The Bangladeshi fairytale that wasn’t

Mashrafe Mortaza cuts a forlorn figure at the presentation ceremony after the match against India. To every question, he has just one answer which he puts across in different words – that Bangladesh tried, that they gave their hundred percent.

His eyes say a lot more. They speak about years of struggle, about the years spent being humiliated. They speak of the effort the entire Bangladeshi cricket community has made to get here, where they are respected, where they are considered worthy opponents.

Mortaza himself seems lifeless. He, and his team have had much better days on the field. They have also had much worse. But, this. This seems empty. It’s not the sadness that ensues after a loss. It’s a weird, hollow feeling. Almost like a vaccum cleaner sucking out emotions from the human body. He just looks on, defeated. Bangladesh just look on, defeated.

****

Shakib al Hasan is unarguably the best cricketer Bangladesh has produced. He scores runs. He takes wickets. He fields brilliantly. He is probably the best all rounder in world cricket at the moment. For long, he was their lone warrior. No matter how many runs he scored, no matter how many wickets he took, he was never able to take Bangladesh to glory. This is his chance to carry his nation into sporting glory.

Hardik Pandya is given the responsibility of defending 11 runs in the final over against a rampaging Bangladesh, with Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah Riyad at the crease. He smiles. He playing to his uber cool image. He’s nervous. This is a make or break for him. A lifetime of heroism or villainy. He delivers the first ball outside off to Mahmudullah. He throws his hands. But it’s just a single to deep cover. Oohs and aahs at the Chinaswamy. 10 off five.

Mahmudullah Riyad has had a fascinating career. An proper bowler turning into a full fledged batsman, much like Steven Smith. He announced himself on the big stage during the 2015 World Cup. A century against England to knock them out was followed by another that was almost enough to defeat the in form New Zealand. He is now rated as their best batsman. This is his chance to be the at the forefront of the watershed moment in Bangladeshi cricket.

The second ball Pandya bowls is short and slow. Mushfiqur Rahim thrashes it past extra cover for four. Chinaswamy goes silent. Pandya looks to Dhoni. The seniors converge. It’s pulsating, this over, this match. Mushfiqur pumps his fist. 6 required off four now.

Taskin Ahmed is 20. A man for the future. A man with bundles of talent. He took a fiver on his ODI debut against India two years back. He bowls fast. He bowls well. He scares batsmen. He pushes them onto the back foot, quite literally. He is Bangladesh’s enforcer. He is an important cog in their wheel. They need him. It’s his chance to show he can handle the pressure of being the leader of his country’s pace bowling attack, once his mentor Mortaza retires.

The third ball is again short and slow. On middle this time. Mushfiqur shuffles, and scoops it past Dhoni. Another boundary. The Bangladeshis yell, they start off their celebrations. Pandya looks stunned. Almost as if he’s wondering what the hell just happened. 2 to get off three now. Easy peasy.

Like Taskin, Mustafizur Rahman is also 20. Like Taskin, he also took a fiver against India on ODI debut. He followed it up with a sixfer, and won the player of the series in what was Bangladesh’s first series win over India. Like Taskin, he will also inherit the responsibilities of the pace attack once Mortaza retires. This is his chance to show that those wickets against India, and later against Pakistan and South Africa were not a one off. Like Taskin, this is his chance to show that he can handle the responsibility of leading his country’s fast bowling attack on the world stage.

The fourth ball. That fourth ball. It could have been a single, even a double. But Mushfiqur goes for glory, he goes for a MS Dhoni. The ball is short, and he pulls it to Shikhar Dhawan at deep midwicket. Chinaswamy erupts. Pandya smiles. A small personal victory after Mushfiqur celebrated aggressively  in front of his face after the previous boundary. Nehra rushes to Pandya. So do Dhoni and Virat Kohli. It’s impossible for Pandya to not feel the pressure. 2 off two now.

Soumya Sarkar is a wonderfully gifted batsman. He is beautiful to watch. He times the ball brilliantly, he finds the minutest of gaps. When required, he bludgeons the ball as much anyone can. And he scores runs. Against big teams, against great bowlers, on tough wickets. His consistency stands out. He is also a brilliant fielder. In all, he is an antethesis of the generic Bangladeshi batsman from the previous generation. This is his chance to own the World T20, his chance to ensure that people don’t think Bangladesh to be a land which only produces good bowlers.

The penultimate ball. The batsmen crossed over off the previous ball. Mahmudullah is facing. He is known to be calm, sensible, unfazed by pressure. Off this ball, he is none of the three. Of all deliveries, Pandya bowls a full toss. Mahmudullah can’t resist the temptation of finishing it with a six. He doesn’t time it well, and woosh, it goes to Ravindra Jadeja at deep midwicket again. The stadium exults. Pandya doesn’t react this time. More advice from Dhoni and Nehra. All of India is now behind Pandya, cheering, hoping, praying. Nobody notices that Mahmudullah almost beat himself up on the way back to the pavillion. Maybe the small Bangladeshi contingent in the crowd did. The fairytale, the one Bangladesh had been waiting for since their entry into international cricket, seems to be slipping away. But there’s still hope. 2 off one.

Skipper Mashrafe Mortaza had said before the World T20 started that this would be his last ICC event. We had seen it coming for his body had eternally been in an absolute mess. That his knees, hamstring and the others had held up so long was nothing short of a miracle. He may not have been tactically brilliant, or even excellent with the ball. But he exemplified the passion, the spirit and the courage one needs to play international cricket. Coming back to lead the side after multiple surgeries on his knees, bowling when he could hardly walk, staying on the field just so he could marshal his troops in the best way. This was Mashrafe Mortaza for you. A man with undying will and love for his sport and his country. He needed his body to hold itself for these three weeks. For this was it, his final hurrah. As the rightful leader of the supposed Bangladeshi fairytale.

The sixth ball. The last one. A play and miss by Shuvgata Hom. A phenomenal sprint by Dhoni. A Jonty Rhodesesque run out. Wild shouting in the stadium. Victory for India. An end to the Bangladeshi’s hope.

A cruel end. An unfitting end. An unexpected end.

****

This World T20 was supposed to be the tournament where greatest set of Bangladeshi cricketers to ever play the game together took their team, their nation to a podium finish, at the least. They were spoken of by many as strong contenders for the semis.

Their faith was not misplaced. For this was a team who had, in 2015, defeated India, Pakistan and South Africa in ODI series’. This was a team who reached the final of this year’s Asia cup by conquering Sri Lanka and Pakistan. This was a team who played for each other, a team with great skill, a team replete with stars.

But, at the big stage, they never came together. Mortaza was ordinary with the ball. Sarkar could hardly get bat to ball. Taskin was reported for chucking. Mustafizur failed to live up to his superstar billing, except in the dead rubber against New Zealand. Shakib didn’t play like the world’s best all rounder would. Tamim Iqbal couldn’t conjure a match winning knock in the Super 10 stage. Sabbir Rehman’s big hits were nowhere to be seen. Mahmudullah floundered under pressure against India after a good outing against Australia.

The pieces fell, all at once. The jigsaw, left incomplete.

Bangladesh came to this World T20 to make it their own, to give their captain the best farewell.

They left, lost and defeated. Not knowing when their fairytale would play out.

Advertisements