Bangladesh's day of reckoning
There was nothing in the Fatullah air that suggested it was a final day. You could even count the heads in the stands if you were in a mood to do so. The excited queues that had been a feature of this cricket-crazed venue had suddenly disappeared and there was almost a sense of aloofness on Bangladesh's biggest day of the tournament.
Various theories abounded as to why this was the case. One journalist suggested that the local student fanbase would be too busy sitting their Secondary School Certificate exams, which unfortunately started on the very same day. But somehow that wasn't a particularly convincing argument. After all, this was a match against the reigning Under-19 World Cup champions, Australia. Never mind that it was for the consolation final, the occasion ought to have been big enough to pack the stands, especially in Fatullah of all places.
The debate raged on in the press box as Bangladesh's openers strolled to the centre and started middling the ball from the word go. In fact, they were so dominant that it wasn't until the 25th over that the Aussies had their first real sniff of a wicket, when Stephen O'Keefe gleefully accepted a soft return catch off Nafis Iqbal. But Bangladesh, who had not been given a chance in the build-up, were suddenly in the driving seat ... and the news spread fast.
Soon the drums were rolling in, flagand placard-waving children and adults poured in to fill the vacant whiteness of the gallery, and normality was restored to Fatullah's image. And Bangladesh's young batsmen were rising to the occasion. The top three all hit half-centuries with Aftab Ahmed's 57 particularly entertaining, as he twice lofted the bowlers back over their heads for six. Their total of 257 for 9 was the kind of score that no side had successfully chased in the entire tournament.
Funnily enough, the lunchtime chatter in the press box was a reflection of Bangladesh's relaxed performance with the bat. In a little over 30 hours' time, this three-week jamboree would be over, and thoughts were turning to post-tournament activities. The ICC's effervescent media manager, Jon Long, whose left-arm spin had somehow skittled an unsuspecting Press Club XI in a so-called friendly match at the scenic DOHS park on Wednesday, was busy planning a "meet the Royal Bengal Tiger" excursion in the Sundarbans. It remains to be seen whether there will be press releases flowing from the jungle too.
The intensity soon picked up, however, as Shahadat Hossain Rajib, the 6ft 2ins tearaway from Narayanganj marked his 50-yard run up. He steams in like an express train and hurls down the ball from a slight angle with a partially open action. Every time he began his run, the drums started beating in a pulsating rhythm and those who didn't have an instrument to hand would join in with a clatter of empty mineral-water bottles. Just to return the compliment, the bowler, one of the fastest on show at the World Cup, shattered the stumps of Theo Doropoulos. The party was just warming up.
Enamul Haque jnr, one of the very few Test cricketers in the competition, then embarked on a mesmerising spell of flight and turn. Ken Skewes and Moses Henriques were beaten all ends up by balls that pitched outside leg and spat onto the stumps, and Australia were soon in desperate trouble at 103 for 5 in the 28th over.
But, inevitably, a fightback followed in true Aussie style (even though the perpetrators were Ahillen Beadle, a Bahraini by birth, and O'Keefe, who was born in Penang, Malaysia). The sixth-wicket partnership blossomed to alarming proportions, and suddenly there was unease in the stands. Catches were dropped, fumbles became more frequent, a few close run-out calls were ignored by the umpires, and for the first time in the competition, bottles and other objects rocketed over the barbed-wire fencing and onto the ground.
It took a sensational three wickets in four balls for the crowd to settle, as Beadle and O'Keefe were both run out after adding 125. But the danger was not over yet. Australia's captain, Tim Paine, came in with a runner and a limp, and duly belted Nadif Chowdhury for a six over deep midwicket. Australia needed 11 from the last over with Paine on strike.
Cometh the hour cometh the teenager. Enamul looped one up for the big heave and the captain Ashiqur Rahman took a brilliantly judged catch at midwicket under staggering pressure. With his next ball Enamul dragged Gary Putland out of his crease for a stumping, and the outpouring of passion was awesome. It was all too exciting for the local radio commentary, however, which packed up with an over to go ...
In the gallery and in the press enclosure, misty-eyed spectators congratulated each other - everyone had been on their feet for at least the last half-hour of the match. In the middle, the players huddled together and danced in a circle. As the Australians made their way to the dressing-room, a hearty applause erupted from the crowd. The Aussies had made a habit of praising the vanquished throughout the tournament. Here was a rare chance for Bangladesh to reciprocate.
It took quite a while for Bangladesh's Australian coach Richard McInnes to arrive for the post-match press conference. He had been hobnobbed by the minister for sports and almost the entire Bangladesh Cricket Board hierarchy. And the media too was warm in acknowledging his efforts - a far cry from events just two weeks back, when he stormed out of a briefing, vowing to take a journalist "outside" after Bangladesh had been eliminated from the Cup phase. Suddenly everything had been forgotten.
As we waited for the coach that would carry us back to Dhaka, the Bangladesh players were already sitting quietly aboard their team bus. Perhaps their achievement hadn't quite sunk in. They had overcome the youth team of the world's most scientifically nurtured cricket nation who enjoy the support of every possible facility and guidance mother earth has to offer. It was a massive statement of Bangladesh cricket's potential.
Rabeed Imam is senior sub-editor of the Daily Star in Dhaka.