So near yet so far. Oh, it was agonizingly close for the Bangladeshis as they lost by two runs to Pakistan in a tense final of the Asia Cup. No wonder there were tears on the ground as the Tigers hugged themselves to console each other on missing out on what would have been the biggest triumph in their cricketing history.
Yes, they have had the odd win in limited overs internationals against top Test teams, and have actually got a clean sweep against the New Zealanders too, but to be able to beat all the Asian Test countries in one tournament and with it win the Asia Cup, would have been truly memorable.
They were on a roll and the manner in which they restricted Pakistan till the final over was an indication of their desire, intensity, focus and more crucially self-belief. They just did not allow the Pakistani batsmen to break free, excepting for a short time in the batting power play when 'boom boom' Afridi, cut loose.
There too after conceding 36 runs in the first four overs of that power play, they came back with a run-less last over of the field restrictions. Mushfiqur led the team exceptionally well and but for the fact that Nazmul had injured his shoulder and couldn't bowl, he would not have had to go to Shahadat, who can be expensive as he strives for pace and does not have the variety needed in limited overs cricket.
Shahadat conceded 19 runs in the final over of the Pakistan innings and while that by itself is not the reason why Bangladesh lost, what it did was to lift up the spirits in the Pakistani dressing room. How often have we seen teams that have looked out of the game coming out stronger after a good finish to the innings, be it batting or bowling.
Pakistan came out all guns firing and when the Bangla openers went ultra cautious, the Pakistanis knew that the pressure was well and truly on. Just like a batsman has to know how to progress from the 50s to get a century, teams also learn how to win from such situations.
Bangladesh did not have that experience and that is why they faltered when the prize was within reach. Still it was their tournament, for they ensured that all the matches were competitive and meant something. Even the last league game was important, as a win for the Lankans would have ended Bangladeshis hopes of getting to the finals.
Pakistan needs to be complimented for holding their nerve. Misbah's gamble of giving the final over to Aizaz Cheema, who had proved expensive in his earlier overs, worked, as the bowler bowled some well disguised slower deliveries and ended with a terrific yorker. While the luck had gone with the Bangladeshis for most of the game, when it mattered towards the end it was with Pakistan and they won the Asia Cup for the second time.
There were many cynics especially from the old powers who scoffed at the Asia Cup, but it was a spectacular success as each and every game went the distance, and the winner could not be decided till the final wicket had fallen or the final run had been scored.
It was a splendid advertisement for limited overs cricket. This tournament has made a strong case, for it to be played at the beginning of the season in our part of the world rather than at the end so that all teams would be fresh and raring to go.
Just imagine if the teams could play such wonderful cricket towards the end of their season, how much better it would be at the start of the season.
Professional Management Group