The third annual Asia Cup proved to be the best and most exciting yet, but still the only name on the trophy is Pakistan, as they won the competition for the third time in succession.
The four countries competing over the two day tournament were Pakistan, India and Bangladesh (made up of selected players from the Cataluyna League) and newcomers Afghanistan (the majority who were from Belgium, but also included an Austrian international player)
The first match of the event, held at the iconic Montjuic Stadium, was the eagerly anticipated confrontation between Pakistan and India. Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat first. The decision seemed to be the right one as they amassed a strong total from their twenty over allocation. Pakistan were indebted to Hamza Dar (51 not out) and Abid Hanif (45) for a final score of 174 for 5. In reply, India struggled from the first ball, losing one of their key batsmen Kuldeep Lal for just one in the second over. Fellow opener Gurvinder Bajwa hit 49 but found little support from his team mates and India were eventually bowled out for 127 in the 17th over.
Pakistan came straight back out for match two to play Bangladesh. Once again the won the toss and elected to bat. Due to time restraints the match was restricted to 18 overs. For the second game in a row the Pakistan batsmen posted a competitive total, scoring 166 for 8 from their 108 balls. Bangladesh battled gamely in reply and a fine 46 from Faysal Ahmed kept the game interesting. Pakistan edged the match by 31 runs as Bangladesh ended on 135 for 6.
Afghanistan entered the competition next in the last match on day one and played an Indian team desperate for a victory to keep their hopes of a final appearance alive. India won the toss and batted but were disappointing and could only muster a sub-par total of 102 all out. However, the Indian bowling attack were as good as their batting was bad, and within four overs Afghanistan were 14 for 3 and we had a game on our hands. It took the calming influence of Abdur Rashed Karim (33 not out) and Baseer Khan (41) to steer the Afghans home with three balls to spare.
(Afghanistan v India)
Match one on day two was Afghanistan v Bangladesh and a win for the former would guarantee a spot in the final. Bangladesh elected to bat first but had no answer to the Afghan bowling attack. They were skittled out for just 53 in the 17th over with just Shofiqul Islam making double figures for his team (19). In reply, Afghanistan lost Sefat to the second ball of the innings, but after that it was plain sailing for Afghanistan who chased down the total in just 29 balls.
Next came the match up of the two unbeaten teams, Pakistan and Afghanistan. With both teams already assured a final spot key personnel in both sides were rested. For the third game on the trot Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat. Pakistan started well, putting on 61 for the first wicket but then the strong bowling attack of Afghanistan gained some momentum and restricted the batting side to just 140 for 7 from their 18 overs. In reply, the Afghanistanis relied on a pivotal role from their opener Rasmal Shigiwal to control and pace the run chase to perfection. His 78 runs were the backbone for the victory, but his fellow batsmen Rahman (17), Zadran (15) and Rahimi (11) played positive supporting roles to give their team a seven wicket victory and an unbeaten pathway to the final.
The penultimate match of the event was effectively the third/fourth play off between India and Bangladesh. India, crestfallen at missing out on the finals, took their frustration out on their opponents and posted a mammoth 205 for 4 off their 18 overs. The match also gave the watching fans the only centurion in the Asia Cup, as Indian opener Gurvinder Bajwa blasted 118 runs from just 62 balls. The Bangladesh reply was willing but not very able. They were all out for 75 in the fifteenth over to give Indian third place in the tournament. Some consolation for the Indians was that Bajwa was the batsmen of the tournament having scored 179 runs from his three innings.
(Umpires for the Asia Cup)
The final fittingly was the best match throughout the two days of cricket. Pakistan made it four from four in calling the toss correctly and unsurprisingly elected to bat first in the twenty over contest. Their top three batsmen, Yasir Ali (24), Armghan Khan (24) and Hamza Dar (35) all got starts for their side but were unable to convert it to a big score. At 104 for 2 in the 15th over a score of 150 plus looked likely but Afghanistan clawed their way back into the game by taking the last eight wickets for just 29 runs.
With a target of 134 to win the game was in the balance at the interval stage. It remained that way throughout the Afghanistan innings and the trophy was there for either team to bag. Pakistan´s experience in the competition was a telling factor and their bowlers bowled economically and took wickets at crucial times. Opener Faisal Shah bowled with hostility and venom to bag two wickets for just 15 runs, but it was the spin and guile of Umair Aftab (3-14) that was to provide the impetus for Pakistan to restrict Afghanistan to just 102 all out. Pakistan finally won the game in the 18th over to spark massive celebrations amongst their players and fans.
(CCA President Basharat Ali being interviewed by television channel TV3)
Massive thanks go to Basharat Ali and the CCA team for organizing such an innovative event and to the teams for the spirit in which they played throughout the tournament. Also CCA are extremely grateful to the sponsors of the tournament Papadam, Pak España mobiles, Pakicare Pakicare Pakicare, Skyways restaurant and the Pak Federacion de España and a special mention to chief guest Mr Saqib Tahir. Also, the umpires and scorers did a sterling job in hot conditions and the final ceremony acknowledged all who had played a part in making the Asia Cup a tremendous success. Plans are already afoot for more teams next year, with Sri Lanka being one of the teams hoping to join the mix. With the competition getting increasingly stiffer a fourth win on the trot will be difficult to achieve. This time next year we will know that answer to that, but for now it is for Pakistan to enjoy their trifecta.