Preparing for the prize fight
Bangladesh cricket fans can hardly wait for today's auspicious occasion when the Tigers start their Asia Cup T20 final against India at their beloved cricket ground in Mirpur. As usual there is a wide range of issues, from daily sufferings to major political topics, to discuss but apparently all those have taken a back seat as the country's sports-loving people have been gripped by cricket fever.
From laymen to pundits, everyone was trying in his or her own way to make a preview for the final; of course mostly in favour of the beloved team that have given them enough occasions to celebrate in the international arena over the past two years.
Even the rational minds have been swayed by emotions, despite knowing that the home side are going to face a team full of T20 specialists, as they believe that Mashrafe Bin Mortaza wields a magic wand in his hands; one does not have to go too far back to find examples of his wizardry; his two boundaries that shot out Pakistan and powered the Tigers to the final, for example.
The charismatic Bangladesh leader not only overcame many adversities in his career to become a rare example in sporting history, but created history by leading his team to achieve one glory after another since the last ICC World Cup in Australia-New Zealand. So why can't the first major trophy be won by the country under his leadership?
This is the sentiment and belief all around. Ask even a rickshaw-puller or CNG driver and they are also ready to sacrifice their earnings to watch the mouth-watering final. Traffic-free roads on the usually busy Sunday evening may not be unlikely, as it is expected that everyone will be glued to their television sets from 7.30pm, apart from those lucky ones who have gotten tickets to watch the match from the stands.
Mashrafe did not hesitate to declare during a lengthy pre-match press conference yesterday that India were overwhelming favourites and that the Tigers' success in the current Asia Cup does not mean they have become a formidable side in the shortest format overnight, but he also made a strong statement, saying they have taken a strong stride. The people and media love a trip down memory lane whenever the two teams lock horns, so even Bangladesh's 2007 World Cup success against India in the West Indies was brought into the discussion. And it was obvious that that heart-breaking 2012 Asia Cup final, the Tigers' first final in any major tournament, was revisited.
However, one can take inspiration from their captain when he assured that his side are no longer a team that lose close matches, like they did against Pakistan in the Asia Cup final four years ago at the same venue.
On paper, India are favourites and they have vast experience of playing such crunch games. They have so far put in clinical performances in the tournament, including the convincing win in the opening game against Bangladesh. The home side however also proved that they could land heavy punches on their opponents.
One thing is for sure; there will be no shortage of spectators' delight when bowlers like Taskin Ahmed go for the jugular. Overall one can have high hopes with the Bangladesh pace attack and everybody believes that there will be no shortage of killer instinct from them in the final. A four-pronged pace-attack and change in batting order has been on the cards and it is believed that under the leadership of Mashrafe, the Tigers will leave no stone unturned to clinch their first major trophy.
There is no doubt the Tigers need to improve their batting. There are some concerns over the batting ability of the home side in T20 cricket despite their two victories against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, especially since it will understandably not match the formidable Indian batting line-up. But they proved in recent times that they are a team who are capable of overcoming every new hurdle and prove everyone wrong.
In the end, the emotion, facts and figures, all appear useless when one remembers that no one is a favourite in this format, where one over can change the whole complexion of the game.
Who ultimately reaches the summit will be determined after this evening's three-hour battle and Bangladesh captain Mashrafe, who is not a great fan of this format of the game, stated it will be fantastic for them if they can win the final, but all will not be lost if they lose the final; a spirit of pressure defiance that his colleagues will do well to follow.