The birth of belief
Such has been the conditioning of the Bangladeshi cricket fan that, before Bangladesh Under-19’s World Cup final against their Indian counterparts in Potchefstroom on Sunday, there was a general ac-ceptance among followers that this was as good as it would get.
The common sentiments revolved around India being one step too many, let alone winning a title against the bogey men and boys of Bangladesh’s senior and age-level teams. Just last year, the U-19s lost the Asia Cup final against India by five runs. Akbar Ali was part of the team that lost the Under-19 Asia Cup semifinal by two runs against the same opposition in Mirpur in 2018.
The senior team’s Indian heartbreaks in knockout matches include the last-ball defeat in the 2018 Asia Cup final and the one-run loss in a virtual knockout match in the 2016 World T20. The series of losses from close situations have entered the team’s psyche and become the self-perpetuating ‘virus’ in the minds of players and public alike that Shakib Al Hasan had claimed it was after the Test series defeat in South Africa in 2017.
After the 2018 Asia Cup final loss, ODI skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza wondered in an interview whether it was the memory of earlier heartbreaks that caused fear, even when they were in a position of strength, and caused a collapse that seemed inevitable.
This is why what Akbar Ali and his teen titans did was perhaps the greatest gift to the nation. When they were 64 for two and 102 for six, it would have been easier to let past memories dominate. But Akbar, in particular, chose to create a new one instead of succumbing to fear.
Perhaps the defiance of looming heartbreak, that too on the biggest stage, could only have been possible in a young mind.
Lots of champions have said that having won championships before gave them an advantage when facing an otherwise equal foe in a final. In one fell swoop, the U-19s banished that disadvantage to the dustbin of history.Many may have snickered when Bangladesh Test captain Mominul Haque said that they could learn a lot from the young Tigers. Jokes were made about how the Tigers are looking at teenagers for inspiration, but there is a lot to learn from the young ones.
One crucial lesson is that belief is not just a word to be mumbled in press conferences, but something that could become a weapon.
And that is the enormity of what the Under-19s have achieved. It transcends cricket and sport in general. They have made sure that when a Bangladesh athlete battles for an apex prize in his or her field, the athlete and supporters will believe they can win. For cricket, it is especially auspicious that the pioneers have their careers ahead of them.