The gruelling and emotional experience of the Asia Cup Cricket Final between Pakistan and Bangladesh proved cricket to be the ultimate winner
When Pakistan’s Aizaz Cheema was running to deliver the last ball of the Asia Cup Cricket Final in Dhaka on Thursday, 160 million Bangladeshis stopped breathing for a few seconds. They needed four runs to crown themselves the new Asia Cup champions. It would be a fitting end to a team that exceeded all expectations by its ‘never-give-up’ attitude throughout the tournament. Shahadat Hossain, the number 10 batsman who conceded 19 runs in the last over of the Pakistan innings was batting. Cheema bowled to Shahadat’s legs and they could only run for a single. Thus, the dream of a cricket crazed nation was shattered. The victory was so near, yet so far!
The scenes that followed were heart wrenching. Mushfiqur Rahim, the young Bangladeshi captain was crying like an infant in the arms of Shakib Al Hasan, the all-rounder who was later adjudged the ‘player of the tournament’. Soon almost everyone in the team broke into tears. The Bangladeshi fans in the 25,000 capacity crowd at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Dhaka took a few moments to console themselves before they eventually stood up for their heroes.. Their team may have failed to win the cup, but they certainly won the hearts of millions of cricket fans around the world. Legendary West Indian batsman Brian Lara wrote on his facebook page on Friday, ‘I felt very sad seeing the people and the players crying. Could be either ways. Bangladesh lost, but won the hearts of million people, in fact they won everything except the cup! Be aware world, Bangladesh is the new terror!’
The tournament came alive in the very first match when Bangladesh fought very hard only to lose narrowly to Pakistan. The hosts then went from strength to strength, first beating India in a magnificent run chase, overshadowing master batsman Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th century in that match. Meanwhile Sri Lanka lost to both India and Pakistan to be the first team eliminated from the tournament. India then beat Pakistan, which meant that Bangladesh needed to beat Sri Lanka to qualify for the final. They did exactly that in a rain-curtailed match to reach only their second final in a One-Day tournament. In the final, Pakistan batted first remaining uncomfortable against a spirited Bangladesh attack and was 198 for eight at one point. Sarfraz Ahmed’s determined knock, helped by an expensive last over, took Pakistan to a respectable score of 236.
Bangladesh started well with Tamim Iqbal scoring his fourth half century in as many matches, but lost their way to some brilliant Pakistan bowling. Then Shakib played another valuable knock, but was out when Bangladesh still needed 58 runs. When captain Mushfiq left with Bangladesh needing 47 runs in only 24 balls, it would have been an inevitable Pakistan victory in any previous match between the two teams. The Bangladesh everyone was familiar with would succumb to this pressure and the rest of the players would give away their wickets. However, this was a completely different team. They knew how to put up a fight. Mahmudullah, Mashrafi and Razzak all played their parts to take the match to the final delivery. And then tragedy struck; Bangladesh lost by two runs in a memorable final of a memorable tournament.
Bangladesh is a nation engulfed in bitter political rivalries and many other socio-economic problems. The people often bank on their cricketers to bring much needed smiles to their faces. Therefore, playing in the Asia Cup final was a momentous occasion for a cricket loving country that has had a rollercoaster ride to the top level of international cricket after being elevated as a Test playing nation in 2000. They had been ridiculed as ‘toothless tigers’, ‘minnows’, ‘an embarrassment for top level cricket’ and some even went as far as calling them to be stripped of their Test status. It is true that Bangladesh’s performance at top-level cricket has been pretty abysmal, particularly their Test record. Many a time there has been hope with stunning upsets or a close Test match against the big guns only to be followed by very poor performances. The Bengal Tigers rarely roared, and if they did so, they could not be consistent enough to sustain it. The tale of Bangladesh’s meek surrender to established cricket teams continued until as recent as three months back when they were beaten heavily by Pakistan in a one-sided series on their own soil. This was after the humiliation of being defeated by Zimbabwe who returned to Test cricket after a long gap. Therefore, when the four-nation Asia Cup Tournament began in Dhaka less than two weeks ago, no one even thought Bangladesh could pose anyone a challenge.
Why were they performing so badly when everyone knew there was no dearth in talent? They probably never understood that cricket is a mind game and no team can ever succeed if they are not mentally tough. Come February, and a fortnight-long Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), the whole picture changed. The local Bangladeshi players played some tough cricket under pressure along with a few big stars in international cricket. Many think that the BPL played a crucial part in changing the mindset of Bangladeshi players.
The Asia Cup cricket in Bangladesh has proven to be beneficial in terms of publicity for a sport that has seen a turbulent few years marred by the notorious match fixing scandals. The tournament was initially criticised by some as an ill-timed one, but eventually it proved to be one of the best events of its two and a half decade history. It is in this tournament that the greatest ambassador of world cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, achieved the long-awaited record of one hundred international centuries. Pakistan, a surprising underperformer in Asia Cup tournaments, became the champion of the latest edition. India and Sri Lanka, the finalists of the last World Cup, both failed to qualify for the final. Yet the most significant aspect was the consistent performance of Bangladesh and their emergence as a team that not only beat India and Sri Lanka but also made Pakistan a run for their money on both occasions they met.
Mushfiq and his team’s performance touched not only the Bangladeshi fans, but also their rival captain Misbah-ul-Haq who commented ‘Bangladesh is the real winner’ during the presentation ceremony. The matches were played with the best kind of spirit. The mutual respect among players from all sides showed that all is not lost in this gentlemen’s game. As a result, no one lost the tournament; everyone won. Pakistan may have won the cup, but it was cricket that eventually turned out to be the ultimate winner.
Image from: http://cricket.yahoo.com/photos/asia-cup-final-pakistan-vs-bangladesh-slideshow/pakistans-cricket-team-celebrate-winning-final-match-against-photo-170242621.html
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