Bangladesh’s senior cricketers will try to diffuse the expectations and pressure around their team in Friday’s Asia Cup final by telling each other that it is “just another game”. But in the last nine years, they haven’t successfully managed to stave off the weight of expectations when playing in a final. After going down in two tournament finals this year itself, Bangladesh must now play against India with a fresh mindset and better tactics.
If their UAE campaign so far is any proof, they have done well playing out of their comfort zones – which is exactly what finals are like for most teams. Bangladesh have had to change the batting line-up to accommodate vacuums left by injuries to Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan, as well as an under-performing top three in every game. Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah, Mohammad Mithun and Imrul Kayes have played six vital knocks between them; both Imrul and Mithun are in the middle-order for the first time.
Mashrafe Mortaza has led the side superbly, particularly against Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Mehidy Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman being his most consistent bowlers. Against Pakistan, they played without a specialist left-arm spinner in the attack for the first time in four years, and had Mahmudullah and Mehidy conceding runs at 3.3 per over for 20 overs, while picking up three wickets too. Mustafizur and Rubel Hossain are also bowling more with the new ball as Mashrafe looks to plug vital overs in the middle period to make up for Shakib’s enforced absence.
One thing Bangladesh will dearly want is for their top order to finally click. A fast start from Liton Das could give them an ideal launch pad. Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah are highly effective in the last 10 overs, especially if they are relatively fresh, which means Imrul and Mithun have to dig in for the middle overs.
Mehidy and Mustafizur will be expected to do more of what they have done in the Asia Cup so far. They have been disciplined and attacking at the same time. They stepped up magnificently against Pakistan with Shakib absent, they’ll have to do that one more time.
Bangladesh will also have to do the one-percenters right – take their catches safely, effect run-outs, and, most importantly, not get involved in a run-out. The responsibility for that has to be spread around the entire playing XI.
In their two finals appearances this year, Bangladesh have come in on the back of good performances in the tournament, but lost. In an ODI tri-series at home in January, they cruised past Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka in three out of four league matches, before imploding in the final. They first tinkered with the top order, not continuing with Anamul Haque (bringing in Mithun). Shakib then sustained the finger injury, which flared up again here leading him to quit the Asia Cup midway, and the batting crumbled on a turning Dhaka track.
Only Sabbir Rahman made runs among the top seven batsmen in the Nidahas Trophy final, but Bangladesh still had India on the mat with two overs remaining and 34 runs left to win. Dinesh Karthik pasted Rubel Hossain for 22 in the 19th over before hammering a six off Soumya Sarkar on the last ball of the match.
Using a part-timer like Soumya in the last over was a strategic error. As far back as in 2009, Bangladesh had batted poorly against Sri Lanka in the final of a tri-series at home, but then they took five Sri Lankan wickets with only six runs on the board. However, Sri Lanka ended up winning by two wickets. Kumar Sangakkara played a good hand, but the other star with the bat was, surprisingly, Muttiah Muralitharan.
In the 2012 Asia Cup final, Bangladesh’s tactical mistake was in batting too slowly at the top and in the middle overs, leaving them needing too many towards the end. Emotions were at an all-time high too, which got the better of many Bangladesh players. As for the 2016 Asia Cup final, India crushed them.
In the recent past too, Bangladesh have had issues with finishing off matches. This year alone, they have lost close matches in the Nidahas Trophy final, against Afghanistan in Dehradun, and against West Indies in Guyana.
The good news for Bangladesh is that six of their current 17-member squad have never played in a tournament final, which means they don’t carry the memory of any heart-breaking losses. So Mominul Haque, Imrul Kayes, Ariful Haque, Mosaddek Hossain, Nazmul Hossain and Nazmul Islam have the opportunity to set things right in their first attempt in a tournament final.
The Asia Cup final is an opportunity for Bangladesh to beat a top ODI side in a big game. More importantly, it is an opportunity to show the progress they have made as an ODI outfit in the last three years, with a trophy to show for it. Perhaps there is no point in telling each other then, that it is “just another game”. It would be better if Bangladesh’s players use this as an occasion to stand up.