Bangladesh have much to cherish even in defeat
It turned out to be a beautiful moment in the end. As Aizaz Cheema's yorker jarred into Shahadat Hossain's pads and the tailender ran a humble leg-bye, the crowd was stunned into silence. Quickly realising the magnitude and inimitability of the day, the packed house took a few seconds to compose itself and soon broke into a long applause that lasted till Mahmudullah made his way to the dressing-room. The cheers too went unabated even as tears rolled down many cheeks, the gesture quite appropriate for the occasion.
The 25,000-plus audience, and by extension the rest of the country which lived every ball of the Asia Cup final, was justifiably crushed by the two-run defeat. Bangladesh had crossed the final hurdle and were within touching distance of the tape. It was going to be a unique triumph for the perennial underdogs of the subcontinent and the world, but it wasn't to be. Misbah-ul-Haq's Pakistan celebrated like crazy after winning.
The manner of their celebrations was evidence enough of how hard Bangladesh had fought in the game, something that has been witnessed only a handful of times over the past decade. On a balmy Thursday night at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, they fought as if they wanted revenge for Multan, Fatullah and Harare, but their exhausted bodies betrayed their intentions. Like on those occasions, Bangladesh again failed to close out the games, but this time there will be fewer repercussions.
Despite the result, as the long applause by the Mirpur crowd suggested, the tournament will be most memorable for the hosts. It will be remembered by fans and the cricketers, who now have a blueprint of teamwork for future references. They have learned how to chase down a big total and how to go for the jugular in a curtailed match. Nasir Hossain learned there's no shortcut to success and that he has to finish games; Tamim Iqbal's four consecutive fifties proved his critics wrong; Shakib reminded everyone that he is not just the country's leading cricketer, but a player who is on track to becoming the best limited-overs allrounder in the world.
The success of the tournament has also been vindication for Stuart Law's modus operandi, a calming influence rather than banging on from the sidelines every ball. He sits in the dugout but limits his hand gestures. But, the former Australian batsman must be ready to tackle complacency, the threat of inconsistency and the "overnight star" syndromes in the dressing-room.
Apart from the traditional areas of concern, Law would also need to develop a big-innings culture in the team while there is more work to be done on the choice of shots towards the end of the innings - if the slog or the scoop doesn't work, the age-old straight-bat approach should be enforced.
Law is happy to have a calming influence like Mashrafe Mortaza back in the mix. But more than just being a great source of mental support for the team, Mortaza's bowling return has been the most encouraging factor for the team.
Their thrilling run has also meant that the Asia Cup has gained popularity after years of negligence as a competition. An underdog always has the potential to create theatre and Bangladesh achieved that. Excitable crowds thronged Mirpur every time Bangladesh chased.
The team can be rest assured that the country understands what it goes through: they can lose, they can surprise with a win but they must always provide a fight, show that they care. This one could have gone either way even with the bunny Shahadat on strike, with four needed off the final ball. It ultimately went to Pakistan, but it took a photo-finish to keep Bangladesh on the runners-up podium.
Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter at the Daily Star in Dhaka