Bangladesh deserves a pat

The victorious Pakistan team with the Asia Cup.-AP

A legend's overwhelming aura, a young batsman's initial steps towards the realm of greatness and most importantly an under-rated team erasing its derisive nickname — minnows — were all revealed over the course of 12 days. By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The Asia Cup was usually an after-thought. It was the filler wedged between miniscule gaps of a packed international calendar and even the old notions of sub-continental solidarity that lingered since its launch in 1984 at Sharjah, have become dull in these times of living in a global village.

There was also a predictable streak in the tournament's history with India (five titles) and Sri Lanka (four) dominating the high table.

Thankfully the stale air around the event lifted across the skies at Dhaka, when it concluded on March 22. A legend's overwhelming aura, a young batsman's initial steps towards the realm of greatness and most importantly an under-rated team erasing its derisive nickname — minnows — were all revealed over the course of 12 days.

Sachin Tendulkar's 100 international hundreds, Virat Kohli's centuries that nailed Sri Lanka and Pakistan and the tournament's biggest discovery — Bangladesh's ‘we-belong-to-the-big-stage' swagger — made the 11th edition, perhaps the best in its 28-year old history. And like a good tale that springs a twist and reiterates the clichéd ‘glorious uncertainties', it was Pakistan that won the Asia Cup, its second since 2000 and that too again at Dhaka.

The triumph fittingly came in a week when Mohammad Amir spoke about his spot-fixing trauma, Rahul Dravid hoped that the speedster will find a way back and ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat stressed the left-arm seamer's pressing need to undergo a rehabilitation process.

Amir's change of heart and Pakistan's victory underlined redemption, which often forms the core of many a sporting joust.

The final pitted fancied Pakistan and resurgent Bangladesh but out on the streets, there was this lingering dream that Dhaka 2012 would define a nation's cricket much like Lord's 1983, Melbourne 1992 and Lahore 1996 screamed out the respective cricketing abilities of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to the world. “Bangladesh is a very good team and even in our first match, they got close,” Pakistan's Younis Khan said ahead of the summit clash while host captain Mushfiqur Rahim declared: “We will give our 100 per cent.”

The leap in to history's pages seemed on course when Bangladesh restricted Pakistan to 236 for nine with its seamer Mashrafe Mortaza and left-arm spin duo of Abdur Razzak and Shakib Al Hasan grabbing two wickets each. The visitor remained timid until Man of the Match Shahid Afridi's 32 lent some belated spark. Yet the total seemed inadequate against a team that had successfully chased down India's 289 earlier in the league.

The stage was set for Tamim Iqbal to reiterate his innate talent. A man, who was dropped and then reinstated in the days leading to the tournament, obviously had a point to prove. The opener (60) precisely did that with his fourth consecutive 50 but that along with ‘Player of the Tournament' Shakib 68 was fated to end in tears as the rest, especially after a dour Mohammad Nazimuddin and Nasir Hossain, steeply increased the required run-rate. Bangladesh finished with 234 for eight.

The Pakistan attack helmed by a suffocating Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul, who scalped two key wickets and also shed runs, proved too tough an obstacle to surpass. And once Aizaz Cheema conceded just six in a last over in which Bangladesh needed nine, the crowd at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium lapsed in to stunned silence and then broke in to profuse applause while appreciating the home team that had offered it something intangible and special — a strong collective self-esteem.

The surge in self-belief among the Bangladesh players was evident during the course of the Asia Cup when Shakib said: “Now, when we have to chase 120 from 20 overs, we think it is no run, I mean that is the kind of confidence we have.” Tamim, Shakib's partner in churning upsets, added: “The Bangladesh Premier League has also changed the way we bat. Some of the shots that Shakib plays now are something that he never attempted before BPL.”

After the final, Pakistan all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez said: “Let us admire the courage shown by Bangladesh. We knew that with our match-winning bowlers we could defend 236.” A gracious Hafeez also pointed out the sobering fact about his team that has become a wandering gypsy in international cricket after the shoot-out against the Sri Lankan squad at Lahore in 2009. “People should understand that we no longer play international matches at home and usually we play abroad or at the United Arab Emirates, which for now is our home base.

"Let us be honest, take an individual or a team and you will find that 60 per cent of performance is better at home and 40 per cent is good overseas but we don't get to play at home anymore. You have to appreciate what we have achieved in a tournament that had India, Sri Lanka and a strongly emerging Bangladesh,” the opener said.

Among the other teams, India found Bangladesh a bug-bear yet again. It happened in the 2007' World Cup in the Caribbean and it occurred at the latest Asia Cup too with the loss against the Tigers, forcing the Men in Blue to advance their return tickets and even the silver lining of Tendulkar's 100th ton failed to prevent an early exit. Against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Kohli with respective scores of 108 and 183, highlighted his innate value to the Indian team. Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma also had their moments of relief and joy though the bowlers' struggle against rampant batsmen, will hamper India in sterner battles ahead.

Sri Lanka meanwhile failed to sustain its high of competing hard at Australia. The loss of an injured Angelo Mathews, tame batting and Lasith Malinga going wicket-less derailed Mahela Jayawardene's men, who lost all their three matches.

Finally it was a tournament that Bangladesh lost but in retrospect the host also gained enormous brownie points, which will stand the team in good stead. “We will not take a backward step,” Mushfiqur said while dwelling on his squad's fresh dawn and that perhaps is the biggest gift that the Asia Cup could have ever given to the cricket community at large.

THE SCORES (FINAL)

Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez c Nazmul b Razzak 40, Nasir Jamshed c Mahmudullah b Mortaza 9, Younis Khan lbw b Nazmul 1, Misbah-ul-Haq (run out) 13, Umar Akmal c Mushfiqur b Mahmudullah 30, Hammad Azam c & b Shakib 30, Shahid Afridi c Nasir b Shakib 32, Sarfraz Ahmed (not out) 46, Umar Gul c Shakib b Mortaza 4, Saeed Ajmal b Razzak 4, Aizaz Cheema (not out) 9. Extras (b-2, lb-8, w-4, nb-4): 18. Total (for nine wkts. in 50 overs): 236.

Fall of wickets: 1-16, 2-19, 3-55, 4-70, 5-129, 6-133, 7-178, 8-199, 9-206.

Bangladesh bowling: Mortaza 10-0-48-2, Nazmul 8-1-36-1, Razzak 10-3-26-2, Shahadat 9-0-63-0, Shakib 10-1-39-2, Mahmudullah 3-0-14-1.

Bangladesh: Tamim Iqbal c Younis b Gul 60, Mohammad Nazimuddin c Younis b Afridi 16, Jahurul Islam c Younis b Ajmal 0, Nasir Hossain c Misbah b Gul 28, Shakib Al Hasan b Cheema 68, Mushfiqur Rahim c Nasir b Cheema 10, Mohammad Mahmudullah (not out) 17, Mashrafe Mortaza c Nasir b Ajmal 18, Abdur Razzak b Cheema 6, Shahadat Hossain (not out) 0. Extras (lb-5, w-4, nb-2): 11. Total (for eight wkts., in 50 overs): 234.

Fall of wickets: 1-68, 2-68, 3-81, 4-170, 5-179, 6-190, 7-218, 8-233.

Pakistan bowling: Hafeez 10-0-30-0, Gul 10-2-65-2, Ajmal 10-2-40-2, Afridi 10-1-28-1, Cheema 7-0-46-3, Azam 3-0-20-0.