In order to celebrate the golden jubilee of independence, Sri Lanka put up a grand show with the Prince of Wales, Charles in attendance. Cricket came up with a big event too, organizing a mega tournament called the Nidahas Trophy.
In the 1990s, sports bodies all looked to Singer to sponsor various events and once again sports promoter Hemaka Amarasuriya came up with a generous sponsorship and the event was known as the Singer Akai Nidahas Trophy. It was a fabulous show. An event that will remain etched in the memories of Sri Lankans for many years to come.
The idea of an independence cup in fact was mooted by India followed by Pakistan. The year 1997 marked the golden jubilee of both countries’ independence from the British. India invited Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Pakistan. The hosts made a shocking exit without making it to the final. Sri Lanka and Pakistan progressed to the best of three finals and there was no need for a third game as the World Champions won in Mohali and wrapped up the series in Calcutta.
There was a major scare as the Sri Lankan team made a complaint to the organizers about the presence of bookies in the team hotel in Mohali. The police stormed in and ensured nothing untoward happened. Aravinda de Silva was named Man of the Match in the final while Sanath Jayasuriya was Player of the Series. SJ topped the run charts and was among the top ten wicket takers too.
Pakistan hosted their Independence Cup a few months after India. Along with the hosts, Sri Lanka, West Indies and South Africa featured in the event. The final was between South Africa and Sri Lanka and Hansie Cronje lead South Africa to victory with Herschelle Gibbs smashing 99.
In 1998 it was Sri Lanka’s turn to celebrate the golden jubilee of independence and they organized the Nidahas Trophy. Unlike Pakistan’s and India’s, this wasn’t a quadrangular event. SLC could only attract New Zealand and India and a triangular was played. As was the norm now, no Asian country could win their own independence cup and Sri Lanka’s event was won by India.
It turned out to be a cracking final at RPS. Set a target of 307, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 301 with three ball to spare, to lose by six runs. Sri Lanka were cruising with Aravinda de Silva in the middle, needing 35 in 42 balls with five wickets in hand. Then Aravinda got out to give India a bit of a sniff but still it was Sri Lanka’s game with Roshan Mahanama out in the middle. When Mahanama was run out by Ajay Jadeja at the end of the 48th over, Sri Lanka needed 12 off 12 with two wickets in hand. The tail couldn’t handle the pressure with the last two wickets falling to run outs and India held on for a memorable win. Sri Lankan fans who witnessed that game still cannot believe what happened that night.
In 2018, as Sri Lanka celebrated 70 years of independence, another independence cup was organized with India and Bangladesh making up the numbers. Results didn’t go Sri Lanka’s way in this T20 competition but financially the board made a kill through the sale of television rights. With Sri Lanka not qualifying for the finals, it was kind of a strange feeling to witness fans turning up in numbers at R. Premadasa Stadium to cheer India. What a final it turned out to be with India snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with Dinesh Karthik hitting a last ball six.
Last year had India or Pakistan organized an Independence Cup to commemorate 75th independence, Sri Lanka would have felt the heat and would have organized a similar event. But India’s priorities have changed over the years. They focus more on events like IPL and women’s IPL and those products bring them more revenue than multi-nation cricket series. Pakistan too is banking heavily on PSL.
Sri Lanka meanwhile has much to gain by organizing such an event. If they are able to attract India it will be a shot in the arm as SLC will have a financial windfall. Finding a third team of course shouldn’t be a major issue.
It’s been a while since Sri Lanka hosted a multi nation event. It will add colour, tickets will sell like hot cakes and small businesses will thrive. If SLC is able to attract India, tourism will boom too and the board will be up on the deal if Pakistan consent to be the third team. There’s no better sight in cricket than India versus Pakistan. It will be war without bullets.