The red-and-green bus was waiting in front of the National Cricket Academy building on the morning of Thursday, February 13. Fresh from leading his team to ultimate glory and lifting the ICC U-19 World Cup earlier in the week, Akbar Ali came out of the building with some of his teammates who had remained unbeaten throughout the campaign in South Africa.
Today, at the triumphant end of a monumental journey, all of them were set to go back to their village homes, back where it all began for each one of them.
The bus started its way to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport with Akbar and a few of his teammates in it, aiming to spread the inspiration and belief throughout the country, that they brought to the cricketing fraternity of Bangladesh by scaling the summit of an ICC world event for the first time.
By Thursday afternoon, many of the team members reached their hometown and were welcomed by the local supporters. Thousands of the spectators, who were waiting to celebrate the occasion harder, came to see their own boys.
How it all started
It was the South African U-19 who ended the dream of Bangladesh U-19 team during the ICC U-19 World Cup 2018 which took place in New Zealand. Bangladesh had to stop their progress in the quarter-finals, which they lost quite convincingly.
It was in the aftermath of that exit that that the seeds were sown for this year’s triumph. It germinated the big-thinking ambition that perhaps no Bangladeshi team at any level had ever embodied before: aiming for the trophy.
It was Khaled Mahmud, the former captain of Bangladesh national team, who came up with the new plan to conquer the world as the head of the game development program of Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB). The main idea was simple- to set up a core group of players and back them properly, provide them with the best support and make them play cricket as much as possible while ensuring more importance on playing abroad.
This idea worked out well. Before heading to the World Cup, Bangladesh U-19 team played 30 Youth ODIs, winning 18 of them. Sri Lanka and India were the only two teams who played more matches than Bangladesh in the mentioned period of time.
Playing more matches helped the Young Tigers deal with the pressure and come out on top in the final against India, to whom had Bangladesh lost the last U-19 Asia Cup barely 5 months ago in another dramatic final, failing agonizingly in their chase of a meagre target of 106.
A dish served cold
As the main idea was to set up a core group of players who will get the chance to play for Young Tigers for two years, the team management made Akbar Ali captain of the side, and instructed him to make a team who will always think for the success as group, instead of personal goals.
Akbar proved how good he is as a captain, making a group who always play for the team success, not for personal glory. At the end of the World Cup, apart from Akbar’s man of the final award, none of the Bangladeshi players won any prize for solo performance. Yashasvi Jaiswal scored most runs, Ravi Bishnoi took most wickets; but Bangladesh won the title, the teamwork did the trick for them.
Towhid Hridoy was the most successful batsman in the U-19 level scoring most runs in between two editions of U-19 World Cup, and Mahmudul Hasan Joy was also among the most successful batsmen in the same period of time, but both of them failed in the final. It was definitely a big blow for the Tigers even though the target was moderate- 178.
Despite the failure of two main batsmen, Bangladesh managed to win. Parvez Hossain Emon, the opener, had left the field due to a cramped leg. He had to return to the wicket again after Bangladesh lost six wickets for 102 and bat for a while. His effort has finally proved to be the match-winning knock for the Young Tigers.
Emon’s effort, joining his captain to resume his innings at a crucial juncture (most retired batsmen only come back, if they do, for the last wicket) when one more wicket could have spelled the end for Bangladesh. It was rightly praised by Khaled Mahmud. At the same time, captain Akbar Ali acknowledged his teammate’s courage as well.
The fruits of labour
Bangladesh ended the journey which started two years ago winning the world title on February 9 at Potchefstroom. Actually, it was not an end in itself, but rather the start of a longer journey, in the eyes of Akbar.
“We had only one dream and that was to win this World Cup. We’d like to thank the board for helping us to prepare well before the tournament. Our initial target was to play in the final. We’ve done this and also won the trophy. But I’d say that it’s just the beginning. For ultimate success, we’ve to go a long way,” as Akbar Ali told the media upon their return to the country on February 12.
An eye on the future
BCB is often criticized for their lack of long-term plans keeping an eye on the future. But this time around, they are inspired by the taste of a World Cup trophy, as Nazmul Hassan, the board president announced that they are going to form a new unit as U-21 comprising the World Cup-winning lads. They are seemed to have learnt from previous mistakes.
“We’ve seen many players of the previous U-19 teams lose their way from cricket. But we’ve decided that we’ll nurture them for a long time so that they can get ready for the future. We have decided to provide the U-19 members with Tk 1 lakh per month. It’s a two-year contract for now. After this phase, we’ll review their performance. If anyone fails to meet the requirements they might be axed from the unit,” Nazmul told the media during a reception for the victorious team at BCB headquarters on February 12.
In the coming three years, two ICC T20 World Cup and one 50-over World Cup will take place. Nobody from BCB has said they are targeting one of these World Cups for bigger glory, but now that Akbar and his charges have brought the taste of ultimate glory to the nation, it may be time to set sights higher.