Tears to strength
"They won everything except the Cup! Beware world, Bangladesh is the new terror!" The great Brian Lara had thusly cautioned the world through Facebook after Bangladesh's agonising two-run defeat against Pakistan in the 2012 Asia Cup final.
Lara's words depict Bangladesh's Asia Cup journey over the years. From playing their first ODI to establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with, at least in the one-day format, the chapters of Bangladesh's rise as a cricketing nation were mostly scripted from feats in this very competition.
In fact, the continental tournament portrays the discernible change in the landscape of the country's cricket.
In 1986, Bangladesh were playing their first ODI against Pakistani greats like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Javed Miandad, which was in itself considered to be an achievement for the Gazi Ashraf-led Bangladesh side who dreamt of sharing the field with these legends of the game.
As Ashraf mentioned, the toss for that match had been held at the boundary line at the insistence of Pakistan captain Imran Khan, who himself was nonchalant enough to walk out in his practice clothes to get over with the toss.
To go from there to Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal making a Misbah-ul-Haq-led Pakistan side sweat in the 2012 final, Bangladesh had made their statement to the world. They were there to win, with no room to be overwhelmed or starstruck.
The world sympathised with the inconsolable Tigers that night in Mirpur. They were labeled the 'people's champions'.
However, one thing that had been instilled by those tears that night was a belief in a nation that it too could go the distance in the sport.
And they sure did, playing the final twice in the following three editions. It was as if the following years were the manifestation of the 'new terror' that Lara had foreseen.
The Tigers enjoyed success, especially in the ODI format, even before making their first Asia Cup final in 2012, but it only accelerated since. With belief soaring, any result other than wins in home series -- regardless of the opposition -- was considered a sign of regression over the past decade.
Despite all that, the Asia Cup has been elusive. In the last staged edition in 2018, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza's troops had endured another torturous defeat at the hands of Rohit Sharma's India, who were made to bat till the final delivery to overcome a mediocre 223-run target with just three wickets in hand.
The pain felt then was probably less than before, but being denied a chance to lift the trophy after getting to the final three times in six years reopened old wounds for a cricket-crazy nation.
This time around, expectations are tempered as Bangladesh go into the 15th edition of the Asia Cup, which will be played in the T20 format for only the second time. With the eleventh-hour change in leadership, an unsettled squad put up by a struggling board, and injuries forcing a number of performers to sit the tournament out, the Shakib Al Hasan-led side definitely have to play out of their skins to even make a mark in the UAE.
Then again, it is the Asia Cup. The urge to finally cross that last hurdle could ignite a spark in the squad. At least that is what a nation hopes.