"Mahendra Singh Dhoni showed he wants to be in charge, that he wants to take control of tight situations": Watch Ayaz Memon's analysis above, of India's win in Asia Cup final on Sunday.
It may surprise many to learn that Sunday was only Bangladesh’s third-ever final in any format. The previous two were more than four years ago, and both were close ODI games, both heartbreaking losses in front of home crowds. In 2009, the genius and patience of Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara denied them victory in a low-scoring thriller. And in 2012, they watched as Pakistan dished up a special performance to deny them their first-ever Asia Cup, a match they lost by the slender margin of two runs.
So in Sunday night’s clash against heavyweights India, once again in front of their adoring public, they had a chance to pay back the fans. The fans who braved more than an hour of lashing rain, some without umbrellas or shelter. The fans who were drenched and soaked and still kept on singing. The fans who could make India feel like they were playing a true away game, something even the mighty MCG cannot lay claim to.
Alas, it was not to be. Bangladesh –despite having their moments- were completely outplayed by a ruthless Indian unit who lifted their sixth Asia cup title.
“The boys are very excited,” said Mashrafe Mortaza, the skipper of the Tigers at the toss. “Not too excited”, he added quickly. He knew that excitement wins matches, but calmness wins championships. Over the days before the final Mortaza had stressed that India were clear favourites. He knew he was up against a side which had the know-how and personnel to turn games around, and a habit of winning championships. Despite Bangladesh’s heroics against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Mortaza was under no illusions as to what he was up against.
Yet there were moments in the game where the Sher-e-Bangla stadium threatened to strain its collective larynx, and burst eardrums. Sabbir Rahman’s attractive and intelligent strokeplay provided some. His use of the speed of the bowlers to play the angles on the field was breathtaking. His unbeaten 32 off 29 balls anchored the Bangladesh innings, perhaps a little too well, considering it was a 90 ball game. Nevertheless, his continued good form has vindicated the decision to promote him to bat at one-down, and his consistency earned him the man-of-the-series trophy.
Shakib (21 off 16 balls) struck some lusty blows, and his short innings resonated a confidence that was missing in the preceding matches. Meanwhile, Mahmudullah (33* off 13) continued to impress in the role of a finisher and without his innings, the Bangladeshi total would not have been competitive. His 21-run assault in the penultimate over gave Hardik Pandya much to think about. And with the new ball, Taskin Ahmed and Al-Amin Hossain once again impressed, scalping Rohit Sharma and conceding just 7 in the first 24 balls.
However, for much longer periods during the match, the Mirpur crowd was subdued, if not all together silenced. Partly it was due to the brilliance of the likes of Dhawan (60 off 44), Kohli (41* off 28) and Bumrah(1 for 13). But it was partly due to the ineptness of their team. Shakib’s bowling was disheartening, and his longhops opened the floodgates after a tight start from the pacers. In the field, a couple of half-chances presented themselves but were just out of reach. And the groundfielding was a letdown as well. In all cases, there was no shortage of effort. But if Bangladesh are to become a team that can challenge the best consistently, then – as I have said before – they must outfield their opponents more often than not.
In the end, home conditions ironically seemed to conspire against Bangladesh. First the rain shortened the game, thus stacking the odds even more in favour of India’s power-based batting. Mortaza said that nothing went their way right from the time they lost the toss. Batting first, Tamim Iqbal (13 off 17) seemed to want to assess the pitch and movement it offered after the squall, as if he was opening the batting on a foreign field. He had to adjust to more than the conditions though, as Dhoni threw a wild card in by opening with Ashwin.
All the batters seemed unsure of what a par score was in 15 overs, and how many risks to take. India on the other hand, batting second, knew exactly how many they were chasing, and Dhawan and Kohli paced themselves accordingly.
What the Dhaka crowd probably didn’t realise was that despite their team losing, there was a team of heroes hard at work on the stadium who the fans should be proud of. No, not the players, but the curator and ground staff. After the ferocious shower that lashed the ground, many grounds in the world would have been unable to host a decent game. The Sher-e-Bangla earned another feather in its cap on Sunday: besides being home to an intrepid and exciting team, it proved that it boasts some of the best drainage systems in the world.
At the presentation, Harsha Bhogle put forward the question: Is this the most well-rounded Bangladesh team ever? The answer is yes. Such is their lot though, that after beating two Asian giants in this tournament, Bangladesh must still play a qualifier to gain entry into the WT20. Their breakneck schedule (their first qualifying game is on Tuesday) means they will have little time for acclimatisation. But match practice is the best practice, and they will carry the high of this Asia Cup, and the groundswell of support, into qualifiers. If they qualify for the main draw, and I am certain they will, do not rule out bigger upsets in the WT20.