Mushfiqur Rahim is pumping his fist as he roars ecstatically after scooping Hardik Pandya’s length delivery over his head for a boundary. It is the World T20 match against India in Bangalore and Bangladesh are on verge of eliminating India from the tournament. Bangladesh need just two runs from three balls and with the experienced Mushfiqur at the crease, victory is imminent.
The fans of a country of nearly 200 million are finally starting to believe that they can beat a high-quality opposition, that too when it matters the most. Three balls later, Bangladesh miraculously manage to lose a seemingly un-losable match.
It was an opportunity missed and it still stings. Bangladesh might have defeated India in a bilateral series at home for the first time a few years ago, but they are yet to inflict defeat on their neighbours in a match with great significance.
Back in 2015 in the quarter-finals of the 50-over World Cup, they had been brushed aside by 109 runs by the neighbours. It was that game that started the intense rivalry between the two teams, especially after Bangladesh felt they were harshly treated by the umpires. It even prompted the then Bangladesh Cricket Board president Mustafa Kamal to say, “There was no quality in the umpiring. It seemed as if they had gone into the match with something in mind. I am speaking as a fan, not as the ICC president. Umpires may make mistakes.”
To put it bluntly, the loss to India had been difficult to digest. Perhaps Bangladesh felt they were good enough, but were made to realise the harsh realities. Maybe the team was still learning the art of winning. The 2015 World Cup was the turning point, but the team was still a long way away from achieving the standards they had set for themselves.
They needed that loss in 2015 to motivate them and stride towards greater goals. But as history shows, a year later at the World T20 they had faltered again. Then again last year in the Champions Trophy semi-final, the mighty Tigers ran into India but came up short. Add to that the final of the Asia Cup in 2016 and a pattern emerges.
Bangladesh keep trying harder, but eventually succumb to pressure. They have the potential, talent and the skills, but it has now become a psychological issue. Sometimes in sport, it is the last decisive steps that are often the hardest to take. In the case of Bangladesh, they seem to be trying to finish the race in a flash rather than staying patient and fighting to the end.
Perhaps it will come with experience and once they break the sequence they will learn the art of beating India on the grand stage. Maybe, the Asia Cup final is the right time to break the trend. India are without their inspirational skipper Virat Kohli and are largely dependent on their openers to score majority of the runs. At the same time with Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al-Hasan missing from the Bangladesh ranks, it promises to be a tough challenge.
At the pre-finale press conference, Shikhar Dhawan defended Bangladesh by stating that perhaps they needed to relax a tad and be gratified at reaching the final. It is a mindset that will enable them to play stress-free cricket and possibly break the trend.
‘Choke’ might be too strong of a word, but with every loss the pressure is growing on Bangladesh to finally make the kill. Close enough is no longer good enough. Making it to the finals is no longer a remarkable achievement. For Bangladesh, it is time to strike the killer blow.
Bangladesh has won Test matches against England and Australia. They have beaten all major cricketing opponents in the ODI format at home, but against India they keep falling at the last hurdle. It is a psychological barrier that needs to be broken soon. With each loss the frustration will bubble, and it will only become difficult to overcome.
At the press conference, Mashrafe Mortaza was asked about the constant failings against India, but the Bangladesh skipper deviated from the topic to state that the bravery of Tamim Iqbal in the opening match was as good as winning the Asia Cup.
After succumbing to India four times in the last three years in decisive matches, perhaps Bangladesh are trying to be as stress-free as possible ahead of the Asia Cup final. It might turn out to be fruitful and it might just cause Bangladesh to play with that extra freedom.
The Asia Cup final on Friday is another golden opportunity to bury the old demons and erase the scars of their previous meetings at high-profile tournaments.