Bangladesh arrive in the big league
Brave Bangladesh stumbled at the winning post. But had the team, which played so consistently right through the Asia Cup, so much as won the tournament there would have been wicked whispers. While Pakistan has a history of tanking against Bangladesh a millennium ago - well just 1999 actually - conspiracy theorists were also linking the India vote at the United Nations Human Rights Commission to Sri Lanka's lackluster show against the hosts.
Truth to tell, the form book was not turned upside down. The hosts had played mighty well against Pakistan in the league game too and if not for Umar Gul getting rid of, in the nick of time, a partnership progressing dangerously and Aizaz Cheema bowling Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh may well have sprung an early surprise. The Indians were overwhelmed by the emotional occasion of Sachin Tendulkar's century of centuries to concentrate on winning the match. Their focus was off for a couple of hours, sufficient for a performing team with a belief in itself to shape a fine challenge.
The Sri Lankans had shot their bolt after having come within 16 runs of winning the tri-series finals in Australia. A tour of that country is the most draining of mind and body and it takes a while to recover from its stresses and strains. By the time they ran into Bangladesh, the Sri Lankans, even under the far more inspirational Mahela Jayawardene, were a spent force. To see them lose to the hosts' smart strategy of choosing to chase whenever they could was to see the form book being upheld rather than being upturned.
The locals know how mush more comfortable it is to chase when the dew seems to let the ball slide on nicely or sit up and beg to be hit if pitched short. And there were plenty of Indian bowlers willing to pitch it short because they had no better ideas and the Bangladesh late middle order knew exactly what to do with such good offerings. It's a pity then that Abdur Razzak should miss that pull against the Cheema delivery that had all the markings of a winning boundary written on it. Nerves got the better of the chasers on their biggest big night out.
There was really no need for the stewards to order an enquiry. But it's not as if the ICC ever does anything like ordering reviews after a tournament. They would rather wait for some media sting operation to spill the beans before pretending to express concern for the welfare of the game and to justify all those sums spent on the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit. Also, it has become a fashion to point fingers at the illegal betting market of Asia to keep repeating ad nauseam its reach, its clout, its honey traps and its modus operandi.
The fact remains Pakistan has started playing honestly to win and much has changed in Asia since then. However narrow the margin, winning the Asia Cup proved many things for Pakistan cricket. If they so much as draw a lesson from what Misbah-ul-Haq's team has achieved in playing to win, they would not disturb the arrangement and start looking for replacement captains who will soon enough be announcing their retirements in the style of Shahid Afridi who to date has had more farewells than Dame Melba.
What added the intriguing twist to the tale was the heroic effort of Bangladesh in staying in the Asia Cup until the very last ball in their dash for victory that was foiled only by their own lack of imagination at the winning post. They needed a finisher and unfortunately none had stayed on the vital occasion. Until they actually win a competition at this level, the final will always be the one that got away.
Given the background of all the in which the cup was held, it was a fair enough result at the end. There are always gratuitous comments, including from Asians like Ehsan Mani who headed the ICC, on what the gambling market of Asia must do or what the governments must do to legalise betting. The latter is an utopian solution, which will never be countenanced in countries that cannot, for various historical reasons, show the political will.
The truth is cricket has to do far more to secure itself from extraneous influences and that can come only with proper surveillance on players. In the Asian environment, the cricketer is god and hence no one would act against them. With the rise of Bangladesh, Asia has a full house now and to ensure that such politically disparate nations can engage in sport without politics is a grand notion and cricket must strive to keep it that way. More competitions like the Asia Cup with a heart-stopping finish would do nicely to up the image once again.
More about R Mohan
Ramaswamy Mohan, one of the country's leading cricket writers, fell in love with the game after watching his first Test match in 1960 as a 10-year-old. So fascinated was he with cricket that he dedicated his early life to becoming cricket correspondent of The Hindu, a post he held with acclaim for close to 20 years while reporting live 130 Test matches, five World Cups and over 300 One-Day Internationals. Having risen to Resident Editor at the Deccan Chronicle, Chennai, he still remains a keen student of the game who follows the happenings in Indian cricket with a particular relish.
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