Choice of game
When the world was reeling from a pandemic and lives were on the line because of a vicious virus, among other things I was forced to question the importance of sport. Who cares about cricket (or any other sport for that matter) when life is changing forever, when social injustices and global problems are bubbling to the surface? The answer - everyone. Everyone who cared about the sport in the first place, that is.
The truth is, as the glorious frontline workers continue to fight the noblest battle, the majority of the world has mostly remained cooped up in our houses, waiting anxiously for life to resume. While the standards of that particular resumption are yet to be defined, part of a modified return to normalcy includes being able, once again, to do the things we have always loved doing without fear. All of this is to say that when I found out that a limited number of spectators were being allowed into the stadium, attending the Bangabandhu T20 Cup final - between Gemcon Khulna and Gazi Group Chattogram - was a no-brainer for me. There was some cricket played in Bangladesh earlier this year but it was not as widely broadcast and with much less fanfare.
At the core of my passion for cricket probably lies my unwavering love for the first cricketer I felt awe-inspired by: Shakib Al Hasan. His return to the field was a much-awaited event for his fans after the year-long ban he faced. Even though he did not play in the final, he was the reason I had supported Khulna throughout the tournament. On top of that, the team was captained by Mahmudullah - an excellent timer of the ball, a hard-hitter when necessary and possibly the most dependable choice for a middle-order batsman to finish a T20 innings with a flair. However, as a player, the side of him that is currently most intriguing to me is his personality as a captain. He is expressive and his body language seems to appropriately inspire his team-mates. Yet, he is calm under pressure and almost always capable of making the right decisions at the right moments. If that was not enough, everybody's favourite and the man who just can't stop playing cricket, Mashrafe Mortaza also joined the Khulna team a few days ahead of the final. The inclusion of some other handy players like Imrul Kayes and Al-Amin Hossain ensured that Khulna was a force to be reckoned with.
There were two key performers in the final. Mahmudullah amassed 70 not out in 48 balls on a pitch that did not look the most comfortable for any batsman. Khulna's total of 155 had seemed at least 10 to 15 runs short at the halfway mark but their bowling attack coupled with a decent fielding effort led them to a five-run victory. Key performer No. 2 was Hossain, who bowled at a sparse economy rate of 4.75 and picked up the important wicket of Mohammad Mithun. His performance ensured that the Chattogram batsmen never found their rhythm.
Even though only the upper tier of the western stand was opened to the public, the spectators in attendance knew how to make their presence felt. The crowds neatly divided in the middle with each team's fans choosing to sit near their respective team's dugout. The DJ played festive tunes that reminded me of the not-so-distant past when hosting international tournaments was a norm for Bangladesh.
After coming home, I got to know that the man who had been tasked to defend 16 runs in the final over of the game for Khulna, Shohidul Islam, had just lost his father on Sunday. In that over he picked up two wickets, which turned out to be crucial as Chattogram had managed to pick up the run rate in the last few overs. To handle a pressure situation while dealing with an inconceivable loss and taking your team to victory is an inspiring feat.
What I would have changed about the game
This tournament had already seen some high-run-chase encounters and matches that went down to the last ball. Some mind-blowing catches were also taken which are always a treat to watch in real time. Kayes nearly gave us another one of those moments when he ran backwards and placed himself directly underneath the ball but ended up making a mess of it. Had that catch been taken, it would have surely been a moment to remember this match by. There are a couple of other things that I also wish were different. For one, I would have loved to see a more aggressive batting display from both sides. Lastly, even though Khulna won by a mere five runs, I never found myself unsure of who the victors would be. So, in that regard, I would have appreciated a more fighting response from Chattogram during their chase.
A complete picture of the final match would not be painted if I did not talk about Chattogram's comprehensive performance throughout the tournament. Arguably devoid of any star players, Chattogram benefitted from the chemistry between their best batsmen - Soumya Sarkar, Liton Das and Mithun - and came together as a unit to give their best in each match. Mustafizur Rahman, who was named the Player of the Tournament for being the highest wicket-taker, ensured that Chattagrom were a team to be taken seriously.
As far as the atmosphere of the ground was concerned, every time my eyes wandered towards the abandoned and boarded-up stands, I was served with a reminder of how exhausting and terrifying the year 2020 has been. On the one hand, there was joy to be felt and triumphs to be celebrated - both on the ground and in real life - but on the other, we are perhaps permanently moulded by the events of this year and the circumstances of the world.
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