What June 25, 1983 is to India, May 31, 1999 is to Bangladesh. On the day, Bangladesh beat Pakistan at Northampton in the World Cup, a first for the nation’s cricket team. Till date, that remains Bangladesh’s only One-Day International victory against Pakistan on neutral soil. It gave the team the belief that it could hold its own against bigger sides.
Khaled Mahmud Sujon, who was adjudged the Man of the Match in that landmark victory for a brilliant all-round performance, is currently serving the cricket team as its manager, and remembers the game as if it happened yesterday. “It was our last match in the World Cup. We had already won against Scotland, so already had something to write home about. When we faced Pakistan we basically had nothing to lose. So we gave it our all,” Sujon told HT over phone.
As Bangladesh get ready for the World T20, the current captain Mashrafe Mortaza said the match was a big turning point in his life. “We were small then and that inspired us to take up cricket,” he said.
Sujon said it also triggered a spate of changes that reformed the one-time underdogs into a challenging team in the shorter formats of cricket. “What we lacked was methodical planning. After that victory, we became more serious. We started planning --- getting more grassroots programmes in place, sorting out the junior cricket structure. Of course a lot of hard work too went behind it. But most importantly that win gave impetus to our demands of getting Test status,” said Sujon.
Thanks to Jagmohan Dalmiya --- still revered in Bangladesh --- it didn’t take much time for Bangladesh to get that promotion but they have never really lived up to their potential in the longest format. The progress in the shorter formats though has been slow but sure. So much so that Bangladesh have convincingly defeated Pakistan in their last two T20Is and their last five one ODIs.
Sujon firmly believes that the current generation is Bangladesh’s best after the class of 99. “This lot seems to be the best one after that group. There is hard work, dedication. And we can’t forget the contributions of Mashrafe Mortaza and coach Chandika Hathurusingha. They have nurtured the youngsters while the seniors have not shied from taking additional responsibility. This is a solid team that has a lot of unity,” he said.
Bangladesh are now legitimate challengers in world cricket. But there is something about matches with Pakistan and India that brings out that obvious extra bit in them. “I wouldn’t say we reserve our best for India or Pakistan. But it’s a fact we did grow up idolising players from India and Pakistan. Slowly that transformed into this desire to match their level. It was like ‘if they can do it why can’t we’. That sowed the seeds of competitive spirit in Bangladeshis,” said Sujon.
Here too, Pakistan and India await them in the group stage. And if Bangladesh aim to do well this World Twenty20, it would help if they are in that frame of mind.