Choice of game
The World Cup game between Afghanistan and Bangladesh was the eighth game I was at this tournament, most of those have featured Bangladesh. Though they had been impressive on the whole, a sense of 'what if' has been a constant presence in conversations with other Bangladesh fans. The washout against Sri Lanka, the inability to force a win against New Zealand, other results not quite working to Bangladesh's favour… all sources of immense frustration, seemingly ending any realistic chance of the team reaching the final four.
So I set off from south London to Southampton holding on to the little shred of hope that remained. After travelling hundreds of miles in the past few weeks, my friends and I were determined to give our full-throated support, spurring the team on to do a late surge up the points table.
Apart from that, it was also an opportunity to see, for the first time, Afghanistan's famous spin trio, in particular Rashid Khan.
The best performance of the day, undoubtedly, came from Shakib Al Hasan.
I was recently at a family gathering when my cousin recounted a touching story about playing backyard cricket with his four-year-old son. Being an expatriate Bangladeshi, my cousin spent most of his childhood, like countless others of his generation growing up in Bangladesh, playing tape-ball cricket and pretending to be Kapil Dev or Imran Khan. Much to my cousin's amazement, and pride, the boy announced that he would be batting like Shakib.
Shakib certainly didn't let his fans down on the day: a half-century followed up by a five-wicket haul in a crucial World Cup match is the stuff of dreams.
Mushfiqur Rahim's industrious 83 off 87 balls was also instrumental in setting up a competitive first-innings total. He unfurled an array of sweep shots against the spinners but his most memorable one was a straight drive for six. Sheer timing rather than power sent the ball in a graceful arc over long-on. His work behind the stumps was also neat as he effected two sharp stumpings.
I was also hoping to see an improved Mashrafe Mortaza. Sitting behind the bowler's arm, I was able to see at close quarters Mashrafe's familiar pre-bowling routine, bending over to tug on the strapping around his right knee before returning to the top of his mark with a weary look. One could be forgiven for thinking he was about to bowl his last ball ever but somehow he would make it through the over and then the spell. He finished wicketless, but the way he marshalled and galvanised the team was fantastic.
The 29th over of the Afghanistan innings was when Shakib got a timely double breakthrough. The wicket of Mohammad Nabi for a duck was met with a deafening roar from the crowd. The replays on the big screen confirmed what an excellent ball it was, passing through an inviting gate to hit leg stump. From that point on, victory seemed assured, and the mood of the Bangladesh fans mirrored the state of play.
There were two moments of athletic fielding that were very impressive: a sharp, low catch from Liton Das close to the bat to dismiss Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib, and a swooping gather and quick release from Sabbir Rahman to effect a run out.
Away from the cricket, during the innings break, we were mesmerised by a group of whirling dervishes performing in a trance-like state despite the busy surroundings. Watching them temporarily halted my anxiety on whether 262 runs would be enough.
The one thing I'd change
At times, the stewarding bordered on the over-officious. South Asian fans have a tendency to constantly move around, and shift seats. In my experience, most misunderstandings about who should sit where are amicably resolved and the crowds respond better to a laissez-faire approach from those in charge.
I recall with fondness watching the team with only a handful of others in weird and wonderful places in the years immediately after attaining Test status; beating Middlesex prior to the 1999 World Cup and sneaking into the Metropolitan Police Ground in Surrey to see the team play USA in a 2004 Champions Trophy warm-up. Those are great memories and seem a world away from the big draw the team has become now. The new generation of Bangladesh fans were a sea of green with flecks of red, easily outnumbering the Afghans in the stands. There was an abundance of stuffed tigers on display, as well as people cheering on wearing tiger costumes. I even spotted one man dressed in a traditional lungi and vest.
The noise generated by both sets of supporters was the loudest I've ever encountered; drums, horns and football-style chants filled the air. I particularly enjoyed the "Ohhh Shakib-ul-Has-aaan" chant. Even though it had been directly copied from a similar one used by Labour Party supporters during the last general elections, it felt much more appropriate when used to place unconditional trust in a world-class cricketer. Although overwhelmingly good-natured, there remained an undercurrent in the crowd through the day, perhaps a sign of the burgeoning rivalry between the teams.
Marks out of 10
A solid and sometimes spectacular eight. Not as dominant as the victory over West Indies, or as eyebrow-raising as beating South Africa, but this was still a vital win, one that allowed Bangladesh fans to dream of a semi-final place for another week at least.
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