When Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib ul-Hasan broke down in tears after Bangladesh’s narrow defeat to Pakistan in the Asia Cup final it was not hard to imagine it was a scene being replicated up and down the country.
Because it wasn’t just a team who came so close to victory, it was an entire nation of Bangladesh fans who having grown so used to defeat, came so close to an unexpected victory. Theirs is a nation of cricket fans whose passion for the game overwhelms their disappointment at their team’s frequent losses since their unveiling as a Test nation in 2000.
As Wright Thompson, writing for ESPN Cricinfo, described them upon his visit to Bangladesh during the 2011 World Cup:
“The entire city is in the streets. Bangladesh, my colleagues tell me, has no winning cricket tradition. The Bangladeshis love the game, love it madly, yet it hurts them again and again.”
This defeat means that the game will have hurt them again, but it will be a different kind of hurt. It may even hurt more than the others, because for the first time in a long time they came to watch their side compete against a top level nation not in hope but expectation. Bangladesh had not just looked like competing, they looked like winning, and when the dust settles and eventually the disappointment subsides, they can look at their team and be proud.
They competed with the giants of Asian cricket, in some high stakes games and performed as well as any of the players which were available in the tournament. Undoubtedly the responsibility fell on the big players to perform, but each played their roles perfectly and lead from the front.
Opener Tamim Iqbal, dropped from the squad initially, regained his old sparkle and perhaps fired by his snub hit four consecutive half centuries in trademark style. Shakib was once again a star with bat and ball. Then there was Rahim himself, who captained with the frenzied energy of a man headed for an asylum rather than a final-but who emerges from the tournament with his reputation greatly enhanced.
Meanwhile they were ably supported by the rest of their cast. Abdul Razzak was economical, Nasir Hossain’s emergence was startling, Mahmadullah continued to make an impact with bat and ball and Mashrafe Mortaza’s rehabilitation gives them a genuine pace bowling figurehead again.
Yet this was a team effort. They fielded as well as any Asian team has done in the past year throughout the tournament-quite an effort considering Sri Lanka’s general dominance. But they fielded aggressively and positively and as a group. Their bowling generally was economical, while the manner in which they chased down totals often after losing key wickets was symptomatic of a team who performed like they believed they belonged.
Younis Khan, speaking ahead of the final, noted the change and said:
“They have some aggressiveness in their body language and that helps to bring about positive results. That is the way an international team should play. They performed as a group; all the bowlers, all the batsmen and all the fielders, they put in their 100%. This is the key thing about their performance.”
If they can continue in this vein, despite the narrow defeat in the final, then this could be the greatest impact this tournament will have on Bangladesh cricket. For too long they have been renowned as plucky losers, often caught up in a cycle of defeat and unable to turn those plucky performances into consistent, positive results.
But in this tournament they showed they can win, and that they can overcome some of the best. For if losing can become a habit, so too can winning and breaking that cycle of defeat they have been caught in far too often before could be the biggest step forward for Bangladesh.
Then who knows what might happen. As head coach Stuart Law surveys the bigger picture, he will see a young team capable of progressing further still, up against teams with aging players who will at some stage have to undergo regeneration. If they can build on this, then victories like these over India and Sri Lanka may arrive with increasing regularity.
Then perhaps the next time they reach the final-they might have learnt a thing or two about getting over the finishing line. So while this time their hearts may have been broken, breaking the cycle of defeat and getting that taste for success could make this a big step in the right direction for Bangladesh’s cricket.