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The defeat that launched Bangladesh's World Cup ambitions

Akram Khan lifts the ICC trophy in 1997 after two heartbreaks Associated Press

How Bangladesh reached their sporting dream in the 1999 World Cup is part of the country's cricket legend. Every Bangladeshi remembers where they were when the team beat Scotland in the ICC Trophy semi-final in 1997 to ensure they took one of three available berths at the next World Cup.

They then dramatically beat Kenya in the final to clinch the trophy that set them on their way upward out of the Associate world after 18 years. It became a cause for mass celebration, with millions pouring out into the streets in joy.

Bangladesh then rode off to the 1999 World Cup, where they beat Scotland and shocked Pakistan in Northampton. There were a lot of celebrations then as well, and they were heightened when Bangladesh went on to win Test status three years later.

That first World Cup appearance didn't come easily. For nearly two decades, Bangladesh had strived to make it but kept coming up short. They made it to the ICC Trophy semi-finals in 1982 and 1990, and showed a lot of progress in between. During this time, their game improved and grew in popularity.

The 1990 campaign spurred the cricketers on and a new generation emerged through the Dhaka league system, which was hugely popular because of the participation of foreign cricketers. Cricket kept pace with the heavily followed football leagues, with packed houses for matches, big-money player transfers, and the steady creation of local stars.

"We thought cricket would be engulfed by football and the momentum we had gained for the sport would be lost forever" Akram Khan

There is still debate about whether the team sent to the ICC Trophy was better in 1990 or 1994, but there is little doubt that Bangladesh's best opportunity came in 1994. There were three berths available for the first time and the 1996 World Cup was to be played in the subcontinent.

"Some may argue that the 1990 team, which made it to the semi-finals and lost to Zimbabwe narrowly, was better," Akram Khan, part of side in 1990, 1994, and captain of the 1997 ICC Trophy-winning team, said. "I would say the 1994 side had every base covered, so we went into the tournament with high hopes.

"We started the tournament very well but we went on to lose to UAE in the first round. The trouble was in the second round, where we lost to Netherlands first up. We couldn't chase 206. We had made a slow start and never could recover. And then, of course, there was the loss to Kenya."

The game against Kenya, played on February 25, 1994, is still regarded as a dark day for Bangladesh cricket. A must-win match, it was widely followed over radio by an expectant nation.

"We got an early wicket, but Maurice Odumbe scored a century and took the game away from us. There was a big second-wicket partnership [116 runs between Odumbe and Dipak Chudasama], after which they made 295. It was always going to be a tough chase," said Akram.

At the lunch break, radio commentator Shamim Ashraf Chowdhury predicted doom for Bangladesh. "We were going together to have lunch at the break," Karim said, "and he told me, the game is over, 295 is impossible."

And so it proved to be. Jahangir Alam (57) and Aminul Islam (74) added 139 for the first wicket, but they were both dismissed on the same score, and two new batsmen - Minhajul Abedin and Akram Khan - had to rebuild the momentum. They added 50-odd but couldn't recover the pace.

"We got back on the field and Bangladesh started fantastically well," Karim said. "Then they lost a cluster of wickets, and in the end they lost by 13 runs. I felt Bangladesh lacked the killer instinct, especially in the Kenya match. It was special to beat them."

The Bangladesh dressing room was a depressing place that evening at the Simba Union Ground in Nairobi.

"Most of us just sat silently after the game, wondering what would happen to us," Akram said. "I honestly thought it was the end for cricket in Bangladesh. Many of the senior players were at our peak and we couldn't foresee doing it all over again in 1997. We thought cricket would be engulfed by football and the momentum we had gained for the sport would be lost forever. It was one of the toughest moments of our careers."

But it wasn't the end of the road. Cricket had already gained in popularity in Bangladesh through the tournament's ups and downs, and the grief of not making it to the World Cup and then watching it on television, inspired the cricketers and kept the fans hooked.

The 1994 ICC Trophy was an important juncture in Bangladesh cricket, one that cannot be ignored when charting the team's journey to top-level cricket. It gave the team and the officials enough reasons to be thoroughly prepared for the 1997 edition in Malaysia.

When talking about that Kenya game 20 years on, Akram, a cult hero for his 64 against Netherlands in the crucial tie in 1997, feels the pain, but he looks at it with perspective. "If there was no Kenya 1994, we wouldn't have learned to prepare so well for 1997 and 1999."

This article was first published in 2014