Team India’s early exit may have disrupted plans of organisers but finalists Pakistan & Lanka have lit up the tournament with their passionate brand of cricket
DUBAI: Every time the fixtures for the Asia Cup in the UAE are drawn, the tournament becomes all about making up for the lack of India-Pakistan bilateral cricket. And one can’t be faulted for believing that the scheduling gives precedence to India’s convenience. The other teams hustle between Dubai and Sharjah. They get less breathing space going into a final. India is the marquee team, always. The market forces, broadcasters and caretakers of the game bank on India’s presence right through the tournament.
This time, though, there is no Indian team for the last four days of the tournament. The obvious buzz fizzled out real fast. It’s sort of an anti-climax for the stakeholders.
Yet, there is a final to be played on Sunday night. Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the two finalists, were more about conserving themselves having made to play a game on Friday night. Both teams called off their training sessions and media interactions on the eve of the final-which could signal the re-emergence of two cricketing nations who had fallen behind in cricket’s power circuit in the last decade. On cricketing grounds, these two teams, along with Afghanistan‘s spirited show, have been the core reason for lighting up the tournament.
Four years ago, the organisers were in a similar space when Pakistan crashed out two nights before the final. India’s presence was a respite. But this tournament has challenged their marketing strategies.
The buzz here was always in anticipation of an India-Pakistan final, rounding off a possible three-match contest between the two teams. On pre-tournament form and environment, few would have fancied Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to make the final. India’s collapse in the tournament has created an awkward situation with tickets now.
Roaming around the Dubai Sports City, which houses the Dubai International Cricket stadium, you would find Pakistan and Sri Lankan fans stressed about getting tickets for Sunday’s game. The reason? The majority of tickets were already booked by Indian fans. A lot of the Indian fans are now trying to sell off their tickets on social media.
India’s early exit may have been a financial disruption. But that can’t take away from the fact the two teams taking the field on Sunday are the teams that have played with immaculate planning and overwhelming passion.
“When it comes to Asian cricket games it’s majorly India-Pakistan games everyone talks about, but we got a very good team, which can win. So, I don’t mind about the big talks, but rather concentrate on the way we are playing,” Sri Lanka’s captain Dasun Shanaka had humbly stated a day before his team pushed India to the brink of an exit.
Pakistan’s rather intimidating pace attack and cunning spinners make up for the persisting issues they have in the batting department. But their plan to send in lower-order pinch hitters ahead of their off-colour middle-order batters have thrown the opposition off. They go in having held their nerve in emotionally-charged humdingers.
“We have seen some great performances and different players have shone and won Player of the match awards. When building a team, it is great for us that different players have stood up when it counts and helped the team win matches. As a captain this is important for me, and it helps pave the path for future success for the team as well,” Pakistan captain Babar Azam said in a statement on the eve of the final.
“We are a great team, but in order to become a champion side, we need to win this tournament and other high-profile series. I have said this before that champion teams handle pressure well and prevail in clutch moments, and this is what we will aim for on the Sunday Finale. Winning against Sri Lanka and claiming the Asia Cup title is the real deal for us!” Pakistan’s star leg-spinner Shadab Khan declared in his blog on Pakistan Cricket Board’s website.
Sri Lanka, on their part, have stealthily risen to a position of dominance in the tournament. Shanaka has led the team well and they have defined what team-effort means. Shanaka’s team is oozing confidence. When asked about the threat Naseem Shah could pose for Sri Lanka, Wanindu Hasaranga replied with a smirk: “We will see if he manages that.”
And Shanaka stated, his team isn’t done yet: “Looking back at this tournament, this has been one of the best Asia Cups we have had, and we are looking forward to the final.”