Dhaka: Fans, critics, and experts within and outside the cricketing fraternity alike all over Bangladesh are waiting with bated breath for Sunday’s Asia Cup final between the hosts and giants India at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium.
The Tigers spent a busy Friday practising and devising the all-important game plan, a process that isn’t helped by the intense media glare that has followed the team all through the tournament.
The sense of expectation amongst fans may possibly be tempered by the fact that India is the top-ranked side in the T20I format, that the Asia Cup is following for the first time in its 13th edition. Bangladesh on the other hand, are ranked bottom among the 10 elite nations with Test status, in this new format.
Moreover, in reaching the finals with an all-win record, the Indians under M.S. Dhoni have displayed considerable depth in resources and resolve.
Yet despite starting the tournament with a 45-run loss to India in the opener, the Tigers under their lion-hearted captain Mashrafe bin Mortaza have visibly grown in confidence as the tournament has progressed. In winning their next three games on the trot, they finally seemed to be getting the hang of the T20 format.
In the words of former Australian star batsman Dean Jones, a popular commentator these days, Bangladesh are playing ‘thrilling’ cricket.
‘I’m so enjoying the games of Bangladesh, not because they are winning; they are simply playing thrilling cricket,’ Jones said, paying tribute to the fearless, attacking brand of cricket that the Tigers have been playing over the last one year or so in the limited-over formats.
‘They have shown a winning mindset that has made the difference in the field,’ he also added.
Yet Mashrafe, whose inspirational leadership has played such an important role in the turnaround in the team’s fortunes, is clear about one thing: nothing that has gone before will have any bearing on what happens on the field tomorrow. He has called upon his teammates to keep their feet on the ground and stay focused on the occasion itself.
‘The final is still to be played; I suggest everyone to keep their feet on the soil and play their natural game. I’m asking them not to take any extra pressure,’ the Tigers skipper said.
The Narail Express, as he is known, confirmed that all his teammates are confident with the work they have put in, and will try to give their best. He urged them to enjoy each moment of the final, a hallmark of his leadership in its second stint.
He also acknowledged that the Indians are clear favourites in Sunday’s clash.
‘It’s going to be a battle between ranked first and tenth side, but still we’re confident enough to give them a good fight and then let the result be decided.’
Speaking to reporters after Friday’s practice session, dashing opener Tamim Iqbal, who joined the side midway through the tournament, said, ‘It’s difficult but not impossible to beat India. To do so, we must perform up to the mark in all three departments. But our performances have been outstanding throughout the last three matches, and we believe that we’ll perform well as a team.’
Mahmudullah Riyad, one of the heroes of the win against Pakistan that propelled the Tigers to their second Asia Cup final, noted the Bangladesh team has now learned how to win.
‘Mental preparation is the key. Each one of us must believe I’m capable of doing everything that I’m asked to do,’ Mahmudullah reflected, after steering the team home from what could have been a difficult position on Wednesday night.
Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni appeared confident ahead of the final, even as he acknowledged Bangladesh as a ‘formidable unit’, especially in home conditions.
‘Given the way we have been playing this year, I think our boys are ready to fare well in any conditions,’ the experienced Dhoni said. It is the vaunted Indian batting that the Tigers must find some way of restricting, and they’ll be hampered in their bid to do so by the absence of Mustafizur Rahman.
‘We need not be worried much even if our opponents mount a big score, as we have batting till number eight,’ Dhoni said. From this comment, it may be a good idea for Bangladesh to choose to bowl first if they win the toss.
Even though the pressure of chasing a target in a final is always bound to be enormous, it may be the Tigers’ best chance to put the Indians in turn under some pressure, especially their relatively unproven bowling attack.
Last time the Tigers reached the Asia Cup final, which was also the first time, in 2012, it all ended in heartbreak at the same venue, with a 2-run defeat to Pakistan. This time around, the sell-out crowd may expect to witness another thriller, only with a very different result for their beloved Tigers.