The Asia Cup begins tomorrow, with Sri Lanka and Afghanistan sparring in Dubai. The Lankans were supposed to host the thing. But a spiralling economic and political crisis forced a shift to the United Arab Emirates. They’ll still have the honour of kicking the whole thing off, though. They usually enjoy themselves in these continental squabbles, having snared five trophies, second to India’s seven. Of course, Team BCCI has established a monopoly over their subcontinental rivals, winning the last two editions in 2016 and 2018. However, Pakistan looks primed to upset their neighbour’s applecart, while Bangladesh and Afghanistan are dark horses, only in name. The rest, as you figured, make up the numbers, giving the tournament a more pan-Asia feel than it is.

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But before we dive headlong into the rough and tumble of cricket in the desert, why not dip our trivia(l) noses into the Asia Cup’s 38-year history? Maybe history is not quite what we’re doing here. So we’ll call it a quick skim instead.

Remember Ajantha Mendis? The carrom-ball bowling offie, who has since mysteriously disappeared? In the late-2000s, the tweaker had a star quality about him, a sense of intrigue as his overs left batters puzzled and wondering if it was still cricket they were playing. Well, if you’ve forgotten the lad, his strange contortions with the ball, the Asia Cup is just where you should be looking. In the ’08 final, Mendis set a record for the tournament’s best figures, dropping 8 overs for 13 runs and 6 wickets.

Moving on, did you know Hong Kong has long been the flag-bearers of geographical diversity in the Cup? If not for them, we’d call it the Subcontinental skirmish (or some such). Staying with Hong Kong, they were within a whisker of scripting the tournament’s greatest upset (perhaps even international cricket’s). Four years ago, chasing India’s 285, openers Anshy Rath and Nizakat Khan compiled 174 runs to threaten the unthinkable. A collapse saved the Indians from embarrassment, winning by 26 runs. Within 10 years, Hong Kong had gone from scripting the largest margin of defeat (256 runs) in the Asia Cup against India, to near seismic victory. India and Afghanistan also played a tie in 2018, the only one in the Asia Cup history.

The Asia Cup was also the scene for Sachin Tendulkar’s much-anticipated 100th international ton. At Dhaka, against a buoyant Bangladesh, the little master stroked his path to a record, but it wasn’t enough to secure victory for the World Champions. Bangladesh would reach the finals that year, losing to Pakistan by two runs. The 2010s was a healthy decade for our eastern neighbours. Three final appearances and two narrow losses (2012 and 2018) indicated an uptick in their cricketing standards.

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It’s only fair that we remember Sanath Jayasuriya, the competition’s highest run-getter and Lasith Malinga, its highest wicket-taker, to round off this meandering trail. Jayasuriya, of course, is less bothered by the cricket than by Sri Lanka’s political upheavals, demanding the powers-that-be to pay heed to the masses, not their egos. The ‘Matara Mauler’ perhaps sang a similar tune while flaying bowlers across grounds in Asia and beyond.