Bangladesh have come a long way in the last three years, especially in limited-overs cricket. In 2015, they bundled England out of the World Cup to make the knockout stages of a global event for the first time. In 2016, they came within a hairsbreadth of defeating India in the group stages of the World T20 in 2016, from where they would most likely have made the knockout rounds. In 2017, they made the Champions Trophy as the sixth highest ranked ODI side in the world. The days of Bangladesh being embarrassing whipping boys are long gone.
In the Champions Trophy, they got beaten heavily, got really lucky and then pulled off a remarkable win that saw one of the greatest comebacks in the history or ODI cricket. It has been a roller coaster ride that led to Thursday’s semi-final against India, which was with no exaggeration, the biggest match in the history of Bangladeshi cricket.
They were within 100 overs of the final of the most competitive one-day tournament in world cricket. This event sees the eight best teams play a frenetic series of games where any slip up, or even some slippery weather, can see you heading home. If Bangladesh won, they would be playing Pakistan at the Oval on Sunday, a team that they would have felt confident of beating. But to get there they needed to beat India, the stumbling block for this team so often in the past.
In truth, it was always a step too far for a side that is still developing. Their progression under the supervision of their coach, Chandika Hathurusingha, and their captain, Mashrafe Mortaza has been outstanding. Gone are the days of Bangladesh playing 15 left-arm spinners in their starting eleven. Gone are the times where if you got one man out, you could scythe through the rest of the batting lineup like an enthusiastic sugarcane farmer. This side has some of the most exciting cricketers in the world. Even then, India are just too good. When it all clicks, India are better than any side in the world in white-ball cricket.
Always a difficult task against India
It was always going to be difficult to surpass what they managed against New Zealand in their final group game. Chasing 266 to win Bangladesh stumbled to 12 for three and then 33 for four. A superb stand from Shakib al Hasan and Mahmudullah of 224 runs – a record for Bangladesh for any wicket – saw them to an easy win against the odds. There are few sides that could come back from that, it was testament to the strength of this Bangladesh unit that they could manage a win from there.
Against India, they were in trouble from the moment that they lost the toss. Bowling first and knowing the target that they needed to score would have suited their game plan a lot more. The batting got off to a dodgy start with the very early loss of Soumya Sarkar to the bowling of Bhuvneshwar Kumar when the batsman played an ill-judged drive that he edged on to his stumps. When Sabbir Rahman chopped a slower ball from Bhuvneshwar into the hands of Ravindra Jadeja at backward point things looked bleak.
There was a recovery led by Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim, who both made half-centuries in a stand on worth 123 that set a really nice platform from which Bangladesh could push for a total of around 300. Tamim had started slowly and was accelerating nicely when he slog swept and was bowled by the innocuous looking but very effective bowling of Kedar Jadhav. From there it all went very badly wrong as the Bangladeshis lost four wickets for 23 runs as the middle order collapsed spectacularly.
In the end, the lower order order got them to 264 for seven, not least Mortaza who hit 30 runs from 25 balls. It wasn’t really enough but they had a chance. Early wickets from the seamers, some tight overs from the spinners and you could see a glimmer of a possible Bangladesh win, but you needed to squint to see it.
As it was, India did what India do so often. Shikhar Dhawan overtook Tamim as the leading run scorer in the tournament on his way to 46 from 34 balls, he will end up with the “golden bat”. The wicket of Dhawan, taken by the talismanic Mortaza who has knees held together by sticky tape and strength of will, was the only moment of success for Bangladesh.
They didn’t bowl badly as much as India batted to their potential on a very good pitch. Rohit Sharma played some absolutely beautiful shots, not least when he was on-driving the quicks down the ground as he made an undefeated hundred.
This was Bangladesh’s first ICC event semi-final, it was India’s sixth since 2011. That experience told in the end. But this is a moment for celebration for Bangladesh cricket, not one of recriminations. They have made it to the final four of the toughest of ODI competitions, and no one can question the ability and the fight that this team have in their ranks.
Here is hoping that Hathurusingha isn’t tempted away by a bigger team, and that Mortaza’s knees can be taped back together for him to keep going for another two years. If those two men are leading Bangladesh when the World Cup gets underway in England in 2019, it is worth putting a bet on them making another semi-final.