Asia Cup final: Pakistan stand between Bangladesh and a dream
History beckons Bangladesh as they aim to rise above the minnows tag and notch up their biggest title since arriving on the international scene when they take on an unpredictable Pakistan in the final of the Asia Cup here on Thursday.
Just how momentous is Bangladesh's passage to the Asia Cup final? Decide for yourself after taking a look at these figures. In nine previous Asia Cup editions, Bangladesh had played 29 matches and won two, against Hong Kong and UAE. Out of three games this time, they have won two, against World Cup 2011 finalists India and Sri Lanka, and lost a close match to Pakistan.
For Bangladesh's tireless supporters, starved of success but never lacking in passion, this is like finding a fertile delta in a desert. A sea of the darker shade of green will be cheering every run that Bangladesh score tomorrow and every Pakistan wicket that falls. Victory won't be demanded, though; an appearance in the final is already a windfall for the fan.
How will the Bangladesh players approach this game, probably the biggest in their cricketing careers so far? Apart from blanking New Zealand some time ago at home, this is the first time they have put together consistently solid performances for three games running against world-class opposition. Will the fourth time prove to be too much? Will the pressure of a final, something they have hardly experienced, restrict the freedom with which they bat? Will their bowling and fielding be able to hold together?
Whatever be the result tomorrow, Bangladesh's surge to the final holds the promise of another close match. They will fight; if they go down, they will still be heroes. If they win, they'll become part of folklore in the years to come. Either way, a bit of history has already been created.
While tomorrow's contest pales before the fervour an India-Pakistan final would have generated, Pakistan won't mind running into Bangladesh. They have relied on their bowling, as they often do, for getting them to the final. The one time their batting appeared to have almost won a game for them, they ran into Virat Kohli.
Pakistan have underperformed in the Asia Cup, winning it only once compared to the four titles each won by India and Sri Lanka. A second title beckons tomorrow, unless Bangladesh can ride on the passion and momentum and play beyond themselves again.
Bangladesh: WWLLL (most recent first)
In the spotlight
Had Shakib Al Hasan been playing for some of the bigger Test sides, he would have been given a lot more respect than a player of his calibre currently is. He averages 54.50 with the bat and 22.29 with the ball in ODI wins. He carries the expectations of Bangladesh fans lightly and more often than not, puts in a telling contribution. He was Man of the Match in the hosts' wins over India and Sri Lanka and would have got the award against Pakistan had the Bangladesh lower order not collapsed around him. The hosts have found Nasir Hossain, but for the moment, as Shakib goes, so do Bangladesh.
Umar Gul helped Pakistan avoid defeat against Bangladesh with a three-wicket burst that included the wickets of Nasir and Shakib. One new ball or two, Gul has found reverse swing. When asked how he was getting such movement with a lush green outfield in Mirpur, he pointed to the dry-looking square. Bangladesh were able to survive the threat of Lasith Malinga on Tuesday. Gul will come hard at them tomorrow, especially after going for runs against India.
Nazmul Hossain took three wickets against Sri Lanka on his comeback in place of the injured Shafiul Islam. Bangladesh could go in with the same side that beat Sri Lanka.
Bangladesh (possible): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Nazimuddin, 3 Jahurul Islam, 4 Nasir Hossain, 5 Shakib Al Hasan, 6 Mushfiqur Rahim (capt & wk), 7 Mahmudullah, 8 Mashrafe Mortaza, 9 Abdur Razzak, 10 Nazmul Hossain, 11 Shahadat Hossain
Pakistan went in with five bowlers against India, but Wahab Riaz, included in place of the specialist wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed, went for 50 in four overs. Sarfraz is expected to return for the final, freeing Umar Akmal of the additional responsibility of keeping wicket.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Umar Akmal, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Hammad Azam, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Aizaz Cheema