The ICC Championship final will be played today (Sunday) between two traditional rivals both in cricket field and outside, India and Pakistan. India is predicted to be the likely winner but with Pakistan as the most unpredictable team in the Championship, its chances will always be there to win. But India will play the final game with an edge having beaten its rival in the league stage very convincingly.
The 2017 ICC Championship Trophy will be remembered as the major world cricket event in which the mighty West Indies were not a part. They failed to get a berth on account of its 9th world rating where eight teams played in the event. It will also be remembered as an event where, of the four teams at the semi-final stage, three were from the Sub-continent and where the final would be played between India and Pakistan.
It has been the first major tournament for Bangladesh where its team made it to the semi-final stage ahead of Australia, South Africa (that entered the tournament as the No 1 rated team) and New Zealand. It was also a tournament where Bangladesh finally established its right as an international cricket team on the same level as the top cricketing nations of the world. The conspiracy by England, Australia and India to relegate it to the second tier of international cricket should now end.
Bangladesh's semi-final match against India was nevertheless a disappointment as it was defeated comprehensively by nine wickets with over 12 overs to spare. Yet with the score at 154-2 in the end of the 33rd over just before Tamim fell, the team appeared poised for a total in excess of 320 plus. Tamim's departure was the turning-point as thereafter wickets fell as it usually does with the Bangladesh team and the total 264-7 it eventually reached was not even an average total against the very strong Indian batting.
Nevertheless, in matches at this level, such a defeat should not be used to write off the standard that Bangladesh has unquestionably reached. England that was the tournament favourite was defeated by Pakistan, the No 8 rated team in the tournament as Bangladesh was defeated by India. That defeat has not been used to judge the high standard of the English team. Therefore, Bangladesh's defeat by India should likewise not be used to judge the high standard of the Bangladesh team.
Notwithstanding the above, Bangladesh's bowling came out of the ICC Championship as a mismatch to the tremendous improvement in its batting abilities. Shakib's bowling arm has lost its magic of yesteryears and he managed only one wicket in the entire tournament. Mustafizur Rahman was also ordinary. Mashrafe is past his best days as a bowler. In fact, no bowler looked like getting a single wicket without the batsman making a mistake. With such an attack, it would not be realistic to think that Bangladesh would win a major championship.
The match with India was built up in the Bangladesh media with some elements of romanticism based on its victory against India in a home series in 2015. Many Bangladesh newspapers opined that Bangladesh would have its revenge for the alleged umpiring mistakes that allowed India to defeat Bangladesh and go through to the semi-final of the 2015 World Cup. It is true that the umpire had given a controversial decision in favour of India but when that was given, India was close to 200 and would have scored close to what it had scored even if Rohit Sharma was given out. In the end, India won that game by a huge margin of 120 runs!
The 2017 ICC Championship has also destroyed something else hitherto established by cricket writers and commentators from outside the Sub-continent. It is that cricketers from the Sub-continent were good only in their own backyards where they prepared pitches to suit their bowlers, particularly their spinners. That three teams from the Sub-continent made into the semi-final and none from the self-acclaimed Brahmin cricket nations, namely England, Australia and South Africa made it also nailed the lie that the Sub-continental cricketers were good only in their pitches.
Waqar Yunus thus trashed England captain Morgan's explanation that the used pitch was a reason for England's defeat. The former Pakistan captain tweeted: "Stop giving that lame excuse Eoin Morgan regarding the used pitch. You guys have been thrashed fair and square by Pakistan." English and Australian commentators, former Test stars, would not agree that Pakistan had bowled in an outstanding fashion to get England all out for 211. Instead, they commented that it was the pitch and the weather that had helped the Pakistani bowlers and further commented that 211 would be a tough asking for Pakistan.
And when the Pakistanis chased the 211 with very little effort trashing one of the tournament's favourites that was playing on its home ground, the English and the Australian commentators gave the credit to Pakistan's unpredictability! To be fair, there were credits given to individual players as was to Hasan Ali in the game against England and from other South Asian teams when they played well. But these credits are given condescendingly and never spontaneously where as praises for the cricketers outside were spontaneous.
India has been an exception for these commentators and experts. One reason has been the fact that the Indians played exceptionally well and came to the tournament as joint favourites together with the English and the Australian teams. There is another very important reason why these commentators and experts favour India. That favour comes out of the influence of the IPL and its money-spinning abilities. A great many English and Australian commentators and players make a fortune from the IPL.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka do not offer these favours to the English and Australians and therefore their cricket and cricketers are dismissed as not good enough. When they play well, credit is given condescendingly. And having heard these commentators and reading their writings in newspapers regularly, there is very little to interest viewers from their commentaries. Many, therefore, mute their TV sets and watch the matches and do not miss much for not listening to these commentators that are mostly both English and Australians.
This is why it was great that India and Pakistan went to the final. It would be great if India would now see the rising cricketing power of South Asia collectively and align its cricketing interests with other South Asian countries and channel the rise of South Asian cricket, perhaps its leadership. It should not conspire with England and Australia against rising cricketing powers of South Asia like Bangladesh as it had done not too long ago. For instance, the IPL should take more players from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and give Pakistani players opportunities instead of sponsoring the English and the Australians.
Bangladesh has come a long way in cricket. The ICC Championship 2017 should be remembered in Bangladesh for that reason alone. Tamim Iqbal was one of the best batsmen in the tournament. His partnership of 166 with Mushfiq in the first match, of 123 with him again against India and the 224 between Shakib and Mahmudullah where both scored centuries, the only instance in the tournament, were among the best partnerships of the tournament. When the Bangladesh batsmen were firing, they looked as dominating as Australia's Warner and Smith, or England's Root, Morgan or Hales or Kohli, Sharma and Dhawan at their best. Only they were cheered less in the media.
Therefore, Bangladesh fans should look at their team and have faith. Still, it is frail on bowling; still, its batsmen depend more on instincts instead of patience and the management still seems to be failing in guiding the players' instincts or in their team selection. But one thing has been established in England with the ICC Championship Trophy: Bangladesh is not to be taken lightly anymore. And South Asia is now the dominant force in international cricket.
The writer is a former Ambassador.