Raising many eyebrows, Bangladesh have now entered the final of the ongoing Asia Cup, beating Pakistan comprehensively by 37 runs in a virtual semi-final clash in Abu Dhabi. It has been some turnaround for the Tigers in this tournament since that defeat against India in their first Super Four encounter. A team, marred by injuries to key players like Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan, decided not to go down without a fight. And here they are, gearing up for their third appearance in the title clash of Asia Cup in past four editions.
Bangladesh play their best cricket when they are charged up and desperate to prove a point. Perhaps, that's what has happened this time as well. Right from the start of this Asia Cup, the three possible India vs Pakistan matches, including the summit clash, were projected as the flavour of the tournament. At one point, it seemed the other four teams are here just to make up the numbers, which must have been quite insulting for the Tigers. Then, the controversy surrounding the cramped schedule of this Asia Cup which forced Bangladesh to play matches on back to back days on two different cities had further hurt their egos.
The biggest setback, however, came on Wednesday morning, right before their knockout clash against Pakistan, when their most dependable all-rounder, Shakib, was ruled out of the tournament due to a fractured finger.
All the odds seemed against Bangladesh.
Nevertheless, they still had someone in the dressing room who doesn't have a negative bone in him. Obviously, he is their skipper Mashrafe Moratza, who commanded his boys to take this match as a battle to prove what Bangladesh cricket is capable of even under adverse situations.
"Once you step onto the warfield, you don't look back. There are no half measures. You either kill or get killed. Everyone has to give 100 percent and if that happens, we will surely win," Mushfiqur Rahim, in his post-match press conference recalled some of the chatter in the dressing room.
With no Shakib in the batting order, Bangladesh had to play an extra batsman in the all-rounder's slot.
"We obviously went into this game with a lot of risk. We had four genuine bowlers and then we had Riyad bhai, (Mahmudullah) Mominul (Haque) and others to combine for the other ten overs. Our bowlers knew they had to take extra responsibility," said Rahim.
Meanwhile, winning the toss and batting first, it did not take long for Bangladesh to totter at 12 for 3. In the press box, there were already talks of whether both Junaid Khan and Mohammad Amir should play in the final against India.
But as Rahim, alongside Mohammad Mithun, went about their business during the 144-run fourth-wicket stand, those premature discussions took a backseat. The duo showed exceptional temperament on that well-grassed wicket, which was perfectly suited to the Pakistan seam attack. In fact, they were the same two persons who rescued the Tigers against Sri Lanka in the tournament opener.
However, unlike the Sri Lanka game, Rahim couldn't cross the three-figure mark on Thursday. He missed out by just one run. But despite missing a memorable hundred, this innings will always be regarded as one of the top-notch efforts by a Bangladeshi batsman in their ODI cricket history. Remember, he too was not 100 percent fit.
"I am not upset about it, especially after we won," Mushfiqur said, "I have always believed that team comes first. If I had got that hundred and we had lost, I'd not have been happy. When I came back into the dressing room, the only thought I had in mind was some set batsman has to stay out there till the end for us because Pakistan's bowling quality is incredible and no new batsman can find it easy to hit out immediately. If you have observed, we couldn't score even 120 in the last 20 overs, I was disappointed that I couldn't carry on but the team's win has made it memorable."
At the halfway stage, the target of 240 indeed looked at least 20 runs short on that evenly-paced track. However, the way Bangladesh came out and bowled with the new balls showed a lot of character about this particular unit.
Pakistan lost Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, and Sarfraz Ahmed within the first three overs. But Imam Ul Haq along with experienced Shoaib Malik kept their team in the game.
Soon came the turning point of the match. At short mid-wicket, Mortaza threw himself in the air to take that stunner to dismiss Malik.
"It was indeed an amazing (catch). Shoaib Malik is the most experienced player of their team and for that catch to be taken at that point, it was incredible indeed. At this age, to be able to hold onto that catch, Mashrafe bhai is happy," Rahim had absolutely no hesitation to admit that the catch turned the match around.
Nevertheless, until Imam and Asif Ali were at the crease, Pakistan did have a chance. But in the middle overs, even the Bangladesh part-time bowlers like Mahmudullah and Soumya Sarkar did an exceptional job to hold the batsmen back. In the absence of Shakib, they took up the extra responsibility for the team. Also, the bowling was well backed-up by the fielders. Even when the batsmen were going strong, the fielders were diving around, cutting the extra runs, which showed that the spirits in the Bangladesh camp were high throughout the innings.
Eventually, Pakistan finished 37 runs short of Bangladesh's total, providing Bangladesh one the most memorable victories in their cricketing history. Who would have predicted this result when the Tigers were struggling at 12 for 3 at the start of the game? Perhaps, that's what positive intensity and inspirational leadership do to a team. In final, India may seem far more equipped, but do not count this Bangladesh team out, yet.