It's the 42nd over of the run-chase. Bangladesh are five runs away from levelling scores with India in a World Cup final and Rakibul Hasan guides Sushant Mishra past point for a boundary. The spinner fist pumps, then almost as though he was reminded of Mushfiqur Rahim's early celebration in the 2016 World T20, controls himself.
Unlike in the 2016 World T20, there was no anti-climax here as the Tigers snatched victory from under India's nose to win the under-19 world title. This exemplary bunch of Bangladesh junior cricketers showcased several qualities, witnessed and found lacking, in their senior players and it's only fitting that they overhauled an Asian giant on a day their senior side was folding in a Test match against another Asian giant.
The contests between the India and Bangladesh colts have been extremely close in recent times. In Colombo last year, India won by 5 runs against the Bangladesh under-19 team. In the tri-series in England, the last two games between these sides were close — India winning one at Hove with eight balls remaining and Bangladesh winning another by two wickets.
The final on Sunday showed that Bangladesh weren't any more a pushover. They had planned for this World Cup for two years and the exceptional camaraderie within the players and the flawless nature of their preparation stood out in the win. A few moments from the match highlighted how meticulously Bangladesh went about dismantling India.
Breaking the opening stand at all costs
Bangladesh knew the best way to contain and test India was to break their opening stand early. This involved being patient against Yashasvi Jaiswal and Divyaansh Saxena and Shoriful Islam and Tanzim Hasan Sakib did just that when they started the innings with a maiden apiece. By the end of six overs, India had reached just eight runs and ideally you would expect a captain to stick to the same bowlers.
But Akbar Ali had different ideas. He knew if they didn't break the opening partnership early, it was going to get tougher on the field even if the run-scoring was restricted. So ringing in a crucial bowling change, he gave the Indian openers a sniff by bowling Avishek Das. Saxena saw this as an opportunity to cut loose and gifted his wicket away, justifying Akbar's out-of-the-box thinking.
Later as Yashasvi and Tilak Varma were running Bangladesh ragged, the skipper showed no hesitancy in bringing back his strike bowler — Tanzim — in the 29th over. The pacer sent back Tilak in the first over of his comeback spell to bring Bangladesh back into the game.
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) February 9, 2020
The perfect match-up against the skipper and strangling Dhruv Jurel
The Tigers were still not happy enough and one of their match-ups fell perfectly in place when Ali immediately brought Rakibul Hasan to bowl at Priyam Garg. The Indian skipper has an issue against left-arm spin early in his innings as a dismal average of 15.66 (his worst against any kind of bowling) suggests. Rakibul rewarded Bangladesh with the big wicket as pressure mounted on Jaiswal.
From the 31st over, Bangladesh had their strike bowlers bowling in tandem for most of the overs as they relentlessly searched for the big wicket of Jaiswal. By the 33rd over, Tanzim had bowled eight of his ten overs. By the 43rd over, Shoriful and Avishek had bowled their eight too. But Bangladesh picked up three massive wickets in this time frame including that of Dhruv Jurel, who was under pressure to keep the scoreboard ticking and ran himself out.
Contrary to India's ploy of keeping back Kartik Tyagi and Ravi Bishnoi even as the rain threat loomed, Bangladesh were ahead of the game and prepared to strive and break partnerships early. What came back to bite India perhaps turned the game in Bangladesh's direction.
Akbar Ali, the ravishing skipper and the fool-proof plan
All this while, Akbar kept guiding the comparatively less experienced pacer, Avishek, by constantly showing him the right line to bowl. In the 64 balls that led to Jurel's wicket after Garg was dismissed, Bangladesh had their strike bowlers on and just 44 runs came by mounting pressure on the wicketkeeper-batsman who could have altered the course of the innings.
Their character with the bat too stood out as the focus was on not giving the Indian pacers, especially Tyagi, wickets upfront. The 50-run partnership from the openers gave them the solid platform they needed. Even when Bishnoi had them in a tangle later on, the experienced Akbar and Parvez Hossain Emon were not ruffled and carefully played out the leg-spinner.
With rain threat looming, Bangladesh kept themselves ahead of the game and never looked to over exert their aggression. Akbar and Parvez stood rock-like as India struggled for breakthroughs. When they did finally break the stand, they were faced with another fierce competitor in Rakibul, who alongside Akbar, kept Bangladesh from falling behind in the DLS.
At one point in the game, after Parvez's dismissal, Bangladesh played out 21 dot balls on the trot as they decided to protect wickets and stay ahead in the DLS. The immense patience shown led Akash Singh to send down three wides in an over and help Bangladesh break the shackles.
What stood out in Bangladesh's triumph in each of these little moments was their exceptional work in the lead up to the World Cup. Two years ago, Bangladesh set the groundwork for their triumph in this tournament. They handpicked 20 players from the under-17 team in 2018 and stuck by them through thick and thin.
The focus was on building team strength and creating a good rapport within the squad as much as helping the youngsters find their feet in foreign conditions and building experience. From the end of the 2018 youth World Cup in New Zealand to the beginning of this World Cup, Bangladesh played 30 matches — the third most after India and Sri Lanka.
In 22 of these matches, Akbar was their leader. All of these current squad members played most of these 30 matches. In the list of top 10 players with most matches between the two World Cups, Bangladesh has six names — Akbar, Shamim Hossain, Tamzid, Towhid Hridoy, Mahmudul Hasan Joy and Rakibul — all of whom were crucial to their title triumph in South Africa.
"We have been together as a group for 15 months now to focus on this World Cup, so whenever we were in Bangladesh we stayed together as a camp. Travelling to England and then the Asia Cup, the bonding has been amazing. This togetherness obviously helps when we are playing, but more importantly, it makes us a second family outside the field. Everyone understands each other's personality inside out — when to have fun, when to give a person his space," Akbar had said prior to the final.
Bangladesh had also started winning significantly in this time frame. They won 18 of the 30 matches — the second best win-loss ratio for any team in this time period — and the top two wicket-takers and run-scorers in this time frame were also from Bangladesh. Only two batsmen had over 1000 runs in this period — Mahmudul Hasan, who broke Eoin Morgan's record for most runs in a calendar year at youth level in 2019, and Hridoy.
Building overseas experience was also on Bangladesh's agenda. They toured New Zealand and England, winning the series 4-1 in New Zealand and pipping England to the final of the tri-series in England (third team being India). Since they couldn't tour South Africa in this time frame, Bangladesh arrived a month early — the first team to reach — and played four practice games before their two scheduled warm-up matches ahead of the main World Cup.
They had a mental and strength conditioning coach Richard Stoinier on board to add the final gloss to a well-oiled squad. From arranging interesting drills to prepping up the team between innings, Stoinier built enthusiasm and passion in the Bangladesh boys.
Even if their aggression spilled over in those last few moments, Bangladesh's tactic to put India under pressure with intimidation worked in the first innings as India failed to gather any momentum right through their innings. Even when they were in the face of Indian batsmen, the bowlers maintained excellent discipline and brought all the experience from the matches under their belt to execute their plans to perfection.
"What I feel is, as a group, we combine very well as a team. On days our batsmen can't pull us through, our bowlers help us win. And vice versa. So difficult to say which element is better, but I like how our collective performance pulls us through," Akbar had said during the tournament.
From exuding confidence before the tournament, when he stated Bangladesh are good enough to reach the final, to executing the little things to perfection, Akbar led the team outstandingly in one of the most historic campaigns the under-19 World Cup has seen. Out there in South Africa was a junior bunch of players showing more composure and work ethic than their senior team. It augurs well for Bangladesh cricket that they now have a world title and a confident group of players waiting to be picked in the national side.
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