“Hopefully there’s plenty of bounce.”
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Before the Asia Cup, Bangladesh toured South Africa and lost every game, all five ODIs and three IT20s.
These were the matches that they had been asking for, the regular competition they know will help them become the team they dream of becoming, and they were losing them. It was pitiful.
When their losing streak extended into their opening match of the Asia Cup against Sri Lanka, there was a chance that their time in Kuala Lumpur would essentially go the same way. Not exactly the same way: the Asia Cup does not present the same challenge as a bilateral series against a tough opponent.
Thailand are playing in this one. So are Malaysia. Before facing them, however, Bangladesh had to face Pakistan and India. Bangladesh had never beaten Pakistan; no one had ever beaten India in the Asia Cup.
Bangladesh beat them both.
Fahima Khatun only scored 30 runs in the South African T20s. Her team ceased to be a realistic chance of victory by the time she came to the crease on every occasion.
She also did not get out, and that was something. Nothing teaches you how to play cricket like playing cricket. She learnt how to bat out the innings, and against quality bowlers.
Bangladesh had ceased to have a realistic chance to win by the time she started every innings, but South Africa had not ceased to bowl the likes of Marizanne Kapp. The last match of the series was a rain-affected slog, but managing a run-a-ball strike rate still symbolised her progression as a batter, having not managed the feat on the previous two occasions.
When she started her innings against Pakistan, Nida Dar was bowling. Dar had just removed Shamima Sultana, who had scored 31 of Bangladesh’s 61 runs. Bangladesh had progressed in South Africa, but they had regressed against Sri Lanka. Their regression is best illustrated by their total score; 63.
They would score more than that this time, but this was Pakistan’s chance to get back into the match. Keep the pressure on until Bangladesh clutched defeat from victory.
Khatun never allowed them to create that. Dar and Sana Mir could not bowl a single dot ball in her first two overs at the crease. When the former finally managed to perform the feat in successive balls, Khatun and Sultana replied by scoring runs off every ball until the target was achieved.
And did I mention that she can bowl? One reason that Bangladesh were only chasing 96 to begin with was that she only went for 18 from four overs and took the wicket of Pakistan’s captain, Bismah Maroof.
Indeed, she only need to bowl against India and Thailand. The next time she combined both disciplines was against the hosts. Even allowing for the poor standard of the opposition, she played an innings worthy of Marizanne Kapp: 26 off 12 balls. Oh, and another not out.
Having the highest economy rate of Bangladesh’s bowlers – a heinous 4.5 – may have been the reason that Shamima Sultana pipped her for the Player of the Match award.
I have already mentioned her performance against Pakistan, but I have not mentioned that she is also Bangladesh’s wicketkeeper. Bangladesh did not need one last year because they did not play a single match, but she has been for all of this year.
Both roles would be important in their own right; together, her success is an integral part of Bangladesh’s success.
Rumana Ahmed and Khadija Tul Kubra’s importance to Bangladesh should be measured by their inclusion in the WBBL.
Neither played a match then, but they should in the future. They bowled well in a lost cause against Sri Lanka, with Tul Kubra taking three cheap wickets and Ahmed having the best economy rate after her. In a possible cause against Pakistan, both managed to keep their economy rate in the threes to lead their country’s push for victory.
India scored freely against Tul Kubra in the next match, taking her three overs for 24, but Ahmed took 3-21 off four. Jahanara Alam excepted, their fellow bowlers were more economical against Thailand, but they still went for a combined 2-23 off six overs.
They then bettered their performance against Malaysia, with both bowlers racking up a maiden and conceding only eight runs – Ahmed off four overs, Tul Kubra off three.
Khadija Tul Kubra is no batter. Rumana Ahmed is. Her bowling and fielding performance – she had a caught and bowled, along with a run out – was part of the reason that she was made player of the match against India, but the other reason was her batting. Bangladesh needed 93 off 12.1 overs. History suggested they couldn’t do it.
They not only did it, they did it without losing another wicket.
The only person that Ahmed batted with that day was Forgana Hoque. Her half-century was Bangladesh’s only individual half-century of the entire tournament, and her only IT20 half-century. It could not have been better timed.
It was the win that effectively made a rematch in the final four days later a certainty.
By this time, Bangladesh had shown their preference to field first. It was a choice that Salma Khatun could make after winning the toss, and she did. As Bangladesh’s opening bowler, it was imperative that she set her team on the right path.
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It was Nahida Akter that initially locked India into that bad place of insufficient runs. Her first two overs went for three runs; Khatun doubled that in her first over alone, and still went for four runs in her next over. But a run out also happened in that second over.
Akter and Tul Kubra made sure that India left the Powerplay in the uneasy position of 1-21 off six overs, and lifting the run rate in the next three overs came at the cost of a wicket per over.
Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy stopped that unsustainable loss of wickets over the next three overs, while continuing to lift the run rate. At 4-59, India was in no one’s idea of a great position, but the last eight overs loomed ominously for Bangladesh.
