Asia Cup 2018: Bangladesh, Afghanistan’s rise makes tournament more competitive
It’s almost riveting how a game passed on by a European colonial power captured the imagination of South Asia so much that it has more followers in these parts than the world over. The Asia Cup, starting on September 15, will be a show of the fan following the game enjoys in this part of the world.
The fact that half of the world’s top cricket playing nations will be featuring in the continental event is a pointer to the game’s stupendous growth as the most followed sport and as a commercial entity. The Asia Cup, started in 1984, is now played every alternate year since 2008.
Better among the best
Rivalries have been an integral part among Asian teams - be it the classic India-Pakistan clash or the new found popularity of India-Bangladesh encounters. Throw in Sri Lanka into the contest and it feels like a mini-World Cup sans the nations from Europe, Oceania and Africa.
Though boasting of top teams like England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the three regions have never seen intra-continental rivalries to match the scale of Asian cricket.
The Trans-Tasman rivalry between Australia and New Zealand is legendary but the absence of other big teams from the region has not helped. Zimbabwe and Kenya once used to be teams which consistently punched above their weights, but their gradual fall has left only South Africa as the lone strong team in Africa. The scene is no different in Europe. Though Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands played in World Cups they are yet to inspire awe. England thus remains the only cricket powerhouse in Europe.
New Asian team’s rise
Compare this with Asia, where teams like Bangladesh and Afghanistan are now treated as serious challengers in the shorter formats by the big teams.
The rise of the two countries is one of the big reasons why Asia Cup is set to get more competitive. Bangladesh have been a force to reckon with ever since their splendid show at the 2015 World Cup, where they outclassed England to enter the quarter-finals for the first time. Couple of months later, they won their first ever bilateral ODI series against India 2-1 at home.
In 2016, they reached the Asia Cup final for the second time after 2012, and in 2017 they defeated New Zealand to reach the Champions Trophy semi-finals.
As for Afghanistan, they have talented players like Rashid Khan and Ashghar Stanikzai. In a short time they have gained the Test status though it’s the limited over cricket that they have shown potential to excel.
The Asian Cricket Council (ACC), which was set up in 1983, played a part in the improvement of many teams, including Afghanistan - which played the 2010 ICC World T20 and their maiden World Cup in 2015. They will also feature in the 2019 edition of the showpiece event.
While Afghanistan made it to the World Cup after finishing second in the World Cricket League Championships, UAE’s second-place finish in the qualifiers helped them reach their second World Cup in 2015 after 1996.
India and Sri Lanka are the two teams who have come out on top in 11 of the 13 editions of the Asia Cup, winnings six and five times respectively.
With India-Pakistan contests only possible in the International Cricket Council (ICC) events due to diplomatic tensions, the tournament is bound to keep the fans engrossed, given that there could be as many as three clashes in the 2018 edition.
Three of the four major ACC countries, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan have won cricket’s biggest prize -- the World Cup: India in 1983 and 2011, Pakistan in 1992, and Sri Lanka in 1996. All three teams have also won the World T20: India in 2007, Pakistan in 2009 and Sri Lanka in 2014.