‘Freedom, you are the home amidst a flower garden; the warble of koel-bird, the twittering leaves of antediluvian banyan trees, my notebook of poetry, to pen poems as I please’ — Translated verse from the poem Shadinota Tumi (Freedom, you are…) written by Shamsur Rahman.

The aforementioned stanza, penned by one of Bangladesh’s finest poets, is more than a mere nod to nature’s largesse. This delightfully pastoral imagery is at once the nation’s heritage and its people’s cherished ideal.

The Bangladeshis have, over decades of coping with strife and natural calamities, emerged as hardened folk.

While cricket is normally a healthy distraction, the recent political turmoil nearly pushed the Asia Cup and the World Twenty20 out of the country. The withdrawal of the West Indies under-19 side from its tour following an explosion near the team hotel in Chittagong last December wasn’t the sort of prelude a proud nation sought ahead of big-ticket tournaments.

But Bangladesh refused to flinch. Its cricket-hungry fans went the extra mile, waving posters and banners, to convince the rest of the world that all was well.

It wasn’t long before the decks were cleared, and Sri Lanka provided the proof of the pudding with a month-long tour.

This edition of the Asia Cup — set to begin at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium here on Tuesday — will feature five protagonists: defending champion Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

The competition has a curious character to it in regard to where it stands; it must be a conundrum that even the organisers are confronted with.

Cushy zone

There’s of course the cushy zone of history and tradition to seek refuge in. It can also be argued that the tournament provides greater context than many obligatory bilateral series.

Having made its first appearance in 1984 as the Rothmans Asia Cup in the UAE, the event has since spawned mini-narratives to prevailing rivalries, particularly between India and Pakistan. A recent vignette — one that had the Indian fans in a euphoric daze — is Virat Kohli roaring away to 183 in Mirpur to take India past Pakistan’s 329.

Also in Mirpur, in the same edition on March 16, 2012, Sachin Tendulkar rid himself of a nagging burden by scoring his 100th International century.

This time, India, missing skipper M.S. Dhoni because of a side strain, has the right platform to erase from public memory the reverses in South Africa and New Zealand. A young, ambitious group, led by Kohli, won’t back off from a scrap.

Meanwhile, the Lankans, having accrued rich returns from the tournament, won’t want any bottlenecks on their course. Sanath Jayasuriya (1220 runs in 25 matches, six hundreds, average: 53.04) remains the highest-scorer in the tournament.

The top-five has three other Sri Lankans on the list. Muttiah Muralitharan (30 wickets in 24 games, economy rate: 3.75), who heads the bowling chart, is kept company by two of his compatriots.

Sri Lanka has won the Asia Cup on four occasions, second only to India’s five.

In Pakistan’s case, even the most unwavering follower would be reluctant to hazard a guess on the team’s showing. However, recent performances against Sri Lanka, mounted on cohesion and calmness, did hint at a pleasant departure from its unpredictable ways. That new head coach Moin Khan has pitched for consistency in selection has amplified the positive vibes.

The glaze of freshness, though, has come in the form of new-entrant Afghanistan. By qualifying for the T20 and the 50-overs World Cup, the battle-ravaged nation has carved a script that treads on fairy-tale territory. It’s the quintessential underdog that neutrals want to root for.

Ahead of the 50-overs World Cup next year, this competition — if it keeps its promise of gripping, quality action — will go some way in sustaining spectator-interest in One-Day International cricket.

With the aroma of chingri macher malai kari and the harmonium-soaked strains of Bangla folk songs raiding the air, the setting is just right.

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