In a week building towards Bangladesh's annual Independence Day celebrations on March 26, the cricket team has done its might to boost the nation's collective self-esteem.
World Cup finalists India and Sri Lanka have been humbled, Pakistan has been given a fright and in all these Asia Cup contests, Bangladesh's indomitable spirit has remained the common thread.
The celebrations on the roads adjoining the Sher-E-Bangla National Stadium on Tuesday night, was a surreal spectacle of colours laced with ear-splitting noise. Mushfiqur Rahim's men have offered spectacular cheer to fellow-Bangladeshis but they are fully aware about being on the cusp of history and the words ‘more-needs-to-be-done' have tempered their thoughts ahead of Thursday's final against Pakistan.
Mushfiqur, a diminutive man with enormous presence, had once said after scoring a Test century against India at Chittagong — “they can't under-estimate me any more.” It is an individual preamble that has also seeped in to the collective consciousness of his team.
The slow progress made under Dav Whatmore and Jamie Siddons is now finally yielding the desired results and on Wednesday, the squad formed a circle around its captain, who gave a pep talk in Bengali while coach Stuart Law, closely watched his lads.
An excited Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reportedly told the team after its triumph against Sri Lanka: “Do well in the final and you cannot even imagine the rewards that await you.”
The pressure of expectations, ranging from the premier to the rickshaw puller on the streets, is something new to the ‘Tigers'. How Mushfiqur's men handle this strong intangible along with Pakistan's unpredictable nature, will determine whether they will embrace joy or sulk after the summit-clash.
Bangladesh's revival is also reflected at the micro-level in the evolution of Tamim Iqbal. The cricketer, with ancestors from Bihar and his name on the honours' board at Lord's thanks to a century there, has been in superb touch. A childhood in Chittagong where his late father organised tournaments for his sons — Nafees being the other one — and also stood as an umpire despite being on crutches after a leg was amputated, had toughened up Tamim.
Stories of fast cars and fancy holidays may do the rounds but at heart, Tamim reflects the hopes of Bangladesh along with leading all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan. The duo, their captain, Nasir Hossain, spearhead Mashrafe Mortaza and Mohammad Mahmudullah form the throbbing heart but though the force is with them at the present juncture, Pakistan is a stronger rival and on paper, the better outfit.
Pakistan's batting has slowly enmeshed strong starts with a belatedly flowering middle-order. Mohammad Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed have strung partnerships of 135, 29 and 224 and Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan have found form.
“Every time I play India, the gods have been kind and I batted well and the bad patch is over,” Younis said and laughed.
Virat Kohli dismantled the visitor's bowling, relatively the best in this tournament, on Sunday but still the likes of Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, can test Bangladesh. Ajmal's doosra, that raised the Indian team's hackles, has not been mastered and Tamim and company have a tough task on hand.
Bucking the odds
Like in all its matches against fancied neighbours, Bangladesh knows that Pakistan will start as the favourite but the heartening point is that the host has bucked the odds over the past few days.
Close on the heels of Sachin Tendulkar's century of tons, a packed venue awaits another historical moment — the home team's maiden title — but there is also the small matter of handling history's cautionary tale.
Pakistan last won its lone Asia Cup way back in 2000 and the venue was Dhaka.
The teams (from):
Bangladesh: Mushfiqur Rahim (captain), Imrul Kayes, Tamim Iqbal, Mohammad Nazimuddin, Jahurul Islam, Mohammad Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan, Nasir Hossain, Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzak, Elias Sunny, Nazmul Hossain, Shahadat Hossain and Anamul Haque.
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Younis Khan, Umar Akmal, Hammad Azam, Asad Shafiq, Shahid Afridi, Azhar Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Rehman, Umar Gul, Aizaz Cheema and Wahab Riaz.
Umpires: Steve Davis and Ian Gould; Third umpire: S. Ravi; Match referee: David Boon.
Match starts at 1.30 p.m. IST.
Keywords: Asia Cup