It was a night when Dhaka stood still. Emotions ebbed and flowed. Fans, more than 28,000 of them, made the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium atmosphere intimidating. Even Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina turned up for the show. In the end, the whole nation rejoiced. Bangladesh were in the Asia Cup final, beating Pakistan by five wickets with five balls to spare.
Bangladesh had been in the Asia Cup final before – in 2012, when they lost to Pakistan in the summit clash. The tournament, in a 50-over format, was not that high profile then. A T20 makeover this term ahead of the World T20 has made the Asia Cup a lot more meaningful. Bangladesh’s ability to hold nerve under pressure attested their progress as a limited-overs unit.
They chose to do it the hard way. At 82/2 after 13 overs, Bangladesh looked to be sauntering towards the victory target of 130. Shahid Afridi had to bring back his No. 1 bowler as a last throw of the dice, and Mohammad Amir responded with a magnificent yorker to clean up a well-set Soumya Sarkar. But Pakistan still had to use their sixth bowler and Shoaib Malik’s introduction into the attack was an opportunity for the hosts to ease the pressure.
Mushfiqur Rahim, however, suffered from brain-freeze and got out leg before, trying to play a reverse sweep. But Shakib Al Hasan was there and Bangladesh’s last year’s World Cup hero Mahmudullah had walked in. Some sensible cricket was the need of the hour. Asking rate was still under nine per over.
Shakib was expected to anchor the chase from there on. He was not new to such situations, thanks to his IPL experience with Kolkata Knight Riders. But he played a very poor shot in Amir’s final over. The Pakistan fast bowler was a little too quick to attempt a lap over short fine leg. The stumps went cartwheeling. A frustrated Shakib hit the uprooted timber with his bat – an action that might take him to the match referee’s chamber. Captain Mashrafe Mortaza came to the crease amid stony silence. Fans were sensing a real danger. Amir bowled full, Mortaza somehow managed a decent piece of wood on the ball which went towards mid-off. It shouldn’t have been more than a single, but Mohammad Sami’s poor fielding let it go for a boundary.
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An angry Amir bowled a bouncer – wrong length, given that fine leg was inside the circle. Mortaza closed his eyes, poked his bat at it and managed a top edge for another four. Crowds got their voice back.
Now 18 required off 12 and Sami came for the penultimate over from the Media Centre end. In the fourth ball of the over Mortaza was holed out at long-off, only that Sami had overstepped. Three runs and a free-hit resulted. In the sixth ball, the veteran quick overstepped again; by a big margin. To make matters worse, Mahmudullah hit a boundary. Game over! Bangladesh didn’t bowl a single no-ball, or a wide, during Pakistan’s innings.
Here, Sami bowled a couple in one over. Poor cricket, and Bangladesh gleefully accepted the favour. Mahmudullah completed the formality in the first ball of the final over and his team mates joined him in a no-holds-barred celebration. The supporters were dancing in the aisles of Mirpur. Earlier, Pakistan won the toss and decided to bat first on a slow pitch. They changed their batting order and promoted Khurram Manzoor to open. But batting remained inept. Manzoor got out as Al-Amin Hossain made one to bounce steeply off a length. Sharjeel Khan was timing the ball well but played all over a flighted delivery from Arafat Sunny to lose his middle stump.
Brief scores: Pakistan 129/7 in 20 overs (Sarfraz Ahmed 58 not out) lost to Bangladesh 131/5 in 19.1 overs (Soumya Sarkar 48).