There has been a lot of debate on social media and elsewhere regarding Liton Das's stumping by Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Friday's Asia Cup final. The decision was very close, as multiple angles of the sequence showed, before the third umpire finally ruled in favour of India. Here is what Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza had to say about this: "It is hard to tell. At one point we felt it was not out. I think the third umpire can say it better. Maybe it will be discussed later."
It would not be an injustice in any way if the Cricket Gods allow Mashrafe Bin Mortaza to lift the Asia Cup trophy with his firm hands at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium today to bring smiles on the faces of the millions of cricket-crazy people in our country.
However, the question is how realistic that dream is. India will go into the final today tagged as 'overwhelming favourites' after enjoying an unbeaten run in the tournament while the Tigers endured a bumpy ride.
While it is true that Bangladesh have overcome many odds to reach the final, many will say: "It's India man! And don't forget there is no Shakib Al Hasan or Tamim Iqbal."
However, a Midas touch from one man can change all the equations and realistic views.
He has given proof of that many times in his fairytale career and he did it again in this tournament too with a traditionally charismatic approach.
When Bangladesh left the country, they had high hopes of achieving glory. Things took a turn and there was plenty of drama in the opener against Sri Lanka, all of which was eventually overshadowed by Tamim Iqbal's unbelievable courage. However, the man who motivated the left-hander was none other than his inspirational skipper.
Tamim's loss had a huge impact as the two new openers failed to find their feet and two defeats to Afghanistan and India made things difficult for the captain, who was tasked with putting the pieces back together and reigniting their hopes. Then the controversial decision to include openers Imrul Kayes and Soumya Sarkar apparently unsettled the team but hope never faded as that colossal man was at the helm.
He stuck to two young openers despite their failures and the hard-fought victory against Afghanistan in the Super Four promised something good was coming to the team.
Alas! The Cricket Gods threw another monumental challenge at the man as Shakib Al Hasan was ruled out ahead of the do-or-die match against Pakistan.
The rest is history.
Mashrafe's stunning catch to dismiss dangerman Shoaib Malik might be publicised most but the way he charged up his men and marshalled the fielding, apart from a good bowling effort, only provided more proof why this man is special.
So, do not only consider logistics when this inspirational man is around. If anyone deserves this prestigious trophy, it is Mashrafe, even more so at the fag end of his career.
The Bangladesh innings of 239 all out against Pakistan yesterday, leaving overs unused for the fourth time in five matches of the ongoing Asia Cup, revealed much of what is ailing Bangladesh batting. Mushfiqur Rahim was once again brilliant and extremely unlucky to be the first Bangladesh batsman to be out on 99 in international cricket. While he responded to the terrible setback of losing Shakib Al Hasan before the match by absorbing all the pressure, the performance of the rest of the top order raised serious concerns about Bangladesh's bench strength and also the willingness of those outside the experienced batsmen to respond to a match situation.
On a pitch that had a bit of grass, none of the Pakistan pacers bowled an unplayable ball except a Shaheen Shah Afridi delivery to Mohammad Mithun in the sixth over, when the left-arm pacer's delivery pitched outside leg and jagged away outside off, completely opening the batsmen up. Yet Bangladesh were three wickets down for 12 runs by the end of the fifth over. With Shakib out of the tournament one may have thought that the openers would try to preserve wickets to compensate for the hole in the middle order. However, Soumya Sarkar -- playing his first ODI in almost a year -- went for the hook the first opportunity he got when Junaid Khan bounced him in the third over, perishing because he was too late on the shot.
If Soumya's error revealed thoughtlessness, Mominul Haque's dismissal exposed the lack of bench strength. After hitting a boundary off Shaheen Shah, he was beaten by pace in the next ball by a bowler who, while nippy, is not the fastest going around. In the next over Liton was foiled by a tactic as elementary as Junaid coming around the wicket. To a straight ball that was homing in on off and middle, the opener tried to play towards mid on and had his stumps disturbed.
Like he did in the first match against Sri Lanka on September 15, Mushfiqur stitched together a face-saving 144-run partnership with Mohammad Mithun. With his team seriously hurt by the new absence of Shakib and the old one of opener Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur refrained from any of the brain fades that saw him get out reverse-sweeping against India and run out in suicidal fashion against Afghanistan. The same could not be said for Mithun, who repeated his error from the Sri Lanka match by playing a rash shot just when the bowling was at their mercy.
The remaining six wickets could add just 83 runs. As has been happening in every match that Bangladesh have not completely lost the plot in, one of the senior pros have stood up and made up for the rest.
All of Bangladesh is rejoicing in the heroism displayed by the country's highest run-scorer to come out to bat at number 11 with a broken wrist just so that the team could reach a total that would give them a fighting chance in their Asia Cup Opener against Sri Lanka in Dubai on Saturday.
But Tamim Iqbal, the man who risked bodily harm for some runs on the board, was the picture of despondency the next day in the Tigers' team hotel.
"I am not enjoying it a bit. I am extremely disappointed," said Tamim yesterday when asked how he felt about all the hero worship flowing his way in social media and the real world. "I don't think I have been this disappointed, this heartbroken in 10 years of my international career. I had very high hopes when coming to the Asia Cup. But unfortunately, leaving the scene because of injury is very unfortunate."
Tamim suffered the injury from a Suranga Lakmal bouncer in the second over of the match and was rushed to a hospital for a scan almost immediately. Less than two hours later, it was revealed that he would not take further part in the match. That was, until, he strode out to the shock and demoralisation of the Sri Lankans in the 47th over and played the one ball from Lakmal himself that allowed Mushfiqur Rahim to explode over the next 15 deliveries.
