Blazing half-centuries from skipper Najmul Hossain Shanto and Afif Hossain salvaged Bangladesh from a precarious position and powered them to a 44-run victory over Nepal at the Tribhuvan University Ground yesterday, sealing their place in the final of the South Asian Games against Sri Lanka on Monday.
Bangladesh, the defending champions of the 2010 edition which was the only time cricket was featured in this regional multi-sport meet, came to Kathmandu as strong favourites to retain the title.
However, they found themselves in a spot of bother in their penultimate group game against the hosts, losing their top three batsmen for just 16 runs after being asked to bat on a dodgy wicket at 9:45am in the morning.
Najmul and Yasir Ali (16) started the repair work before Afif blasted a 28-ball 52 to launch Bangladesh towards a big total. Afif was dismissed in the final over but Najmul remained unbeaten for a 60-ball 75 to take Bangladesh to 155 for six, a target which proved to too tall to surmount for Gyanendra Malla and Co.
The hosts lost three wickets for 14 runs, and despite a 43-run knock from skipper Malla, could only manage 111 for nine in 20 overs.
The win sealed Bangladesh a place in Monday’s final against Sri Lanka, but before that these two teams will meet in a dress rehearsal for the final today.
Bangladesh manager Habibul Bashar was relieved after having navigated a potential banana skin.
“We were worried after the game was rescheduled from 11am to 9:45pm, to accommodate the match between Maldives and Bhutan, who wanted the game to be shifted to today from Sunday as Bhutan have their flights booked for Sunday. The organisers rescheduled the matches and wanted us to play at 9:00pm, but after a long discussion we convinced them to start it at 9:45am. It could be very tricky playing at 9:00am, with the toss winners getting a massive advantage,” the former national skipper said.
Bangladesh were worried about umpiring too, with a Nepalese umpire officiating this match, but the match ended without any controversy.
There is no such worry regarding the final match, which is scheduled to begin at 1:00pm.
Skipper Najmul Hossain said they are prepared to win the title. “Even though we are taking one game at a time, we do have the target of winning the gold. It was good that we had the practice of getting out of a dangerous situation today,” said the left-hander, adding that they are prepared to play four matches on the trot.
Women’s team final today
Like the men, the Bangladesh women’s cricket team will be favourites when they take on Sri Lanka in the final in Pokhara today.
Bangladesh, here with an almost full-strength side, won all their three of their round-robin league matches quite convincingly, including a seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka, who have four members of the national team in their squad.
Team manager Javed Omar Belim said they are confident they can win the title if the players play their natural game.
“The wicket here is fine. It helps spin a bit but not bad as a T20 wicket. If our batsman do well, we should win the game. Everyone is fit and raring to win the title,” the former national team batsman told The Daily Star over phone.