The 12th Asia Cup is currently underway at Bangladesh. The tournament has been staged every two years since 1984 but could not be held in 2002 and 2006 for some reasons. Of the 10 league-stage round-robin matches, the first five are being played at Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium Fatullah, Narayanganj, after which the venue will shift to Shere Bangla National Stadium at Mirpur, where the remaining league games will be played until March 6, 2014. The final between Group-stage winner and runner-up will also be played at Mirpur on March 8, 2014.
In the first match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, on February 25, 2014, creditable batting by Sri Lanka, after winning the toss, promised a score in excess of 300 runs. But a late strike by Pakistan put the brakes during the batting Powerplay and the Lankans could only reach 296 for 6. After losing an early wicket for 28 in the 8th over, Thirimanne and Sangakkara not just steadied the innings but produced a brisk 161 run partnership in 24.2 overs. Coming as the opener, Thirimanne played remarkable cricket and scored a deserved 102 off 110 balls. But after Sangakkara’s departure, Sri Lanka lost four quick wickets for just 62 runs in the next 11.4 overs. However, skipper Angelo Mathews brought some solidity at this stage, and with Chandimal to support him, added 45 in the remaining 6.3 overs.
Chasing 297 for victory, Pakistan lost their top order cheaply with three batsmen back in pavilion for 83 by 14th over. The scoring rate, however, did not drop below 6. But between the 14th and 24th overs, Sri Lanka applied pressure and only 38 runs could be added. Then suddenly Misbah-Ul-Haq and Umar Akmal took command. Though Akmal got out in the 43rd over, the Haq-Akmal stand of 121-run brought Pakistan on the verge of victory. When only 55 required off 46 balls, Lasith Malinga began to spoil Pakistan’s party. The Lankan speedster struck twice in the 45th over to remove Shahid Afridi and Misbah-ul-Haq. Malinga came back to bowl the 47th over and got rid of Umar Gul. It became difficult for Pakistan at this stage but they still had 2 wickets and 3.1 overs to score 35 runs. Malinga was unstoppable as he too two more wickets in the 49th over to bowl out Pakistan. In claiming 5 wickets in a space of a mere 15 balls, Malinga turned the match on its head to give the Lankan a great start in the Asia Cup. He was aptly named the player of the match.
In the second Asia Cup game, played on February 26, hosts Bangladesh were put into bat after India’s new captain Virat Kohli won the toss. As the match began, India seamers did well by claiming 2 Bangladeshi wickets for 49 in the 13th over. But afterwards, as usual, Indian bowlers lost their rhythm and allowed too much whip to Bangladeshi batsmen. Skipper Mushfiqur Rahim scored his second ODI century and with Anamul Haque, he put up a 133-run partnership. Except Mohammad Shami, all Indian bowlers were belted fearlessly by Mushfiqur and other batsmen. The hapless and wayward Varun Aaron conceded 74 runs in 7.5 overs, including 34 off 19 deliveries to Anamul. Bangladesh also stepped up the scoring rate towards the end. After losing Anamul, Mushfiqur added 49 for the fourth wicket with Naeem Islam. His century came off 104 balls and he was the last Bangla batsman to fall in the 50th over.
India began with a 280-run victory target but openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma started struggling straightaway. They couldn’t find any opening and though they survived to produce an opening stand of 50, their discomfort against Bangladesh bowlers was too obvious. After the fall of Sharma in the 13th over, India had only scored 54 runs for 2 wickets. At this stage, the game underwent a complete transformation as Virat Kohli took command. On the other end, Kohli had Ajinkya Rahane for company. The two batsmen played with great authority and made the batting look easy. Kohli’s batting is a class apart from others and he can produce some impossible shots to torment the best of the bowlers on his day. He scored his 19th ODI century in just 95 balls and with Rahane produced a record 213-run third-wicket stand. Rahane made 73 off 83 balls to record his 4th ODI fifty. With Kohli and Rahane in full flow, India’s victory was never in doubt, though the target of 280 cannot be dismissed as very easy. For the second time in ODI’s history, both captains scored hundreds in the same game. But Kohli’s masterful innings was the highlight of the game. Kohli fell when India was still 13 short of the target and Rahane followed him shortly afterwards. But the two batsmen had done enough to ensure that India emerged victorious. For his masterful knock, Kohli was truly worthy of the player of the match award.