Khatun brought herself back on. Goodbye, Veda Krishnamurthy. In addition to the wicket, Khatun only conceded four runs from the over. Any hope India had of matching the score from earlier in the tournament was gone. Whatever the target was, Bangladesh would know that they could chase it.
Kaur was struggling to find batters to stay with her after Krishnamurthy. Taniya Bhatia and Shikha Pandey fell in the same Ahmed over, and it was only when Jhulan Goswami came to the crease that another partnership formed.
When successive Kaur boundaries dragged herself over her personal half-century mark and the team’s century mark, India needed 13 runs off their last over to set Bangladesh the psychologically significant mark of 120.
Tul Kubra made sure that her team would need only 113.
Shamima Sultana and Ayasha Rahman made it successive Powerplays without the loss of a wicket for Bangladesh, but unlike the game against Thailand, there was still scoreboard pressure. Even finishing the Powerplay with successive boundaries didn’t mean leaving that period of the game with anything better than a run rate of 5.5. They scarcely needed better, but they did need a little better.
And then the wickets began.
Both openers fell in as many balls at the end of the seventh over, and although Hoque saw off Poonam Yadav’s hat-trick ball, it became increasingly clear in her partnership with Nigar Sultana that something would have to give.
The run-rate was dipping down. Something did give; Yadav picked her third wicket, that of Hoque for 11. 58 runs required, 50 balls left. Yadav, three overs, three for six.
Kaur tried to sneak in a few quiet overs and save Yadav’s last over for later. It worked for two overs. Goswami conceded only four runs from the next over, Anuja Patil only six from the one after. India could afford this. 47 off 36 required.
Bangladesh needed a double-digit over. Now.
Goswami ended the next over with a dot ball. But before it, she had conceded two, one, a wide, four, four, and four. Bangladesh had now moved back into marginal favourites, and the extent of the damage in Goswami’s over left Kaur with no choice. Delay any longer, and the match might be too far gone for Yadav to recover.
Sultana, who had hit the three successive boundaries, couldn’t deny her a wicket. 4-83. 30 off 29 required. This would go right down to the wire.
Yadav and Ekta Bisht, India’s best two bowlers on the day, were not able to take any more wickets, but they did ensure that India’s remaining bowlers did have a chance. Bangladesh would need 23 off three overs.
Kaur decided that, if Bangladesh were to get there, they would have do it off her bowling. But although she dismissed Khatun off the third ball of the eighteenth over, it was in a sense a Pyrrhic victory. Khatun had already managed six runs off the previous two balls, crucial in this context.
Sanjida Islam and the ever reliable Ahmed didn’t let her get out of the over without any further damage either, scoring four runs off the remaining three balls.
13 off 12.
Deepti Sharma wasn’t able to dismiss either in the next over, but she did the next best thing, registering dot balls against both batsmen and only allowing four runs off the penultimate over of the match.
9 off 6.
If Bangladesh could do it, it would be their biggest achievement in women’s cricket. They would be the queens of the game, if only for a day. And they would deserve it.
But India were not going to make it easy. They had won every Women’s Asia Cup before this one, all six of them. They had never had their supremacy challenged like this, but they were not going to give it up without a fight.
Kaur had not given it up with the bat in her hand. She had not given it up with the ball in hand. What an appropriate character to bowl the final over.
When Islam scored a single off the first ball, she did not give up. When Ahmed hit a boundary off the second ball, she did not give up. When she hit a single off the third ball, she did not give up.
And it was her full-toss that went into Veda’s hands at long-on. 3 off 2 required. The wickets don’t matter now. 3 off 2. Rumana Ahmed on strike. India’s best batter of the day bowling the ball to Bangladesh’s second best batter of the day. Who would win?
The answer was… both. Ahmed scored a run, but Sharma and Kaur were able to affect her run out. Now Jahanara Alam would have to hit the last ball of the innings for two runs, having not previously faced a ball in the innings. She had done precisely that the day before against Malaysia, but the pressure didn’t even begin to compare.
Nothing was on the line then; everything was on the line now.
I was able to find the last ball on YouTube. It is the only ball of a special team that I have come to admire that I have ever seen. Kaur had boundary riders in front of square on the leg-side – no one protecting the single. Long off was also back.
Any relatively straight ball, and Alam would be risking her wicket with any air bound shot.
Kaur came in to bowl for one last time. Alam jumped down the pitch and, as Cricbuzz’s commentary says, slugged it towards deep midwicket. It was not a pretty shot.
One look at her cleanskin bat told you it was not a sponsored shot. But it was a shot that screamed cricket. A shot that screamed that she needed those runs.
It didn’t demand it by the force of its own authority. It allowed for that possibility, provided the batters were prepared to further scrap for those runs by running as hard as possible. It found enough of a gap.
The fielder’s throw was not quite powerful enough. The ball was bobbling out of Bhatia’s gloves, a metre or so from the stumps, as Alam dived into safety. Bangladesh’s team ran onto the ground; they were soon joined by their fans. While it was perhaps unwise for the latter to do so, I agree with the sentiment.
This was the Bangladesh team of their dreams. And my own.