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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Dubai transformed into Dhaka Sports City as Bangladesh fans light up Asia Cup opener

There were 23,000 tickets sold. Yes, there were some Sri Lankans, waving flags and trying to get their voices heard against the din. But the lion’s share had clearly been taken up by Bangladeshis

Bangladesh fans turned Dubai Sports City into Dhaka Sports City for their Asia Cup match against Sri Lanka. AFP
Bangladesh fans turned Dubai Sports City into Dhaka Sports City for their Asia Cup match against Sri Lanka. AFP

The last time Bangladesh played competitive cricket in the UAE, it was 1995.

They were still five years away from becoming a Test nation at that point, and their inexperience showed as they were summarily dismissed by the giants from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in a four-team Asia Cup in Sharjah.

It has taken 23 years for them to be invited back, and that only by default, when the Asia Cup was brought here at India’s behest.

Where have they been all this time? What on earth were the administrators thinking? Were they not deemed commercially feasible? Not likely enough to draw a crowd? That is craziness, on this evidence.

Dubai Sports City? Dhaka Sports City, more like. On the first day of the 2018 Asia Cup, Dubai International Stadium became an enclave of Bangladesh’s capital.

There were 23,000 tickets sold. Yes, there were some Sri Lankans, waving flags and trying to get their voices heard against the din. But the lion’s share had clearly been taken up by Bangladeshis.

Or maybe that should be the tiger’s share. Everywhere you looked, supporters were either armed with cuddly toy tigers, or dressed as one. One had a full tiger suit. Another was painted orange, with black stripes.

The Asia Cup is not supposed to be a fancy-dress party, but these supporters were making up their own rules. And Sports City was a better place because of it. These were the most welcome guests.

Rarely has this ground rocked to quite such a beat. OK, so some seats remained empty, although not many.

This stadium has been full before, for international matches involving Pakistan. But this atmosphere felt new and unique.

Bangladesh fans cheer on their team in their Asia Cup opener against Sri Lanka at the Dubai International Stadium. AFP
Bangladesh fans cheer on their team in their Asia Cup opener against Sri Lanka at the Dubai International Stadium. AFP

There was unbridled joy, organically created. Not like the organised fun of tournaments like the Pakistan Super League and, briefly, the Indian Premier League that have been transposed to this stadium in the past.

It is nice someone else is finally reciprocating Bangladesh’s hospitality, anyway. They had held the past three Asia Cups. The reason Dhaka had become the unofficial home of the Asia Cup was not perfectly clear.

Maybe it was the easiest for everyone to go there. A quick glance at the competition’s Wikipedia page captures the problems that have befallen a tournament that was created in the first place to spread goodwill between the Asian Bloc.

“India boycotted the 1986 tournament due to strained cricketing relations with Sri Lanka,” it reads.

“Pakistan boycotted the 1990-91 tournament due to strained political relations with India. The 1993 tournament was cancelled due to strained political relations between India and Pakistan."

Bangladesh fans made up the majority of the 23,000 fans at the stadium. AFP
Bangladesh fans made up the majority of the 23,000 fans at the stadium. AFP

Or maybe it was just that Bangladesh were the perfect hosts. If there is a louder cricket stadium anywhere it the world than the Sher-e-Bangla in Mirpur, then the staff must go to work wearing earplugs.

To have a little bit of that in the UAE was the perfect way to start this event.

The first Asia Cup was staged in Sharjah in 1984, and it has not been back to the Emirates since that tournament involving Bangladesh in 1995.

Recent history suggests there is no exact science in getting supporters to attend UAE cricket grounds, so to have this many in attendance at the opener was a major boon.

With the possibility of three fixtures between India and Pakistan to come, too, the path to Dubai International Stadium is guaranteed to be well trodden in the coming weeks.

If opening night was anything to go on, the supporters can expect to be entertained, too.

It was frenetic. Lasith Malinga, over a year out of the Sri Lanka side, his career potentially over, returned with two wickets with the last two balls of the first over of the tournament.

Mushfiqur Rahim made a defiant 144, which started in 42-degree heat and ended with a limp in his stride, but a flurry of sixes.

Sri Lankan bowler Lasith Malinga, left, celebrates the dismissal of Bangladesh batsman Mohammad Mithun. AFP
Sri Lankan bowler Lasith Malinga, left, celebrates the dismissal of Bangladesh batsman Mohammad Mithun. AFP

And then there was heroism of Tamim Iqbal, who opened the innings and, superficially, carried his bat for two not out off four deliveries.

Bangladesh were already in turmoil after Malinga’s opening over, when Tamim was forced to vacate the crease through injury after being struck on the wrist while aiming a hook at a Suranga Lakmal bouncer.

Before 30 overs of the innings, news had filtered out that he had been ruled out of the tournament by a fracture – and yet he still returned at the fall of the ninth wicket to help Mushfiqur add a few more vital runs.

With a hastily-modified glove on his injured hand, he saw off one ball holding the bat with just his right hand. Just being there allowed Mushfiqur to add 32 for Bangladesh's last wicket.

It was captivating fare as Bangladesh ran out comfortable winners. Much more of that, and this will be an Asia Cup to savour.

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Read more on Asia Cup:

Report: Mushfiqur century and Tamim bravery set Bangladesh on their way to Asia Cup win over Sri Lanka

The Cricket Pod: Virat Kohli-less India will be formidable in Asia Cup

Rising Afghanistan cricket star Munir Ahmed focused on his future – without forgetting his past

Paul Radley: Afghanistan's Asia Cup ambitions embodied by Mujeeb Ur Rahman

Spinner Rashid Khan backs Afghanistan to lift Asia Cup - if they hold their nerve

Talking points: Team guides, fixtures and TV details for all the action in the UAE

Lowdown: Everything you need to know about the 2018 Asia Cup in the UAE

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