The underdogs bite

Bangladesh and West Indies' spirited efforts come as a refreshing change. But can they sustain their good run?

Having made their ODI debut in 1986, Bangladesh reached their first big-ticket final in the Asia Cup.

The performances of Bangladesh in the Asia Cup and West Indies in on-going ODI series against Australia is just the fillip cricket needed in those two countries. And watching the underdogs finish on top is also something the sport could really do with.

Bangladesh lost a thrilling Asia Cup final. Heartbreaking and disappointing as that two-run loss may be, the future augurs well for the ‘Tigers’ if they use the victories over India and Sri Lanka as the launch pad and blueprint for a fresh start.

In the last decade, Bangladesh have scripted the occasional upset, but for the most part they have lacked consistency, self-belief and have been lethargic to an extent.

But the current Bangladesh team led by Mushfiqur Rahim and coached by former Australia batsman Stuart Law have displayed a refreshing change of attitude; and this is reflected in the players' body language and mindset on the field as well as more consistent performances and the increased self-belief.

These changes were on display from the first match of the Asia cup where Bangladesh put up a valiant fight before Pakistan got the better of them by 21 runs. But Bangladesh bounced back strongly with impressive wins over India and Sri Lanka — the 2011 World Cup champions and runners-up — to defy pre-tournament predictions and seal their berth in the final of the Asia Cup.

Their run chases against India and Sri Lanka were brilliant. They showed they were capable of chasing high scores as well as come out on top in truncated matches. The never-say-die attitude of the team also served them well in the tournament, and their performances helped attract huge crowds each time the hosts played.

Bangladesh have always had talented players, but never had they combined in such an efficient, impressive and consistent manner as they did in the Asia Cup. It is therefore, no surprise that five Bangladesh players — opening batsman Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Nasir Hossain, Mashrafe Mortaza and Abdur Razzak — were named in Y! Cricket's The Dream Asian XI.

In Tamim, Bangladesh have one of the most exciting opening batsmen in world cricket; while Mortaza and Razzak are terrific performers with the white ball. The star of that team though is Shakib, who is possibly the best all-rounder currently in the shorter formats of the game. And, though Rahim may have missed the cut; his captaincy, wicket-keeping and batting were also vital to Bangladesh's success in the Asia Cup.

Can West Indies build on from their good show against Australia?Bangladesh are by no means a finished product yet, and while Law has some work to do on Bangladesh's batting and bowling in the death overs, the indications are certainly that improvements in these areas should be seen sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the world, Darren Sammy's West Indies have got the better of Australia in three matches of the five-game ODI series, their collective effort being the driving factor behind their 2-1 lead. If it weren't for Kemar Roach’s brain fade in the third ODI when they needed one run to win from three balls, West Indies would have had the series in the bag. They can’t lose the series now but will be desperate to put an exclamation mark on their impressive performances with a win in the final match of the series on March 25.

West Indies' wins against Australia are all the more important for the team from the Caribbean as they had lost 13 of the last 14 ODIs to Australia before the start of this series. And when West Indies lost the first match of the series by 64 runs, it appeared that Australia would maintain their dominance. But, the hosts bounced back strongly to win the second and fourth matches of the series; while the third ended in a tie (though Windies should have won).

Sammy himself has played an important part in West Indies's comeback as have Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and the young opening batsman Johnson Charles. But, the stand-out performer from either team in the series has been off-spinner Sunil Narine, who has not only been miserly with the ball, but has also spun a web around the Australian batsmen.

Irrespective of the outcome of the fifth match, West Indies can take a lot of heart from their comeback in the series and use it as a confidence boost for the remainder of Australia's tour in the Caribbean.

Winning and losing are part of sport, but as long as a team goes down fighting, its supporters have reason to be optimistic. Bangladesh and West Indies have enjoyed deserved success recently; however they should ensure the consistency and momentum from these wins is maintained even as they learn from the defeats that are bound to come in the future. These two teams owe that much to themselves, the game and their fans.

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