Riyad's poetic justice
The similarities were uncanny, the possibilities either too cruel or poetically just. The actor and his nemesis were the same, as were the stage and situation, give or take a wicket here and a run there. At stake was the chance to rectify a tragedy that took place three weeks short of four years ago. Then the denouement was one of tears that washed a team and a nation. Yesterday it was of sliding, playful celebration, players climbing on top of the hero of the moment and a capacity crowd deafeningly revelling in the healing of a nation's collective sporting wound. At the centre of it all, in both highly contrasting endings, was perhaps the most understated cricketing hero of them all: Mahmudullah Riyad.
He did not wait for the ball to cross the rope. When he hit the first ball of the last over towards the midwicket boundary, a celebration four years in the making could not wait another second. He took off towards the dressing room and after a few gallops slid into his beloved Mirpur turf and waited for his teammates to catch up. Behind him was a captain who has emboldened the whole team. The Youtube video views counter will tell the story of the importance of that moment more than any words can.
It was all so different four years ago. The occasion was an Asia Cup final, reached through Bangladesh's best sustained performance in a tournament till date. The Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium was similarly decked out. The equation was brought down to 19 from 12 and most importantly, Riyad was there on 10. There was also a no-ball in the penultimate over, but in the end, with four to win off the last ball, Riyad was stranded at the non-striker's end and so the Tigers lost, by the cruel margin of two runs.
It was 18 from two overs yesterday. Riyad was on nine. It wasn't a final, but a place in the final was at stake. The poetry started to take shape then. Fate conspired against Bangladesh four years ago but Lady Luck, through Mohammad Sami's left foot, was firmly on Bangladesh's side last night. A catch at long off off Mashrafe Bin Mortaza's bat disallowed because of a no-ball, and three runs shaved off. But the second no-ball of the over had nothing to do with the fair maiden of fortune. It was all Riyad, who in one shot exemplified why he is so valuable, although his calm under pressure reached mystical levels. A near yorker-length ball was squeezed with the easiest of bat flourishes past point for four as if there was no pressure, no need to put any muscle into the shot. The rest will be history.
"The final of the Asia Cup in 2012 was on my mind, this win will help us forget that," Riyad said moments after his winning hit had taken Bangladesh to her second Asia Cup final. When celebrations died down a little, he confided: "My pain has reduced a bit."
The pain may have lessened, but the memory of that March day in 2012 is too valuable. It is that pain which has brought them here and heightened Riyad's determination. Well, that and his impossible calm.