India's Shikhar Dhawan impressed with Bangladesh progress ahead of Asia Cup final clash
Bangladesh looking to win tournament for first time on Friday in Dubai as Dhawan and his India teammates seek to defend title
In 2011, during a competition in which his Sri Lanka team reached the final then lost to India, Kumar Sangakkara said the subcontinent was the only place to stage World Cups.
The experience, he suggested, was impossible to replicate anywhere else because of the voracious appetite for it there among supporters.
The same might be said of Bangladesh and the Asia Cup. The fans at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Mirpur create such a wild, raucous, partisan frenzy, it is a wonder the organisers would ever want to take the tournament anywhere else.
For a while it seemed like they were not going to, anyway. Dhaka staged the tournament in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and was the most hospitable host imaginable.
When Bangladesh finally gave up hosting rights to the Asia Cup, to come here to Dubai instead, they might well have feared their best chance of winning the competition had passed them by.
In most people’s minds, they remain the continent’s fourth side. India have won the most Asia Cups – six, including the first Twenty20 version last time round – to Sri Lanka’s five and Pakistan’s two.
Bangladesh could not have come much closer than during the three successive competitions they staged at home before it decamped to UAE this time around.
They were runners up twice, first when Pakistan won the 2012 final by two runs, then when India took the T20 final two years ago by eight wickets.
And yet, a side often regarded as strong at home but flaky on their travels have made it to a third Asia Cup final out of four, on neutral ground in the Emirates.
It might have something to do with the fact their support has been almost as fervent here as it has back at home.
They will have their work cut out to win a first title, given they face such a formidable India side at Dubai International Stadium on Friday.
But Shikhar Dhawan, India’s on-song opener, suggests it is only a matter of time before Bangladesh do start to claim major titles.
“It takes time,” Dhawan said, speaking at the ICC Academy on the eve of the 2018 final.
“For teams reaching a final, that is a big thing. Hopefully we win tomorrow, but you can see them crossing that also. Things change.”
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To support Dhawan’s point, Bangladesh had only beaten Pakistan once in 32 attempts before 2015. Since then, though, they have won four from four, including the match in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday that put them into the final.
“I always believe that actions are stronger than words,” Dhawan said. “They are showing by their performances that they are getting so much better.
“They have experienced players in their side, they know their games, they know their strategies well. They know how to play under pressure.
“I feel that they don’t have that dilemma any more, or feel the pressure of playing big teams. They are used to it.
“You can see, they have good support staff, they have been consistent, they are a very good side.”
The generosity of Dhawan’s sentiments towards India’s final opponents speaks of a couple of things. First, that Bangladesh’s emergence as a genuine force in cricket is seen as a good thing by most people.
And, second, that Dhawan himself is in a happy place. Well he might be, given his about-turn in fortune since swapping the seaming decks of the UK for the dry, hard wickets of Dubai.
He has made two centuries in the competition so far, and is way out ahead at the top of the run-scoring charts – even though he was given the day off for the match against Afghanistan on Tuesday.
In turn, that has fuelled a strong run of form for India. They remain undefeated – although they nearly surrendered that record in the dead rubber against the Afghans, which ended in a tie.
In the matches Dhawan has played – he was one of five first-choice players rested on Tuesday – India have been a class above their competitors.
“Of course we are going to carry some momentum and give the final the best shot,” Dhawan said.
“It is a big final for us. All the teams are competitive. Everyone was thinking it was going to be an India-Pakistan final, but Bangladesh won a good match [on Wednesday].
“We cannot take Bangladesh lightly, just because Pakistan is a bigger name. They are playing better cricket. But we are going in with good momentum.”
Updated: September 27, 2018 06:53 PM