WE are part of history today. The collective joy of 160 million people has finally been given a rightful place as the Tigers, the beloved Bangladesh cricket team, reached the finals of a major cricket tournament for the first time in its cricket history Tuesday night.
In beating Sri Lanka by five wickets, the country’s most talked-about group of sportsmen reached the Asia Cup final where they will meet Pakistan tomorrow.
It is the fruition of several years of toil, tremendous hardship in the last decade and exasperation with one-off performances. The packed house at the Tigers’ home of cricket, the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, was the scene of history and at times it seemed every Bangladeshi was at the ground. When Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal walked in to bat, it seemed they did so with every cricketer who ever played for the country; it wasn’t baggage, it was responsibility that they carried with them. The two world-class cricketers delivered at the right time, winning a place in history and putting themselves on a different pedestal.
At 10:56pm, Nasir Hossain hit the winning boundary off the first ball of the 37th over in a stiff chase where they were asked to chase 212 runs in 40 overs following a 105-minute rain break. Sri Lanka were bowled out in 49.5 overs for 232 after a superb bowling performance by Nazmul Hossain and Mashrafe Bin Mortaza.
The crowd went absolutely nuts as the ball passed mid-on and into the boundary; the players ran in, the music was on full volume. A little while later, the Tigers took a victory lap with three flags surrounding them. It was a scene that will stay on with those lucky enough to witness it.
The unbroken sixth wicket pair of Nasir Hossain and Mahmudullah Riyad added 77 precious runs after Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, the real architects of this victory, both fell within the 24th over.
Tamim hammered 59 off 56 balls with the help of nine glorious boundaries, but his stay ended through a very good catch at point by Lahiru Thirimanne from off-spinner Sachithra Senanayake in the 20th over with the team on 116 for four. Five of his boundaries were through the leg-side while four came on the off-side. Some of his shots, the chipped drive over the bowler’s head, the straight drive through his partner Shakib’s legs at the other end, the flicks past mid-wicket’s right and left, all oozed class. He reached fifty off 46 balls with a stunning straight-drive. But unfortunately, he couldn’t latch on to the one life he got, a dropped catch by Senanayake.
Shakib too was excellent and once again delivered under duress. He cracked seven boundaries in his 46-ball 56 before becoming Senanayake’s second victim. The all-rounder added 76 with Tamim but played in his unique way, hammering boundaries, top-edging some and even mistiming a lot early in the innings. In the eleventh over, Shakib opened his proper repertoire with a cover drive and a cut but it was the 21st over, bowled by the young offie, that showed what Shakib was really made of. After chipping one softly but safely, between cover and extra-cover he saw one fall short of the bowler after managing only to get a leading-edge on another. He followed it up with a cut boundary, before being beaten but still finished the over by reaching his half-century off 43 balls with a chipped drive over extra-cover’s head.
Senanayake finished as the best bowler on show for the Lankans with 2-38 from eight overs but the pacemen were handled quite well by the Tigers’ batsmen who have showed rare consistency in attitude and performance in this tournament.
Earlier though, it was Nazmul who was the undoubted hero with the ball. Starting off with the wicket of Mahela Jayawardene with a beautiful in-ducker that came in just as much was required to sneak in between the Sri Lanka captain’s bat and pad, the 24-year-old was on fire. Kumar Sangakkara hammered a checked cover-drive into Nazimuddin’s lap to become Nazmul’s second while Dilshan dragged the ball to the stumps to make it 32 for three in the tenth over.
The man from Habiganj may have been the man with the wickets but it was Mashrafe Bin Mortaza who kept things under control throughout his three spells. He ended up with a wicket from his 9.5 overs, the wicket becoming the last ball of the Sri Lanka innings in the 50th over but it was his discipline that paid off. His performance with the ball so far has been a tribute to his rehabilitation efforts over the past eleven months.
Abdur Razzak continued to be steady, giving away only 40-off from ten overs but this time he took two wickets (both however down to luck), while Shakib and Shahadat Hossain were slightly expensive but still had their moments.
After the three quick losses, Chamara Kapugedera and Lahiru Thirimanne staged a fight-back of sorts by adding 88 runs for the fourth wicket. It was broken by the freak stumping of the left-hander Thirimanne by wicketkeeper Mushfiqur, who found out the Gary Player way of luck in sports (the more you practice, the luckier you get); his left pad helping him out with the ricochet that caught the batsman, who made 48 off 73 balls, out of the crease.
Kapugedera had another solid batsman at the other end as Upul Tharanga helped him add 49 runs for the fifth wicket. The right-hander struck his first fifty in almost two years, hammering 62 off 92 balls with the help of four boundaries; Shakib bringing an end to his stay with an excellent low catch at cover. The left-hander at the other end, Tharanga, took the side past the 200-run mark but couldn’t reach another half-century, falling two short. He struck five fours and a six in his 44-ball knock.
Tributes were flowing in even as the Tigers left the stadium after a remarkable effort. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was among the first to congratulate the team, having watched most of the Bangladesh innings at the stadium. According to her press secretary, the Prime Minister personally congratulated each member of the team and reiterated that the country was overjoyed at the victory. She also wished them luck for the final on Thursday.