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Bangladesh v Pakistan - Reliving the 1999 miracle

Twenty years ago, on May 31, Bangladesh began a swift rise to Full Membership that culminated in their becoming the tenth Test playing side in the world.

A day of days for Bangladesh in ODI cricket  •  John Mallett/JRM Photos

A day of days for Bangladesh in ODI cricket  •  John Mallett/JRM Photos

Minhajul Abedin laughed heartily as he narrated the story of his lost Bangladesh cap. The very mention of the 1999 World Cup win over Pakistan in Northampton brings back great memories for the former Bangladesh batsman and current chief selector. But he can't believe someone just snatched the cap from his head, although he only sees the funny side of it.
"We were waiting for the third umpire's decision for the last wicket, which was the run out," Minhajul tells ESPNcricinfo. "All the spectators had already entered the ground, and in those days it was the norm. Suddenly I saw one guy just grabbed my cap and run away. I looked to my left but this guy, who was also wearing a cap himself, was gone.
"That win and that ground is always in our heart. We stayed back for an extra day to celebrate. The people of Northampton were really kind to us. We went to an Indian restaurant for dinner that evening, and since we had beaten Pakistan that day, we were given a superb reception."
The day of Minhajul losing is cap was the day they stopped being an outsider in international cricket. On May 31, 1999, they began a swift rise to Full Membership that culminated in their becoming the tenth Test playing side in the world.
The view from the Northamptonshire county ground's pavilion is a familiar one, with the cathedral in one corner and rows of red-bricked houses interspersed by trees on every side. Very little has changed inside the ground too. There's a wide-angle photo from that win 20 years ago inside the pavilion building and the only difference between then and now is the crowd. There was a full house on that day and only tiny smattering of spectators at this home game against Leicestershire.
Bangladesh prepare for their 2019 World Cup bow at Lord's against Pakistan for a fixture that neither side will treat as a dead rubber. This is Pakistan's final shot at a semi-final berth while Bangladesh are desperate to end their impressive campaign on a winning note.
Twenty years ago though, it was a dead rubber. They had beaten fellow qualifiers Scotland but were lackluster against all the top opponents and didn't honestly think that they could beat Pakistan, the most in-form team in the tournament. But they hoped for a good finish and what they got was a packed house, people waving the flags of both countries, some of them enjoying a miracle.
What transpired on May 31, 1999 was one of the greatest shocks in cricket history.
Mention of the match piqued interest within the press box, but I still couldn't find any locals who had been there on that day. After being taken around the pavilion building, I was advised that the supporters club would my best source. That's where I happened upon three ladies, all busy knitting, sitting in front of the bookstore. One of them called her husband, who was at the other side of the ground.
Michael Wells, whose was gifted club membership on his 50th birthday, remembers being there with his friends and colleagues, on a bright afternoon, surprised by the turnout and the result.
"It was fantastic atmosphere," Wells said. "It was the early days of mobile phones so I remember people commentating to their friends. There were more Pakistani supporters than Bangladeshis. The newcomers performed well, bowling and fielding particularly, and I think they got the Test status the following year.
"We used to get fantastic atmospheres for knockout Gillette Cup and NatWest matches. Grounds were nearly full in those days. There have been some big T20 matches here as well, but apart from the 1981 NatWest semi-final, [the Bangladesh-Pakistan game] was probably one of the outstanding matches here."
All was not well in the Bangladesh dressing room. In the days leading up to the Pakistan game in 1999, the BCB were preparing to fire Gordon Greenidge, who had been coach during their ICC Trophy triumph in Malaysia, but fell out with the board president Saber Hossain Chowdhury.
The day had begun with rumours that Greenidge had already been sacked. Khaled Mahmud, Player of the Match against Pakistan for his three big wickets, remembers the drama.
"It was a long time ago but that whole day is fresh in my memories," Mahmud, now the Bangladesh manager and board director, said. "There was a bit of drama on that day as we had heard that Gordon Greenidge, our coach at the time, was about to leave the team. We were so close for those four years leading up to the World Cup. He told us in the team huddle that this was his last game."
Mohammad Rafique, Minhajul, Enamul Haque and Faruque Ahmed had also announced their retirements that morning. Minhajul and Faruque never played for Bangladesh again although the former made a strong case for a Test debut within the next couple of years. Enamul and Rafique reversed their decisions, with both of them wanting to play Tests cricket. Rafique was the first Bangladeshi to take 100 Test wickets.
Soon it was time to go into the middle and Mahmud took the new ball after the regulars Hasibul Hossain and Manjurul Islam were rested. He also took three key wickets.
"I had Shahid Afridi with the outswing which he top edged to point. [Mehrab Hossain] Opee took the catch. I had Inzamam-ul-Haq and Salim Malik lbw. I think the English conditions suited me. I didn't have pace but I could swing the ball both ways.
"[Shahriar Hossain] Bidyut, Akram [Khan] bhai and [Minhajul Abedin] Nannu bhai played useful knocks. [Naimur Rahman] Durjoy got a great run out. We were facing the best team in the world, but we still felt that we may have a chance defending the 223 runs. It was probably our highest score in the tournament. We thought we could fight. But I don't think any of us even thought that we could beat them, even during the lunch break.
"Saeed Anwar got run out and then we had Malik and Inzamam. When their fourth wicket fell, we started to believe that we could win this game.
"Everyone had tremendous body language. I thought when Wasim Akram got caught at deep square-leg off Nannu bhai, the win became only a matter of time."
When the third umpire was looking at the replay for the last wicket, Mahmud started making his way towards the pavilion building and was almost engulfed by the crowd that had jumped the fence. Somehow he managed to wiggle out, keen to meet their mentor Greenidge. But in a dramatic turn of events, the coach had already been handed his marching orders.
"I knew it was out," Mahmud said. "When I saw the people charging towards the pitch, I ran away. When I was near the dressing room's stairs, they caught up with me. We really wanted to meet Gordon in the dressing room, but he was no longer there. The Pakistan win was a culmination of hard work over four and a half years with Greenidge,"
What they had all aspired to reach was not only achieved, but they had the bonus of beating a top side like Pakistan. The only bitterness was Greenidge's ouster, but he has since made up with the BCB, and even visited Bangladesh twice in the last 12 months.
Aminul Islam, considered one of the most recognisable development coaches in the world, led Bangladesh during the 1999 World Cup, and championed their Full Membership campaign.
"We had already applied for the Test status and I used to highlight our case in every press conference," he said. "This win was a huge boost towards our Test status. It was a huge ice-breaker for Bangladesh because we started to believe we can beat a Full Member side. Pakistan was a top side in those days."
Aminul, who was Bangladesh's first Test centurion, always knew it was only a matter of time before his team would rise up and join the elite. "In the 20 years in between, we saw Sri Lanka win the World Cup. We have invested heavily in ODIs, and we are reaping the rewards. We are one of the most experienced teams, and we have produced the best allrounder in the world. Our players have earned their respect from the rest of the world.
"This progress is natural, and our players are well known to this league. If we had won the World Cup by now, I would have said we have achieved something extraordinary."
Minhajul, Mahmud and Aminul light up at the mere mention of that game. Bangladesh went down in history that day. And so did the small town of Northampton.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84