The scorecard will tell you that Bangladesh Under-19’s historic six-wicket win over Nepal Under-19 in the first quarterfinal of the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016 at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Friday (February 5) was a nail-biting affair, but numbers won’t tell you that around 10,000 people thronged the stands to create an electric buzz befitting the occasion.
The Bangla and Nepali roars that reverberated across the ground in a junior international match on a holiday spoke the language of hope, excitement and tension. The Nepal team, already one of the bright spots in the tournament, wanted to spread more joy for their countrymen ravaged by the 2015 earthquake and the ongoing economic turbulence. Bangladesh, where cricket stands at the edge of something special, had a chance to witness one of their teams qualify for the World Cup semifinals at any level for the first time.
That Bangladesh prevailed on the day was largely because of its experience. When Zakir Hasan and Mehedi Hasan Miraz, the captain, got together at the start of the 29th over, Bangladesh needed 114 off 131 deliveries with six wickets in hand.
Nepal bowlers and fielders had courageously mounted the pressure till that point, but Zakir and Miraz were ice cool to seal the deal. Egged on by the crowd’s chants, they collected runs with purpose and took the equation down to 49 off the last seven overs, before opening up with an array of strokes.
Bangladesh was helped by the fact that Raju Rijal, Nepal’s wicketkeeper-captain who had taken his team to 211 for 9 with a 80-ball 72, missed an easy stumping chance in the 38th over.
Miraz, who was on 25 when he got his first life and got another stumping reprieve towards the fag end, remained unbeaten on 75, while Zakir helped himself to 55, which included the winning six over midwicket.
The unbroken fifth-wicket partnership of 117 runs in 20.1 overs in a tense atmosphere took Bangladesh to victory in 48.2 overs and set the home team’s semifinal date at the same venue on February 11.
In a game where at least five run out chances were missed, Miraz, the most-capped captain at this level, showed the maximum awareness. Before he and Zakir came together, Nepal had displayed amazing fighting spirit. Rijal’s attacking field setting at the start of the Bangladesh innings kept the required run-rate rising and, with many multitalented cricketers in his ranks, he rotated the bowlers intelligently.
One of the complaints against Bangladesh through the tournament has been that its top order is too slow. Pinaki Ghosh and Joyraz Sheikh tried to change the perception through a 46-run stand at a healthy rate of 3.58 before a run-out gave Nepal a second breakthrough.
Joyraz tried to steal a second run off a misfield at cover, but Ghosh did not respond as both the batsmen were stranded at the striker’s end. The third umpire ruled Ghosh run out for 32, as he was slower than his partner to ground the bat.
Nepal got its biggest wicket off the first ball of the 23rd over bowled by Sandeep Lamichhane, the legspinner, when an indecisive Nazmul Hossain Shanto, the highest run-getter in the history of Youth One-Day Internationals, hit a googly straight back into the bowler’s hand.
Back for his second spell, Sunil Dhamala struck for the second time when Joyraz’s attempt to pull a short ball that skid resulted in an lbw.
Despite the loss, Nepal’s performance in a World Cup knockout game – indeed through the tournament – has earned it many fans. Following Rahul Dravid’s advice earlier to rotate the strike, Nepal was led by Rijal after winning the toss. It had been reduced to 19 for 2 in 6.3 overs when Rijal took strike.
His lofted front-foot six to the long-on fence off Miraz, the offspinner, in only his 14th delivery indicated the kind of touch he was in. The most attractive bit about his deft innings was how late he played his shots. Rijal’s fourth-wicket partnership of 51 runs with Aarif Sheikh was impressive as the duo negated the spinners.
It prompted Miraz to bring Mohammad Saifuddin for his second spell in the 28th over. The right-arm seamer struck for the second time in the game when Aarif lost his concentration and hit one across the line to be caught smartly by a running Joyraz at deep midwicket.
As Rijal’s 32-run partnership with Rajbir Singh was progressing, Nepal looked set to touch the 220 mark. But, another dramatic moment swung the momentum back in Bangladesh’s favour. Sent back by Rajbir after playing the ball to Shanto at point, Rijal was stuck mid-pitch. Zakir Hussain, the wicketkeeper, removed the bails before Shanto effected a direct hit. But alert enough to the situation, Zakir uprooted the stumps to send Rijal back.
It proved to be a game-changing moment. The pacers then bowled some lovely yorkers in the death overs and the spinners kept things under check.
Bangladesh conceded only 51 runs in the last ten overs. If that was not enough, the captain’s charge from the front has ensured that when it returns to Mirpur for the semifinal, there will be more Bangladesh flags waving in the stands.