Bangladesh’s World Cup ended with a crushing defeat against Pakistan at Lord’s on Friday. It was an anticlimactic finish to an otherwise fantastic run by the Tigers in the showpiece event that had started brilliantly for them with a fabulous victory against South Africa more than a month ago.
Interestingly, the harsh reality after Friday’s chastening defeat is that we are no longer talking about how well the Tigers have played but how badly they have signed off.
The Pakistan game was a dead rubber for Bangladesh. The only thing at stake for the Tigers was to win the game and finish fifth, just beneath the four semifinalists. It could have been a logical conclusion after a campaign that saw the Tigers beat West Indies and Afghanistan apart from that near-miss against New Zealand and two closely-fought battles against Australia and India respectively. There was also a washout disappointment for the Tigers against the Lankan Lions.
But those were blurry amidst the punishing defeat by Pakistan, a team that also blew hot and cold throughout their own campaign.
It was arguably only the second of Bangladesh’s nine league games where they were outclassed by the opposition after that heavy England defeat.
They bowled badly and fielded even worse, allowing Pakistan to post a commanding 315. It was a tough task to chase down that total on a slow wicket. The Tigers fans were still hoping that it was possible considering that the Tigers had scored three 300-plus totals in the tournament so far against quality attack.
It would be cruel to say that the batting unit, the most impressive of the three departments, did not try, or that they threw their wickets away. The truth is that they were outsmart by a fantastic young Pakistan bowler -- Shaheen Shah Afridi. The left-arm pacer took six wickets and earned all of them.
His immaculate line and length, subtle changes of variation and pace and those searing yorkers were too hot to handle for the Tigers. Shaheen turned up with his golden arm whenever the Tigers tried to wrest the initiative from the firm grip of Pakistan.
Shakib Al Hasan tried hard. He was out there to complete his seventh fifty-plus knock in eight completed games before being dismissed by Shaheen.
It was a game where Bangladesh’s weaknesses in two departments -- bowling and fielding -- were exposed for the umpteenth time. After the game it came under the scanner, which is quite logical.
But the emotional override after that defeat was not all that rational, especially when the criticism targeted Tigers captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, who took only one wicket in the whole tournament. There was a lot of speculation about Mashrafe’s participation in the last game against Pakistan. Thankfully, he played what was his last World Cup game, which was a logical decision.
The fans perhaps expected him to make an announcement of his retirement in that game. But he preferred to buy some time to make his decision, which is also understandable. He said it was his last World Cup. He has served Bangladesh cricket on those bad legs with extreme dedication and is the man behind taking Bangladesh to a position of strength in the one-day format.
Mashrafe is a born fighter. We can be critical about his performance in the World Cup. But he also deserves to make his own decision.
What every stakeholder of the game now needs is to allow enough time for the overflowing emotions to die down.
After the Champions Trophy semifinal defeat against India in England in 2017, Shakib was having a chat with a few Bangladesh reporters ahead of the post-match briefing. Asked what areas Bangladesh needed to improve on to be more competitive, Shakib said: “We are all emotional at the moment. I think we should allow it to subside and then sit together so that we can make that decision rationally.”
It was as true then as it is now. The reality is that Bangladesh’s glorious chapter with Mashrafe is all but over. It is time to take a deep breath and plan for the 2023 World Cup.
Choose a new leader wisely, think of a new set of coaching staff if necessary and harness a combination most suited for Indian conditions where the next World Cup will be held. It will only help to dream big.