Of flickering flames and misleading hype
Prior to the 16th edition of Asia Cup, the continent's biggest cricket event, there were high hopes surrounding three-time finalists Bangladesh. The Tigers, however, only returned home with a comprehensive victory over Afghanistan and a consolation win over India.
Yet, the latter came as more than a consolation to the team management as it gave Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan and coach Chandika Hathurusingha enough confidence to present an optimistic picture ahead of the World Cup.
While Shakib warned after India's triumph that they will be "a dangerous side in the World Cup", Chandika labelled it as "huge" boost for the Tigers heading into the showpiece event.
Bangladesh began their campaign with a demoralising loss against Sri Lanka, but bounced back strongly against Afghanistan to earn a Super Four spot. The ghost of their opening match's batting debacle resurfaced in the first two Super Four matches against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, prompting Shakib to remark, "We really needed this reality check before the World Cup".
It was undoubtedly refreshing as Shakib and co regained their confidence following a nail-biting six-run win against India, who rested important players such as Virat Kohli and pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah in the dead rubber.
A thrilling win against India is always pleasant, and it was great to see skipper Shakib finally leading from the front in the tournament, earning the player-of-the-match award in the process.
The most satisfying scene was the performance of a young pacer, Tanzim Hasan Sakib, in his maiden game. If his first spell suggests a promising future, his composure in the last over will be remembered for a long time.
Nothing was wrong with Hathurusingha heaping praise on unlikely heroes in Mahedi Hasan and Nasum Ahmed, who stood up to give team management food for thought as they look to finalise World Cup squad by September 28.
Moreover, Shakib commended Towhid Hridoy the other day, and the batter deserved it. Another player worthy of praise is Mehedi Hasan Miraz who strengthened his reputation as a utility cricketer.
As a team, though, the Tigers fell short of their goals for the event. Their performance did not live up to the claim, made by the head coach, of being "one of the best sides in its history".
If we recall what Hathurusingha remarked to broadcasters earlier this year, we must conclude that the Tigers were underachievers.
"We have started the road map for the Asia Cup, Bangladesh's side is among the best in its history. We have the best opportunity to do something that Bangladesh haven't done before," said the Bangladesh coach before the third day of play in the one-off Test between Bangladesh and Afghanistan in Mirpur in June.
But Bangladesh's team resorted to come up with a defence for their inconsistent show. Shakib stated after the India match, "Lots of injuries, and players coming in and out didn't help during this Asia Cup."
Injury setbacks, now a normal occurrence in world cricket, cannot be an excuse for a side who claimed to be one of the best sides in their history. A team cannot prosper in a global event unless it has a greater pool of players, as Sri Lanka does, contending for a spot in the eleven.
While speaking to local media prior to their departure to Sri Lanka, Shakib refused to correlate Asia Cup displays to the World Cup; although he did say that they may take confidence from excellent performances in the continental event.
The all-rounder also stated that they will not be discouraged if they do not perform well in the Asia Cup, adding, "Even if we do well, it does not mean our chances for the World Cup will improve."
It is worth pointing out that a win against India may restore Bangladesh's confidence to some extent, but it doesn't imply that lingering batting problems, particularly in the top and death overs, will be forgotten.