Sri Lanka's greatest hits at the Asia Cup - the five times they took the title home

As Sri Lanka gear up for their 11th Asia Cup final, we look at the five times they won the tournament

The Sri Lankan team celebrates victory after the 2014 final  •  AFP

The Sri Lankan team celebrates victory after the 2014 final  •  AFP

For a side that only seriously became a cricketing force in the mid '90s, Sri Lanka have overachieved in Asia Cups, now having made it to the 11th final (ODI versions), in 14 attempts, while finishing runners-up in the inaugural edition which was decided on in a round-robin format.
They have also won the title five times. ESPNcricinfo looks through Sri Lanka's winning ODI Asia Cup campaigns.
South Asian teams refusing to visit their neighbours for cricket tournaments is not a modern phenomenon. Well, not that modern, anyway. This was the second Asia Cup ever played, and India did not send a team to Sri Lanka, largely owing to security concerns, with the Sri Lankan Civil War building up to an especially violent phase. Bangladesh were invited instead, in order to avoid reducing this to a Sri Lanka-Pakistan bilateral.
In the round robin it seemed as if a Pakistan team full of greats - Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Abdul Qadir, Wasim Akram etc. - would ease to the title, having crushed both oppositions. But in the final, seamer Kaushik Amalean, who ended up playing only 10 matches for Sri Lanka, took 4 for 46 as Sri Lanka restricted Pakistan to 191 for 9 off 45 overs.
They were only 22 and 20 then, but Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva then put on one of their earliest great partnerships to put Sri Lanka ahead in the chase. They each made fifties, and put on 97 in each other's company. Qadir took three wickets, but with Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias coming in lower down the order, Sri Lanka cruised to the target with five wickets and 16 balls to spare.
1997 was not a good year for India's bowlers in matches against Sri Lanka. Particularly not at Khettarama (IYKYK). Sri Lanka properly stormed through this tournament. They eased past Pakistan first up, Marvan Atapattu hitting 80 to begin what would be an excellent tournament for him, in his coming-of-age year in international cricket, before opening partner Sanath Jayasuriya took 4 for 49.
The two would take turns producing match-turning performances, and Sri Lanka breezed into the final, never having been seriously tested, and had one more thumping left in them for the big game. Batting first, India made 239 for 7 at Khettarama. Jayasuriya cracked 63 off 52 as Sri Lanka plundered 43 runs off Venkatesh Prasad's four overs (he bowled only four). Atapattu made 84 not out, and Arjuna Ranatunga did Arjuna Ranatunga things by which I mean taking the chase gently by the hand and guiding it home, with 62 not out off 66. Sri Lanka won with eight wickets and 79 balls to spare.
This was in Sri Lanka's in-between era. Their spectacular late '90s team had waned, but Muthiah Muralidaran and Chaminda Vaas had become serious forces, Jayasuriya remained a match-winner, and younger batters were forging new narratives. This was another largely Colombo-based Asia Cup, and home advantage played a significant role too.
Having won one match each against the other finalist in the earlier stage of the tournament, Sri Lanka and India came to the final in Colombo pretty evenly matched.
India had their all-star batting order, featuring Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and a young Yuvraj Singh. India also had an early version of Zaheer Khan, but it was obvious that Sri Lanka had the better attack: Murali and Vaas complemented by the likes of Nuwan Zoysa and Farveez Maharoof, with the all-round talents of Jayasuriya, Upul Chandana, and Tillakaratne Dilshan also thrown in.
Sri Lanka made only 228 for 9, but in their defence put a vaunted opposition in a straitjacket. Vaas and Zoysa set the tone, conceding only 42 from their 15 combined overs, while claiming one early wicket apiece. Then the spinners applied the choke, and Sri Lanka bowled 195 dot balls. India were not bowled out, but lost by 25.
India had beaten Sri Lanka in the Super Fours stage. But this was the Mahela Jayawardene captaincy era, and he was a big believer in hiding his mystery spinners. Ajantha Mendis was rested for that Super Fours game. But in the final, in Karachi (where nine of the 12 matches were played), Sri Lanka set India 274 thanks to a vintage Jayasuriya 125 off 114.
And then Mendis was set loose.
He had Sehwag stumped with his second ball, then bowled Yuvraj two balls later. A straighter one clattered into Suresh Raina's stumps, a carrom ball trapped Rohit Sharma in front, Irfan Pathan edged the two-finger googly to slip, and then Mendis bowled RP Singh next ball. He took 6 for 13. India were all out for 173.
While Sri Lanka's late '90s ODI outfit is rightly mythologised, there is strong evidence that Sri Lanka's golden white-ball years were actually between 2007 and 2014. This was a confluence of greats. Lasith Malinga was at his peak, which is perhaps the most important component of their greatness. In Nuwan Kulasekara, he had an able accomplice. Malinga was outstanding at the death. Kulasekara would bowl big inswingers with the new ball. Together they would make breakthroughs at either end of the innings.
There was also Kumar Sangakkara coming into his greatest years, Jayawardene playing vital innings, and Dilshan was outshining both of them, at times.
In this seven-year stretch, Sri Lanka made five World Cup finals (two in ODIs and three in T20s).
If the 1997 Asia Cup underscored how special that team was, the 2014 Asia Cup presaged their next global triumph. They strode unbeaten through this tournament, not crushing oppositions exactly, but doing enough to overcome them in each match.
In the final, against Pakistan, Malinga took 5 for 56 and they restricted Pakistan to 260 for five. Lahiru Thirimanne hit 101 off 108, and Sri Lanka won by five wickets.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf