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07 February 201614:47 By Sidhanta Patnaik, Mirpur

Bangladesh in delirium as Under-19 boys make last four

Miraz, the captain, stresses on the self-belief of the players, says he wants to keep leading from the front

 Bangladesh in delirium as Under-19 boys make last four - Cricket News
Bangladesh Under-19’s quarterfinal clash against Nepal Under-19 in the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016 at Sher-e-BanglaNational Stadium in Mirpur on Friday (February 5) was such a big affair that the police had tightened the security around the venue much before play started.

Let’s put this in context. Were India Under-19 playing a knockout game at home, it would not have attracted the sort of intense attention that Stuart Law, Bangladesh’s technical director, compared with Ashes-level hype. In fact, when Australia Under-19 played in the final of the 2012 edition in Townsville, the home support was hardly a talking point.

But, for the people of Bangladesh – a country yet to leave a mark in other sports so far – to see their junior team become the first to make it to the semifinal of any ICC tournament was a chance to touch and feel history from close quarters.

The mood building up to the tournament has been pretty much set by the Mashrafe Mortaza's senior team. A quarterfinal appearance in the World Cup in 2015 and the subsequent One-Day International series wins at home against Pakistan, India, South Africa and Zimbabwe have given the commoner a tangible belief of being good at something on the world stage.

That the Under-19 team also came into the tournament with four series wins added to the buildup.

According to Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, the coach, the team has been “picturising” the chance to play a World Cup at home for close to a year and half now. In many ways, the current situation in Bangladesh is comparable with the makeover Indian cricket got after Kapil Dev’s team won the 1983 50-over World Cup.

So, around 10,000 people turned up at the venue on a holiday. A father urged his son to keep cheering. Shoaib Ali, possibly Bangladesh’s most passionate fan, waved the national flag energetically wearing his famous tiger attire. A girl used the match backdrop to click selfies. A bunch of kids enjoyed the savouries on offer. An old man pumped his fist every time his team took a wicket. And another bunch of young boys advised the captain relentlessly from the stands.

All their infectious energy colluded to make the atmosphere emotionally thrilling. And, by the time the home team had completed a tense six-wicket win, the place was in delirium, as the locals got a good taste of their country’s cricketing future.

“We never played in front such a large crowd but it was great,” said Mehedi Hasan Miraz, the captain, who soaked in the pressure well to make an unbeaten 77-ball 75 after Bangladesh were 98 for 4 in the chase of 212. “I am feeling great. We are in the World Cup semifinal for the first time. It was our target at the start of the tournament. We had belief and you saw we responded well under pressure. We could do it because we had the belief in ourselves.”

Miraz’s composure both on the field and in front of the camera is striking, and Bangladesh were lucky to have him guide the team through an important passage of history.

While he calculated the chase to perfection, Miraz’s ability to bring out the best out of Zakir Hasan (75 not out in 77 balls), who had been out of form for over three months, during their unbroken 117-run partnership for the fifth wicket in 20.1 overs was impressive too.

Zakir, who had been alert enough as wicketkeeper in the first half of the game to run out Raju Rijal, who made a 80-ball 72, by pulling out the stumps, earned his captain’s praise.

“He was unbelievable. He got back to runs after a long time with this fine innings. It was great timing for the team, as we really needed him today,” said Miraz. “There was some pressure when I was in the middle but Zakir told me that we will just take singles, rotate the strike. We won’t go for four or sixes. His words worked quite well for us.”

Following the plan, they hit just five fours to bring up their 100-run partnership in 115 balls. They finished the game with two more fours and the winning six off Zakir’s bat in 48.2 overs.

“Our batsmen in the middle and late order are quite good so if we have wickets in hand, we can do well at that stage,” explained Miraz. “We needed about 70 in the last ten overs, but we finished the game with an over (ten balls) to spare.”

The partnership had one scare when Miraz stepped out on 55 on the second ball of the 38th over, off Sandeep Lamichhane, the legspinner, but Rijal missed the stumping chance.

“I lost a bit of focus at that moment. The mid-off was up so I tried to hit it over him,” said Miraz. “When he missed the stumping, Zakir told me it is not time to relax. We have to bat long. I was fine after that point.”

“It’s a very big mistake. I didn’t realise that the ball was coming to me,” explained Rijal later. “Maybe I was not alert that time. It was a very big loss.”

Apart from the partnership between Miraz and Zakir, Bangladesh pulled off four run outs, and were excellent in the death overs, conceding only 51 runs in the last ten on the back of some lovely yorkers by the seamers.

“Our bowlers are quite good, especially (Mohammad) Saifuddin with his yorkers,” pointed out Miraz. “(Nazmul Hossain) Shanto’s run out (to dismiss Sunil Dhamala) was another turning point and then their captain also got run out (by Shanto), which was another big one for us.”

While happy to have come so far in the tournament, Rijal – who clarified through Sudeep Sharma, the team manager, that his age-proof documents were re-verified by ICC – admitted that the team was short by “20 to 30 runs”.

“I want to lead the team from front,” said Miraz when asked what inputs he provides in team meetings as the most-capped skipper at the Under-19 level. “I want to have a contribution in the team’s good performance. I don’t take any pressure. I enjoy it. Everyone in the team helps me.”

As Miraz left the press conference room, he thanked the media for the support. He might have also quietly thanked the people of Bangladesh, who would want the team, which has five players from the previous edition of the World Cup, to deliver twice more over the next two weeks.