Bangladesh proves they are growing up
There is a lot of love in Bangladesh right now. From the Shere Bangla National Stadium, the scene of Tuesday's historic victory over Sri Lanka, to the smaller towns spread across the country, people are smiling, shaking hands, hugging complete strangers and jumping in joy. The whole country has come together to share happiness. It doesn't happen all the time, as many of us know; this unity comes and goes. When it comes to cricket, however, Bangladesh sits together in front of a television set and watches its favourite sons.
As Bangladesh crept towards the revised target of 212 runs on Tuesday, neighbourhood boys were found huddling over their televisions; girls at home made sure no one changed the channel as they watched the "boys" play. From every Dhaka by-lane one could sense the final preparations of a rally, also known as micchil, as Nasir Hossain and Mahmudullah Riyad closed in on Sri Lanka's total. It has happened a few times in the past: after they beat New Zealand 4-0, during the 2011 World Cup; it will happen again when they beat a top side on a big day, maybe on Thursday.
The celebrations haven't changed, the expression of pure ecstasy felt by the people of the country remains as it was in those heady days of April 1997 when Akram Khan and Gordon Greenidge led Bangladesh into the big, bad world of international cricket. They were given a rousing reception in Manik Mia Avenue, the widest boulevard in Dhaka, with almost half-a-million people showering flower-petals on what was also the first day of the Bengali year.
The fans haven't changed since then. Everyone loves the Bangladesh cricket team, despite the constant heartache it provides in Test cricket and the occasional flutter in the limited-overs game. Almost the entire country is still in thrall with the country's cricketing fortunes.
But the cricketers of Bangladesh have been an evolving breed, rapidly so in the case of the past week. They came close against Pakistan, then chased down India and Sri Lanka. In the space of five days, Bangladesh have finally put together a string of performances where the entire team has had its say, not just one player.
Over the last three years, Bangladesh have improved from having one match-winner to two regular big-match players, but this Asia Cup has thrown up something entirely different. As it was evident in the game against Sri Lanka, there is life after Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal.
Shakib and Tamim still set the tone though, with their performances and attitude. During a passage of play when Shakib hit three consecutive boundaries off Suranga Lakmal, he showed how much he has learned. After hammering the fourth ball of the over through the covers, Shakib saw Lakmal putting a sweeper-cover in place. So the next delivery he closed the face of the bat to take the ball away from the deep fielder while still playing it wide of the fielder inside the circle. Lakmal was out of ideas and when he bowled it short and wide, Shakib's whiplash cut had the ball speeding to the third-man boundary.
After Shakib's departure, Nasir and Riyad batted like they were not leaving Mirpur without a win. As Shakib said later, Riyad was due for runs and this small but vital contribution will make him more comfortable in the dressing-room. Nasir on the other hand has bettered himself in every game of this tournament and is now a reliable cog.
As the hours tick by towards the biggest day in Bangladesh cricket, the scale of this moment is evident by comparing it to how Bangladesh have done in Asia Cups over the past 26 years. Their best contribution before this year's tournament was the Bangladesh Cricket Board's ability to fit in the 2000 Asia Cup during the early monsoon season.
Bangladesh are going to play Pakistan in the Asia Cup final on Thursday. The statement itself gives one goosebumps.
Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter at the Daily Star in Dhaka