Not many could have pointed a finger at Bangladesh if they did not put their all into yesterday's match against Afghanistan. As has by now been well documented, the Asian Cricket Council's decision to announce the Super Four matches even before the group champions and runners-up of the two Asia Cup groups were determined has cast the ongoing tournament in a bad light. To cut a long story short, as per the original schedule, Group B qualifiers Bangladesh and Afghanistan had the disadvantage of having to play their last group match yesterday and, with no real recovery time, had to face up to the Group A qualifiers today.
Instead they tried their best, but their honest commitment to striving for excellence unfortunately did not seem to be matched by their own board president.
The unusual -- and in terms of tournament structures as we have come to know them, dysfunctional -- move of naming the second-stage matches robbed yesterday's encounter of any relevance. The widespread impression among cricketers in Dubai -- both Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza and Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed have spoken out against it -- is that the move was done outside the rules. It is also widely thought that it was to benefit financial powerhouse India, who expressed a desire to play only in Dubai.
For yesterday's match, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mustafizur Rahman were left out with a view to keeping them primed for an actually relevant match against India today, but no one else was rested. That their disadvantageous and disheartening circumstances did not wipe away the desire to win was evident on the field yesterday in Mashrafe's smart captaincy. He bowled off a slightly shorter run and employed eight bowlers, which had the dual effect of keeping them relatively fresh for today's game and not allowing the Afghans to settle.
But off the field, Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) president Nazmul Hassan was a bundle of contradictions as he took questions about the ACC's move.
"We have already sought a written explanation," he told the media at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium yesterday. "But the basic thing is that the things being discussed here, we have no problem with. There was none before and there is none now."
Why, then, the request for a written explanation?
"There are no champions or runners-up. If it was the semifinals then that would be something else," he went on. "The best thing would be if we knew the fixtures after today's match."
Then, in the same breath: "But our problem [in the original schedule] is that we do not know who we would play against tomorrow or where. If it was against India it would be in Dubai, in Abu Dhabi if against Pakistan. So, what would they do -- return to Abu Dhabi tomorrow after going to Dubai tonight? It was confusing for all teams, so they decided that after the match against Pakistan and Oman [India and Hong Kong], they would name the groups."
To Hassan, it seems that the ACC's move was at once worthy of explanation and prudent in terms of the tournament and simultaneously harmed and benefited Bangladesh. It was certainly at odds with the focus shown by the team. Moreover, it was at odds with Mashrafe's discontent the previous day and the president's words seemed to throw the captain under the bus.
Hassan is currently the executive committee member of the ACC and is set to become its president after the next AGM.