bangladesh national cricket team
This was Bangladesh’s third Asia Cup final defeat (AFP Photo)

It was on 31st March, 1986 in the John Player Gold Leaf Trophy, better known as the Asia Cup, at Moratuwa in Sri Lanka that Bangladesh, led by Gazi Ashraf, made their ODI debut against Pakistan. They were bundled out for 94 and went on lose by seven wickets.

And 32 years later, Bangladesh’s trophy cabinet at the international stage is still bare. Their tally in knockout matches is zero wins, nine losses – five of them being against India.

Making it to their third final in the last four Asia Cups, Bangladesh failed yet again, so close, yet so far. In 2012, Pakistan edged past by two wickets while in 2016 Asia Cup T20, India won by eight wickets. At Dubai, they managed to take it to the last ball.

In 2012, the skipper was Shakib Al Hasan. In 2016 and 2018, the skipper was Mashrafe Mortaza. In terms of statistics, he is the most successful ODI captain for his country, but those stats would seem meaningless for Mortaza in the wake of another opportunity that went abegging.

But take nothing away from this Bangladesh outfit.

Bangladesh travelled to the 2018 Asia Cup as one of the top teams, ranked higher than Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the eventual qualifiers, Hong Kong. They lost the inspirational Tamim Iqbal in the first match and then their talisman Shakib Al Hasan before the Super Four match against Pakistan.

Mushfiqur Rahim, the former captain, led from the front with 302 runs at an average of 60.40 battling back problems while the wily Mustafizur Rahman claimed 10 scalps at 18.50 with an economy of 4.40.

And, in the final, a new hero emerged. The 17-ODI old wicketkeeper and opening batsman Liton Das.

With a best of 41 before the final, the right-hand batsman was repeatedly failing in providing a good start. After debuting in 2015, he was dropped for two years, before getting just three games in 2017. In 2018, he was drafted in for the Asia Cup. And with Tamim gone, Liton did not have the calming influence of a senior player, but he played without any inhibitions to score 121.

bangladesh cricket team

India got back in the game with three quick wickets, and that is probably where Bangladesh lost their first mini battle. Eventually ending up with 222, Bangladesh were 20-30 runs short.

However, the bowlers did more than enough to almost defend the total. Mustafizur was sensational as ever with 10-0-38-2. Rubel Hossain was equally good with 10-2-26-2; even though he will rue the six that Bhuvneshwar Kumar hit in the 47th over. Few close shaves in the field meant India got the better of the nerves. Mortaza conceded that they made a lot of mistakes in the field; a bit too harsh on his team, but in the end those mistakes, how minor they maybe, did cost Bangladesh another opportunity at glory.

They did enough to breach the batting might of India after getting the better of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. And that too in a tournament that saw Afghanistan win hearts – something Bangladesh did, rather sporadically, in the 90s.

But this is not the 90s, and this Bangladesh team is not of the 90s. This is a team that has pummelled the likes of India, South Africa and Pakistan at home.

This is a team that made it to the quarter-finals of the 2015 ICC World Cup in Australia.

This is a team that made it to the Super 10s of two consecutive ICC World T20 in 2014 and 2016.

This is a team that made to the semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017.

This is the team that are now runner-ups in the 2012, 2016 and 2018 Asia Cups.

This is the team that has the current highest run-getter and the current highest wicket-taker in Bangladesh’s history.
Mortaza, Rahim, Shakib and Tamim are the most capped ODI players for Bangladesh – all four were part of the heartbreaks in 2012, 2016 and in 2018 Nidahas Trophy final against India, that saw Dinesh Karthik seal the deal with a last-ball six.

The loss by three wickets may be a heartbreak, but they can take a lot of heart from the loss and the tournament in the way they bounced back after losing to Afghanistan in the opener.

And rest assured, the Tigers – as Bangladesh are popularly referred to by the fans – will roar soon enough and the trophy cabinet will not be bare for long. The fans have waited 32 years, they may have to wait a bit more, but definitely not that long.