Published: November 27, 2010
Bangladesh’s 16th Asian Games campaign in Guangzhou provided a perfect picture of the country’s sports; where cricket is the heartbeat and the rest struggle.
In sixteen disciplines, the country’s athletes won a sum total of three medals, two of which came from cricket. The women’s kabaddi team clinched the bronze medal but the national sport has lost its sheen quite a long time ago.
And in most of the other sports, Bangladesh have looked completely lost. While chess holds an outside chance at the continental level, shooting, swimming, taekwondo and golf have only achieved in the regional level, or in other words, the SA Games.
Like this year’s SA Games where cricket won gold, Mohammad Ashraful’s men brought a rare smile to the sports fraternity through their achievement. Though the men’s competition was anything but world-class, the gold was still there to be won.
In the women’s competition too, Bangladesh destroyed all comers before freezing to Pakistan in the final, but still confirming a silver medal.
Mohammad Ashraful’s boys brushed aside a strong Sri Lankan side in the semifinals but in yesterday’s final, Afghanistan fought them manfully. Bangladesh remained in a tight spot in the final overs of their 119-run chase. With 19 runs still required from the last two overs, an Afghan triumph looked increasingly likely. Ashraful himself admitted he had given up hope towards the end.
“I was feeling a bit low but then Sabbir came and did the job for us,” he said. “There was a bit of pressure because Afghanistan are a very good side and this was a major final.”
But luckily, Naeem Islam and Sabbir Rahman hardly panicked, adding an undefeated 44-run sixth wicket stand to steer Bangladesh to the five-wicket victory.
“I had a good talk with Naeem [Islam] before the 19th over and we went for it,” said Sabbir, a leg-spinning all-rounder who averages 40 with the bat in first-class cricket.
“Luckily, it came good. There was no pressure on me, but I am sure my teammates in the dressing room were tense,” added the 19-year old who has the makings of becoming Bangladesh’s first legspinner at the top level.
Coming in at number seven, he smashed three sixes in his 18-ball 33 while Naeem top-scored with 34 off 41 balls with the help of three boundaries and a six.
The valiant Afghans were however appreciated by their more illustrious opponents with coach Sarwar Imran praising the new cricketing nation.
“We are celebrating, but I hope Afghanistan will celebrate too because they deserve the silver medal,” Sarwar told AFP.
“They are a very good side and I am sure they will become a top team in the near future. Their rise has been remarkable.”
Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi said it was a miracle that cricket had prospered in his war-ravaged nation.
“The war has been going on for three decades, but we have been playing cricket there for the last 10 years despite the lack of proper facilities or grounds,” he said.
“It is the passion for the game that keeps us going and cricket has caught on back home. More people are playing the game or following it on radio and TV.”
Afghanistan’s Pakistani coach Rashid Latif said he was happy the team had reached the final and promised a better showing in future events.
“The aim is to be a Test nation soon and play against the best,” said the former Pakistan wicketkeeper. “I want to bring youngsters into the game so the sport continues to grow in Afghanistan.”
Latif said he had prepared his team for the final by narrating how India beat the all-conquering West Indies in the 1983 World Cup against all odds.
“The Indians were not as fit as their rivals, nor was their skill superior to the West Indies, yet on that day they played better and won,” said Latif.
SCORES IN BRIEF
AFGHANISTAN: 118 for 8 in 20 overs (Sadeq 20, Mangal 14, Asghar 38 not out, Nabi 11, Shabir 25; Shahadat 2-32, Naeem 2-8, Ashraful 2-3)
BANGLADESH: 119 for 5 in 19.3 overs (Mithun 22, Naeem 34 not out, Ashraful 10, Sabbir 33 not out; Sadeq 2-27)
Result: Bangladesh won by five wickets.