Easy beats no more: Asia Cup T20 showing cricket-crazy Bangladesh has arrived

The atmosphere inside the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur was beyond electric as the hosts beat Pakistan by five wickets and will now meet undefeated India in the final, Paul Radley reports from Dhaka.

Bangladesh cricket captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza (L) and Mohammad Mahmudullah (C) react after winning the Asia Cup T20 cricket tournament match between Bangladesh and Pakistan at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka on March 2, 2016. / AFP / MUNIR UZ ZAMAN
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DHAKA // If the world wanted another fixture between India and Pakistan, the world is going to have to wait. It is not long till Dharamsala and the World Twenty20, anyway.

Bangladesh are the hosts of this party, and they will play how they want to. And they throw a remarkably good party, at that.

They barged past Pakistan in a pulsating five-wicket win in Mirpur, to claim a place in Sunday’s Asia Cup final against the unbeaten Indians.

Given how the host nation are playing at present, they will have no fear of their neighbours, who beat them in the tournament opener.

For years this side were derided as easy beats, only invited in to play with the big boys as a political sop to international cricket’s Asian Bloc.

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Turns out, they are pretty good at cricket after all, especially, as the defeated Pakistan coach Waqar Younis pointed out, when they play in front of their vociferous home support.

When Umar Akmal skied a catch out to the point boundary off Taskin Ahmed early in Pakistan’s faltering innings, it was in the air long enough for the bowler to whisper a prayer.

He need not have whispered. He could have bellowed it, and nobody would have heard above the incessant, earth-shaking din.

The atmosphere inside the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur was beyond electric. The National Grid could not produce anything like the charge the 25,000 - although there were surely more in than the bare capacity figures suggest - did at this vital Asia Cup tie.

Every seat was filled. Every gangway was filled. The neighbours perched precariously on rooftops. A 100ft drop? Meh, there is an important cricket match going on.

If the roads of Dhaka are anything to go by, the residents of this densely populated capital city have a phobia of space. In clogged traffic, pedestrians think nothing of treading the boards of the footwells of stationary rickshaws to get to the other side.

Cramming into every nook and crannie of the cricket stadium seems just sort of standard.

Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladesh prime minister, was present. When her image was beamed up on the big screen, cheers reverberated around the stadium.

Saying cricket is an obsession in this part of the world is a cliche. But if the fortunes of the Bangladesh team provide any gauge of national well being, then her approval ratings must be soaring at the moment.

The cricket team certainly are. “As far as T20 is concerned, this is one of our biggest wins,” Mashrafe Mortaza, Bangladesh’s captain, said.

They beat India in a limited-overs series for the first time last year. A win in the final would trump that.

“Another big match is coming,” Mortaza said. “I can’t say if we will win or lose. We just have to keep enjoying each others’ company and prepare the best we can.”

Waqar, Pakistan’s coach, said Bangladesh deserve respect as a team of great substance.

“Especially when they are playing at home, they are a fine side,” Waqar said. “They are growing all the time, and good for them.”


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