Bangladesh's seventh-place finish in the ICC Under-19 World Cup may sound unflattering, but that too was unlikely until Anamul Haque was installed as captain in what was a last-minute decision. He went on to become the tournament's highest run-getter with two centuries, both having a major say in the team's outcome.
In the first game against Sri Lanka, Anamul counter-attacked effectively in a big partnership with Asif Ahmed. His 101 off 127 balls ensured a big total, which was enough to put them on course to a quarter-finals place. Anamul's scores in the next three games weren't flattering, but he finished the tournament with a fifty against England and his second ton, against Pakistan. He was dreading returning home "empty-handed", so the 112-ball 128 was exactly what he was hoping for.
"The first hundred [against Sri Lanka] was just what was needed to start the tournament. It put us on the right track. But then I had an ordinary time for a while so I was hoping to finish the tournament with a win, something for the long ride back," Anamul told ESPNcricinfo. "I didn't want to return home empty-handed and since Pakistan were also up for it, I really enjoyed the knock. To top it off I got two Man-of-the-Match awards, so from a personal point of view it was a good tour.
"It was a target of sorts, so I'm happy to have taken the opportunity. It is a great honor to be the highest scorer."
Anamul was handed the opportunity after Bangladesh crashed out of the Under-19 Asia Cup. He was brought back after touring Zimbabwe with the senior side for the Twenty20 tri-series. His aggregate of just 16 runs from three matches in Harare showed that he wasn't quite ready for top-level cricket. It appeared like muddled decision-making from the cricket board, but ultimately, returning to U-19 cricket was a good learning experience for the young right-hander.
"I was never negative about going back (to playing for the Under-19s). I wanted to give an exceptional performance instead, making runs is important in whatever level you play," he said.
The World Cup also ended up testing Anamul's character, none more so than the 'Mankading' incident in the quarter-final against Australia where he didn't withdraw an appeal after Soumya Sarkar ran out Jimmy Peirson who was outside the non-striker's crease. Anamul had his reasons: defending a small total (171), Bangladesh took three quick wickets and with the run-out, it reduced Australia to 33 for 4.
"As soon as Soumya (Sarkar) made the run-out, I knew that they would be 30-odd for four. Bear in mind we were defending a small total, so I had to be the bad guy. I know it wouldn't look good but it was within the rules, so I persisted.
"I thought that if we could pull off a win, all would be forgotten. But there was a lot of talk about it later on," Anamul said.
Despite the frustration of a quarter-final loss and ordinary performances from the bowlers, Anamul joined the likes of Graeme Smith and Chris Gayle to finish as the tournament's top run-getter. While these modern-day superstars should inspire him to work on a career that would give him "10 to 15 years at the top", he should be mindful of the cautionary tales at home.
In previous World Cup campaigns, Bangladesh batsmen who finished as the leading run-getters had careers that ended swiftly, without making much noise. While Al-Shahriar (1998), Aftab Ahmed (2002), Nafees Iqbal (2004) and Mehrab Hossain Jnr (2006) played in the senior side, the likes of Nahidul Islam (2002) and Ashraful Hossain (2008) are no longer in the scene, unable to handle the pressure that came with early recognition.
This second chance for Anamul is a blessing that many cricketers in Bangladesh don't get. By the looks of his hunger for hundreds, the signs are encouraging, for now.