"I have been extremely downcast since last night. Yesterday, after what happened, I had the realisation that I won't play a part in this Asia Cup. So, I did however much was possible for me to do. I thought that if I was destined to play just one more ball in the Asia Cup, I thought 'why not that ball?'. After that there was an important partnership because of that one ball, those are important issues, but at the end of the day I am very heartbroken."
Tamim risked real danger as even running could prove damaging with a fracture.
"I was not even thinking of those things. For the 15-20 seconds my mindset was on another level. It was killing me that probably it would be the last ball I will face in this Asia Cup. That was a very emotional thing and I very much wanted to do something for the nation.
"I never planned for this. Now people are talking about this a lot, but I thought about none of that. It just came from my heart. I just wanted to do something from my heart."
Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain, took the blame for his team's poor show at the Asia Cup, but said that there's time to rebuild the team for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.
A convincing eight-wicket win over Hong Kong in the tournament opener suggested Pakistan were going to be a force. But it was followed by an eight-wicket defeat to India, and then, following a last-over win over Afghanistan in the Super Fours, losses to India and Bangladesh. As a result, Pakistan crashed out of the tournament they have won twice in the past.
"Yes, our performance was very poor. Our batting wasn't good, and we dropped a lot of catches. Our bowling was also patchy, and that's the reason we are out of the tournament," accepted Ahmed, who had a poor run with the bat himself, scoring 68 runs in four innings.
"I still believe we have a lot of talented players in the team. Look at Fakhar Zaman. Though he didn't have a good tournament, we have to back him. Babar Azam too. Imam has, thankfully, done well, but there's also Shadab and Hasan. We have to back them and take them along with us. We have to look at our bench too. We have a pool of players, and by the time the World Cup comes, we'll have a good team," said Ahmed.
"The World Cup is quite some time away, we have other engagements before that. Australia are coming, and then there's New Zealand. So we have to review our performance and see where we are falling short.
"We are losing too many wickets early, and the middle order has had to deal with the new ball, which isn't easy, and hitting quickly in the end isn't easy on these pitches. We'll have to get together and fix these issues."
While Ahmed called the performance 'alarming', he added, "There's no need to press the panic button. Yes, we have made mistakes as a team, and as a captain, I know that I didn't do well. But no need to panic, we need to back the players, look at the positions and see if there are people outside the team who can come in."
When Bangladesh take on India in the Asia Cup final in Dubai today, it will be a battle between two sides who have come to the title clash through highly contrasting routes and with widely divergent levels of confidence.
The match will start at 5:30pm (Bangladesh time) at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
India had confirmed their place in the final by beating Pakistan by nine wickets on Sunday, the same day that Bangladesh had just managed to stay in contention with a three-run win over Afghanistan. India then rested their best players -- including captain Rohit Sharma and vice-captain Shikhar Dhawan -- for their last Super Four match against Afghanistan, who were inspired by leg-spinner Rashid Khan into forcing a thrilling tie against the world's top-ranked ODI team on Tuesday.
The following day, Bangladesh woke to the news that ace all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan would follow opener and highest run-scorer Tamim Iqbal out of the tournament, but still rallied to beat two-time champions Pakistan by 37 runs in Abu Dhabi.
While that meant that Bangladesh made the final for the third time in the last four editions, it also meant that they would have one less day than the more-fancied India to recuperate after toiling in heat that they had never played in as a team.
There is also a contrast between the respective strengths of the sides. Bangladesh have routinely lost two wickets inside the first 10 overs and have played out the 50 overs only once in five matches. Meanwhile India have only lost more than three wickets on the two occasions when they played at less than full strength -- against Hong Kong in their first match when they lost seven wickets for 285 and against Afghanistan, when they were bowled out for 252.
"It was difficult [winning against Pakistan] with performers like Shakib and Tamim not playing," said Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza at the pre-final press conference yesterday. "The good thing that the boys have done is that they did not given up, although we lost to Afghanistan in the group stage and again against India [exactly a week before the final], but still they fought back.
"There are some concerns with our batting, but Mushfiqur [Rahim, the second-highest scorer in the tournament with 297 runs] is in great form. [Mohammad] Mithun is playing well, [Mahmudullah] Riyad also batted well. If our top order can click it will be fine. But again I think that India are a far better team -- number one in the world. They came here as favourites, but you never know, anything can happen on a good day. We have to be mentally strong and fight till the end."
While India will have a settled team, Bangladesh have not played the same team for two matches in succession throughout the tournament. The injuries have forced them to get creative, such as batting left-handed opener Imrul Kayes at six to combat Rashid's leg-spin on Sunday. There may be a change today, with left-arm spinner Nazmul Islam coming into replace batsman Mominul Haque to try and contain India's vaunted batting order.
Imrul could also slot back into the opening position, pulling Soumya down to the lower middle order. With the way things have gone, it is a fool's errand to guess their plans. Mashrafe also has an injury to his right little from when he spectacularly caught Pakistan's Shoaib Malik on Wednesday. However, there is no danger of the captain not playing in the title clash.
The crux of the battle may be in the top order because the two teams match up pretty evenly with the ball. Bangladesh have not conceded more than the 255 for seven Afghanistan scored against them last Thursday. As Mashrafe said, if it goes according to form, the top-ranked India should come out on top against the seventh-ranked Bangladesh. But if the Tigers can find the solution to the top order woes at the most opportune time, they will have performed above themselves and could conjure an unlikely result.
Bangladesh also have the invisible hand of momentum going in their favour, having won their last two matches with spirited performances.
However, it should also be remembered that they have never won a final, including a loss to India in the last Asia Cup final at home and in the Nidahas Trophy in March.