Tigers from underdogs
The Bangla tiger bared its claws, stretched every sinew in its body and roared so loudly that the packed stands at the Bangabandhu Stadium were stunned. They will never forget their 100th one-day international no matter how many losses or wins flow under the bridge in the years to come. It was a magical evening that swept aside years of gloom and heartache and imbued a cricket-crazy nation with a fervour that will linger on forever.
It should matter little that India had chosen to rest four of their big guns because Bangladesh played like a team possessed. Little could have India have imagined the manner in which their opponents clutched to every small chance, squeezed out every run possible, and turned in a fielding performance that will stand up to the severest scrutiny.
The sum of parts is sometimes greater than the whole, and Mashrafe Mortaza and Aftab Ahmed, with a little help from their friends, showed that the impossible does happen. Aftab's audacity with the bat reminded the cricket world of the power of youth. Unburdened by the fact that Bangladesh have lost all but three of the one-dayers they have played, unconcerned for the reputation of the giants in the opposition, he batted with unadulterated freedom. There were approximately 40,000 people crammed into the stands, and seemingly an equal number chanting 'Bangla-desh! Bangla-desh!' at every little turn, and the sound reached a crescendo when Aftab pulled Joginder Sharma for an authoritative six over deep backward square-leg.
But, the fireworks of Aftab and Mohammad Ashraful, who also hit a similar six off Zaheer Khan, were merely the markers that kept the crowd interested in the game. When Aftab was out, Bangladesh, whose top order failed once more, only had 168 on the board, in the 38th over. With seven wickets down, India still had a chance to restrict Bangladesh to something in the range of 200.
Then, Tapash Baisya and Morataza, a man you could barely keep out of the game for ten minutes, clattered 32 runs for the ninth wicket, pushing India's fast bowlers to the brink of desperation with innovative and clean hitting. And yet, no-one in the Indian camp would have been seriously worried, for 230 was eminently chasable on a wicket which merely lacked pace.
But then strange things began to happen under the lights. Not with the ball, the pitch, or the outfield, but with the Bangladesh team. When Mortaza, nostrils flaring like a bull about to gore a matador, steamed through Virender Sehwag's defences, it was game on. Bangladesh began to sense that December 26 could be a red-letter day in their cricketing history.
From then on, no effort was spared in the field, and the manner in which Mortaza and Baisya controlled their line and length showed that Dav Whatmore's pleas for discipline had not fallen on deaf ears. Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie would have been proud of the manner in which this pair bowled to a 6-3 off-side field.
The wickets then fell with such regularity through direct hits that homed in on the stumps, through big fast bowlers latching onto screamers in the outfield and through nifty glovework behind the stumps that Sridharan Sriram was forced to be even more dour than his usual self and eke out 57 from 91 balls. The manner in which he struggled to even rotate the strike was a measure of the control Bangladesh exercised on the Indian batsmen.
Aftab, fittingly, nailed the win with a direct hit from point and months of painful suffering for a nation had been lifted. There was nothing about the passage of play that could be used to discredit Bangladesh's win. The idiots who, even in jest, refer to any Bangladesh win as a result of some shady dealings, had nothing to hold onto. The cynics, who are forever looking for umpiring mistakes to mask the true worth of a performance, can look at replays forever, and they will find nothing to complain about. The pessimists, who question Whatmore's ways, have to shut up, at least for the moment.
On the day, Bangladesh were simply the better side. No-one can take that away from Habibul Bashar and his crew.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.