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A humiliation that changed cricket - The Asia Cup Origin Story

article_imageASIA CUP HISTORY
Last updated on 26 Aug 2023 | 09:14 AM
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A humiliation that changed cricket - The Asia Cup Origin Story

The Story of the Asia Cup is the tale of an Indian cricket administrator’s humiliation triggering a chain of events that first, united the Asian cricket nations, and then along with a cricket-mad Emirati Sheikh, shifted the power centre of cricket from the West to the East.

1983 World Cup Final. 

The team that had managed to win just one game in the last two World Cups reached the finals. It wasn’t just a surprise for the English and the cricket world at large. It was a shock. 

NKP Salve, the then BCCI President, approached the English cricket authorities for some extra passes for the finals at Lords. The English didn’t only refuse him. They rejected his request in such a manner that Salve (also a member of Congress government in power) was left flabbergasted. That insult was rooted so deeply within him, that in the next few years, he managed to set afoot a chain of events that tilted the prime meridian of cricket from England to the Indian subcontinent. 

Amongst those events that were triggered by Salve’s insult, the formation of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) was one of them, which is the same organization that conducts the Asia Cup. 

This is the story of how the Asia Cup began after the humiliation of an Indian cricket administrator in the early 80s and arguably became one of the biggest marquee events in the international cricket calendar after the World Cups. 

Avengers, Assemble !!

Before the story starts, it's crucial to understand that in the 80s, despite India winning the Prudential Cup in ‘83, cricket was still a white man’s game with England being its holy land. The English weren’t the best team on the field, but their cultural, political and economic dominance ensured that they drove the narrative of cricket. 

Hence, when Salve was seething after his humiliation over a trivial issue of match passes, the first thing he wished to do was take the World Cup out of England. He started his work the very next day after Kapil lifted the cup at Lord’s. He met Air Marshal Nur Khan, the Pakistan Cricket Board chief, and discussed his plans passionately with him. They both met Gamini Dissanayake, the Sri Lanka cricket chairperson, and the ball was set rolling to form an Asian Bloc within the ICC to challenge England and Australia’s domination. 

The Asian Cricket Council was then formed as the Asian Cricket Conference in New Delhi, on 19 September 1983 within 90 days of the World Cup final at Lords. It was a monumental effort from Salve and his South Asian counterparts to form this wide-reaching collaboration which also included Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore along with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

The axis of cricket was shifting politically. To challenge the English domination even further and maximize the potential of a billion-strong subcontinent audience, the Asian Bloc needed economic and infrastructural support. This is where the story needs to take a slight detour towards the West, as the most interesting (and inspiring) character of this story enters with his money, might and vision - an Emirati Sheikh. 

The Sheikh from Sharjah

Abdul Rahman Bukhatir was just a schoolboy in Karachi when he got enamoured with Cricket. He moved to UAE soon after his education and created his business empire in Sharjah which was benefiting tremendously from the influx of dollars from the oil trade. 

Bukhatir may have become a business tycoon in the UAE but the love of cricket hadn’t left him. He started organizing local matches first at the Air Force ground in Sharjah, and later he built the Sharjah stadium where he organized matches. His patronage benefited the Indian and Pakistani cricketers massively who kept visiting Sharjah to play matches like Gavaskar XI vs Miandad XI. 

Bukhatir wasn’t very different from Kerry Packer in this regard who organized the World Series Cricket in the late 70s in Australia. However, where Packer’s motives were rancorous, Bukhatir was fuelled by the sheer love of the game. And love, as they say, is always a stronger emotion than hate. 

Bukhatir also benefited from royal patronage and structured Sharjah as the neutral home of the India - Pakistan rivalry. He wanted to give the billion people of the subcontinent a cricketing identity to be proud of. He proposed the idea of an Asia Cup at Sharjah to Noor Khan and NKP Salve. This is exactly what they needed. 

So they came on board readily, and the office of the council was established in Sharjah. In 1984, the first-ever Asia Cup, sponsored by Rothmans, was organized. The first ODI was played between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which was also the first ever ODI that Sharjah ever hosted. 

What began with the Asia Cup, was followed by Sharjah hosting more than 200 ODIs along with some of the richest people on this planet attending those games. The story of the Asia Cup is also the story of how the dazzling dance of cricket in the dusty deserts of Sharjah converted it into cricket’s El Dorado. 

A Discordant History

Cricket is not played in a vacuum. It gets affected by everything that happens outside the ground. 

Right from the second edition of the Asia Cup, the inconsonant politics of South Asia started affecting it. India didn’t take part in that as it was being held in Sri Lanka, which was in the middle of a violent civil war and the LTTE was at its most powerful in the Tamil Eelam movement. Another reason for this was that India was spiteful after being made to bear the brunt of biased umpiring in 1985 when they toured Sri Lanka for a test series and ended up losing it. 

In the 1990-91 Asia Cup, Pakistan didn’t travel to India due to the ongoing conflict over the Siachen glacier in Kashmir. Even this year, the Asia Cup which is starting soon is being played in two different countries with a frankly ridiculous schedule, because India didn’t want to travel to Pakistan due to security concerns.


It's ironic that a tournament that was formed to challenge the domination of the English in the ICC by creating a united Asian bloc, has itself gone through a discordant history that closely mirrors the political instability of South Asian geopolitics. 

Regardless, what started with NKP Salve’s humiliation triggered a chain of events that were fuelled by the vision of making Asia the prime meridian of cricket. Today the result is in front of us as BCCI = ICC memes flood the internet whenever the umpire gives a decision in India’s favour, and the IPL becomes cricket’s biggest league. 

Amidst all this, the Asia Cup stands as a symbol of the success of those disgruntled South Asian men, who joined hands with an Emirati to give a cricketing identity to the most populated region of this planet. 

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