The Bangladesh team received a special gift on Wednesday. While the team was training,a basket of fruits and a tray of sweets were delivered to the dressing room,and attached was the calling card of Sheikh Hasina,the prime minister of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. The prime minsters enthusiasm was evident even during the match against Sri Lanka,when she broke protocol to step on to the field and greet the players after the five-wicket win.
Come Thursday,it will not just be the prime minister who will be watching the side against Pakistan in the final of the Asia Cup at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium. The 25,000 odd who were smart enough to book their tickets in advance or have the influence to procure them at the eleventh hour will be joined by million others glued to their television sets to cheer Mushfiqur Rahims side,who are a win away from their greatest day.
However,if the side is to keep its date with destiny in their first Asia Cup final,Bangladesh will have to prove themselves in at least a couple of departments where they have underwhelmed in the past. The current eleven will not just have to surmount the nerves which a final at home is certain to bring on of a crunch game but will also have to do something none of them have ever done before,beat Pakistan.
When Bangladesh beat Pakistan the last and only time,by 62 runs at Northampton during the 1999 World Cup,none of the current players featured. Among the current generation of players,only a handful have experienced the high of winning on the biggest stage. Captain Mushfiqur,fast-bowling all-rounder Mashrafe Mortaza,Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal were a part of the team that beat India and South Africa in the 2007 edition of the World Cup,and England and Ireland four years later. Yet,for the current golden generation of Bangladesh cricket,this game against Pakistan is as close as they have been to being crowned champions.
Mortaza,the man of the match when Bangladesh beat India by five wickets at Port of Spain,was injured and sat out during the World Cup,co-hosted by Bangladesh. Iqbal,Al-Hasan and Rahim all failed to live up to the aspirations of their fans when they did not go beyond the league stages of the showpiece event in 2011. With another chance to turn things around in front of the home crowd,Bangladesh will know that they have form and personnel going for them.
Routine batting collapses have given way to better application at the crease as Bangladesh have pulled off two successful chases,the first against India when the target was 290 while the teams performance with the ball and on the field have overshadowed individual efforts.
One of the premier all-rounders in business,Al Hasan has pulled his weight with both bat and ball during Bangladeshs upset wins over India and Sri Lanka. Nasir Hossain has proven himself in the lower middle order for three matches in succession while Mortaza and Nazmul Hossain have struck early with the ball.
Having already upset the plans for an India-Pakistan final,Bangladesh will know that a win on Thursday will be a massive achievement for a team that has always been in the shadows of the other sub-continental heavy weights. If it was lost on the team,the prime ministers message would serve as a reminder: You cant even imagine what awaits you all if we beat Pakistan and win the title.
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