Dhaka gives Asia Cup a life
Most one-day tournaments get a bad rap. Even the ICC's global tournaments come in for flak, with the structure and duration of several World Cups questioned, and the Champions Trophy is deemed an irrelevance.
The Asia Cup is no different. While it is finally managing to carve out a space as a regular biennial event over the past few years, the crowds stayed away when it was played in the oppressive heat of June and July in Pakistan four years ago. The previous edition in Dambulla also had little buzz, hardly becoming the focus of attention even in that tiny town.
This time, though, it has been completely different. Dhaka's massive appetite for cricket has transformed the tournament. The stadium was only half-full for the opening match of the competition, between Bangladesh and Pakistan, but then news filtered in that the city had been crippled by a public transport shutdown, and the fans had still managed to find a way to get to the game.
Even the recent CB Series in Australia, which featured a series of cracking matches, had thin crowds, and by the time of the finals, attention had switched from cricket to Aussie rules football. The league games of the Asia Cup, though, have been played in a cacophonous atmosphere of crowd chants, horns and the odd drum. The victories for Bangladesh have sparked impromptu street parties, an event which is likely in other parts of the subcontinent only in the case of wins in the latter stages of the World Cup.
With the final coming up, the excitement is palpable. "It's dangerous to pick up the phone these days," a Bangladesh board official joked on Wednesday. "Every call I get is someone asking for tickets." The board's acting CEO has had to get a new phone number as his listed one was deluged with demands for tickets. Some schools in Dhaka are closing at noon to allow students the chance to watch the entire match. The evening before the final, the usually chaotic traffic around the stadium was brought to a standstill as a group of fans jubilantly paraded, carrying a giant flag of Bangladesh, roaring their support for the team. The government has also pledged that there will be no load shedding during the live telecast of the match.
The Asia Cup is typically a low-key, quickly forgotten tournament. Not this time.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo