Asia Cup 2018
The Tigers – Bent, but not broken
With endless possibilities lying ahead of them, the Bangladesh national team started their journey in the Asia Cup, holding their heads high. Failure to make it count on two previous occasions in the last three editions of the tournament made the Tigers have only one goal at the the continental showpiece event – to become the champions.
A few minutes into their opening game against Sri Lanka and the Mashrafe-led men suffered an untimely blow as their opening batsman Tamim Iqbal mistimed a pull shot, only to get his wrist hit by a short delivery from Suranga Lakmal.
The wrist-injury forced Tamim out of the field and later out of the tournament itself although he put up an act of bravery by coming on to bat with one hand in the same match.
Losing perhaps their most important batsman, who belted two centuries and a fifty in his last three outings in ODIs and scored at an average of over 90 in the format in this calendar year, Bangladesh were left with a fragile top-order.
However, a match-winning stand from Mushfiqur Rahim and Mohammad Mithun, where the former was also carrying a rib injury, set the stage for Bangladesh’s 137-run win over Sri Lanka. With one win in the group stage, the Tigers qualified for the Super Four, but not before getting crushed by Afghanistan in the same phase.
Another poor display came to haunt the Men in Red and Green as they started their Super Four campaign by getting thrashed at the hands of India. They were also under threat of getting eliminated from the tournament after that loss.
Meanwhile, the underperforming openers forced the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) to reverse their decision of not replacing Tamim. As a result, Imrul Kayes and Soumya Sarkar got a national call-up to the ODI team after almost a year.
Imrul, along with Mahmudullah Riyad, unraveled the enigma that Rashid Khan was to the Tigers, when Bangladesh again met the Afghans in the Super Four. Despite batting at a position which is certainly not his comfort zone, Imrul sent a clear message justifying his selection with a fine comeback knock and Bangladesh also went on to win the match keeping their hopes alive in the tournament and breaking a four-match losing streak against their Asian neighbors in limited-overs cricket.
Bangladesh then had nothing to do but accept their fate when their ace all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, who was playing with a long-standing finger injury, got ruled out of the tournament as well.
Pakistan still had a resurgent Bangladesh before them in a virtual semi-final, where Mushfiqur and Mohammad Mithun again stitched another decisive stand before ‘cutter master’ Mustafizur Rahman recorded perhaps his best performance since becoming an injury-prone fast-bowler. His four-fer in that match, helped Bangladesh advance to a second successive Asia Cup final.
Apart from those regarded as the five pillars of the team, everyone else, who played all the matches until the final, had proven themselves at some stage of the tournament except for Liton Das. And in the final match, it was the young cricketer’s turn to make his presence felt.
Liton finally justified the selectors’ faith in him and clubbed a brilliant century before Bangladesh suffered a collapse that had nearly thrown them out of the equation.
With a petty score on the board, Mashrafe and his lads still fought bravely to give a nail-biting end to the final. However, things certainly did not go their way as India clinched a last-ball victory to claim the trophy for a record seventh time.
The Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Mortaza praised his boys to have come so far in the tournament despite losing two of their star performers to injuries on their way to the final.
“Our boys should feel proud. I think we have to learn so many things. We are struggling some way or another in these tournaments.
“I think the bowlers did a good job in the tournament. We are proud but we have to move forward. Not having Shakib [Al Hasan] and Tamim [Iqbal] was a big blow, but I think boys have done a really good job,” he said after losing in the final.
Mashrafe, too, was excellent with his captaincy and performance. If it was not for his stewardship, a depleted Bangladesh would never come this far and would have lost all hopes after posting a decent total on the board against one of the best batting lineups in world cricket in that final.
Mashrafe certainly did not have a standout performance in the tournament. But be it continuing with a dislocated finger after taking a flying catch, or animatedly encouraging his players from the dressing room, the 34-year-old’s presence always inspired the players to thrive in the alien conditions.