Bangladesh v Pakistan, Asia Cup final, Mirpur March 22, 2012

Bangladesh just would not give up

They fell two runs short in the final, but the Asia Cup 2012 will be remembered for the fight and self-belief the hosts showed to confound pre-tournament expectations and challenge all their higher-rated opponents

Barely half an hour after the Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim and several of his team-mates were crying on the field, the Shere Bangla stadium was lit up by a dazzling fireworks display. That was meant to be a mark of congratulation for Pakistan, winners of the Asia Cup, but it may well have been feting the battling performance of the home side, who confounded pre-tournament expectations by pushing the opposition hard in every match, eventually falling short on the final delivery of the competition.

For one day, normal life in Bangladesh was paralysed as the whole nation tuned in to watch the biggest day in their cricket so far. It was so massive an occasion that even those two bitter rivals, prime minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia, were in the same stand cheering the national team on.

A tournament final itself brings with it loads of pressure; chasing in the final even more. That is for teams used to playing the crunch matches. For Bangladesh the stresses are unique. An Asia Cup success or failure was not going to completely change the mood of the other three teams' supporters, but in Bangladesh the highs of the past week have been celebrated with the fervour usually reserved for World Cups or other such blue-riband events.

Perhaps the biggest difference in this Bangladesh team compared to previous ones was in the mindset and self-belief. Right from the first match of the tournament, when their chase seemed to have been derailed by Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, they never gave up. With 23 needed off the final three overs and the last pair at the crease, Shakib Al Hasan whipped the first ball of the 48th towards deep square leg. It only resulted in a single as Shakib could not get it wide enough of the fielder, and he let out a scream of frustration at having exposed No. 11 Shahadat Hossain to the strike so early in the over.

Whatever the situation, they were not going to settle for anything less than a win. When Bangladesh played Pakistan in the previous Asia Cup two years ago, their bowlers took a pasting and Shahid Afridi's manic century led to a humungous total. Bangladesh did not even bother trying to chase down the target, opting instead for some batting practice, and ended up 139 short. This side is not thinking like that.

When the spin of Afridi choked them in the middle overs of their chase in the final, sending the required-rate towards seven, Shakib was at hand to bring Bangladesh back. The loss of Shakib and Mushfiqur Rahim, two batsmen who have shown the talent and temperament to bat at the death, in ten deliveries would normally have meant the end of the contest. A few fans thought as much and started heading for the exit.

They were proved wrong, and the stunned silence was elbowed out by the usual clamour of the home fans as Umar Gul was taken for three boundaries in the next over. They were fearless boundaries as well: Mahmudullah charging out against the quick bowler and crashing him through cover before Mashrafe Mortaza enterprisingly helped a short ball from outside off past the fine-leg boundary.

If they were feeling the heat, Bangladesh were not showing it. Even in the final over, Pakistan seemed to be the ones losing their head, with an amateurish bit of fielding followed by overthrows allowing three runs when Bangladesh could have been kept to one. It did not pan out for the home side, though it was not due to a lack of effort.

"A boundary off the last ball is what we lacked," Bangladesh coach Stuart Law said at a press conference which began with him and Mushfiqur getting a standing ovation. "We didn't lack anything; we had penetration with ball, the batters also did well. We could have rotated the strike a bit better during the middle part. We played the best game of cricket we possibly could this evening."

After matches in this Asia Cup, you would usually have to wade through a festive street of revellers. After the final, though, the streets wore an emptier everyday look, as the fans had long trudged off, the dream of a title dashed.

They needn't be too disappointed though. After a painful decade of being whipping boys, the stomach Bangladesh have shown for a fight and the self-belief they have gained from the Asia Cup should spur the team on to bigger things. "We played a very consistent and professional brand of cricket. It's only that we didn't get a historic victory," Law said. "I can hold my head up high for the way the boys played their socks off in the last three games. [They] have proved we have the talent to beat any team in the world."

Edited by Dustin Silgardo

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo