lost two of their three matches against Afghanistan.
This is how the five teams stand:
Pakistan had toured Sri Lanka ahead of the 1986 edition for Test matches and ODIs. The Pakistan cricketers were so enraged with the umpiring that they wanted to fly home without playing the Asia Cup. Eventually, Pakistan President Zia-ul-Haq had to convince captain Imran Khan to stay put. The Asia Cup featured neutral umpires.
In the final of the 1990/91, Kapil Dev became the fifth bowler in history to do the hat-trick. However, he got Roshan Mahanama with the last ball of a spell, and Rumesh Ratnayake and Sanath Jayasuriya with the first two balls of the next spell; the hat-trick went unnoticed by the most of the 90,000 people at the Eden Gardens. It was not until some time later, when the giant electronic scoreboard flashed the achievement, that they eventually applauded.
Having thrashed India by 97 runs in the previous match, Pakistan were outright favourites against Sri Lanka. However, Aaqib Javed, who had taken five wickets against India, missed the match with an injury, while Moin Khan went down with chicken pox.
Pakistan, thus, had to field the uncapped Javed Qadeer and Mahmood Hamid, along with Naeem Ashraf and Zafar Iqbal. Sri Lanka took full advantage to script a famous win.
The thousand-dollar wicket
Ahead of the 2004 Asia Cup, a UAE official had promised anyone from the team a thousand-dollar reward for dismissing Sachin Tendulkar. The winner was left-arm seamer Asim Saeed, who had the great man caught by Fahad Usman. Tendulkar remained Saeed’s only international wicket.
Pakistan get away
After India won the toss in the 1997 Asia Cup match, Venkatesh Prasad (4-17) and Abey Kuruvilla (1-10) moved the ball at awkward angles in helpful conditions at the Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo to reduce Pakistan to 30-5 in 9 overs.
Then it rained incessantly, and no play was possible. There was a reserve day planned, but that was washed out as well.
Afghanistan hold back India
India needed a run to win the match against Afghanistan in Dubai in 2018, but they had also lost 9 wickets. With two balls left, Rashid Khan had Ravindra Jadeja caught at mid wicket. This remains the only tied match in the history of the tournament.
The match holds another significance. Indian captain Virat Kohli had opted out of the tournament. India had already guaranteed a berth in the final, so stand-in captain Rohit Sharma and stand-in vice-captain both sat out of the match. M.S. Dhoni, having relinquished captaincy almost two years ago, led India for one final time.
Pakistan’s no-balls against Bangladesh
Mohammad Sami began the match against Bangladesh in the 2004 edition with a wicket-maiden, but it all went wrong in his second over, when he lost both his footing and radar at the same time. The over, including four no-balls, seven wides, and two fours, went for 22 runs.Ten years later, Abdur Rehman bowled two high full-tosses, also against Bangladesh, before bowling a single legal delivery. As per the Laws, the umpires had to bar him from bowling anymore in the innings. He finished with bizarre figures of 0-0-8-0.