Finals and Bangladesh did not usually go hand on hand. Be it the senior team or the youth, getting into a tournament final meant a definite heartbreak. But, now the tables have turned. Bangladesh cricket finally, got hold of a global trophy. After the 1997 ICC trophy, this arguably is the biggest achievement for the sport in the country.
However, this achievement was part of a long plan, which took almost two years to succeed. This bunch of boys, now the youth ODI world champions, has been together for almost 24 months. Bangladesh Cricket Board, which is often criticized for lack of vision and planning, must be enthralled to see one of its most meticulous plans come to life.
Let us wind the clock back to 2018. The then Bangladesh U19 team just returned home after being knocked out from the Youth World Cup at the quarter-final stage. BCB was quick to react, and for a change, that reaction was not one of disdain and bitterness, rather it was of a very pragmatic one towards the problem.
The problem was that the prior youth teams never lacked the talent or the ability to perform, Mehedy Miraz, Mohammad Saifuddin, Saif Hasan, Nazmul Hossain all made it to the A list from U19. But, what they were missing at the U19 level was the composure and big match temperament. A great example of that was the 2016 tournament, when Mehedy Miraz's team performed magnificently throughout and looked like potential champions on home soil, but lost to West Indies in the semis.
BCB had that in mind. This time around they made sure not to change too many things. BCB game development committee undertook the project of the next U19 world cup. Under strict supervisions of former cricketers like Hasibul Hossain, Ehsanul Haque, Hannan Sarker and Sajjad Ahmed, the team started gelling again. The panel selected 20 players from the Under 17 team for the future. And of that lot, 15 played in South Africa this year.
In a recent interview to an international media outlet, Chairman of the development committee and former national team Captain Khaled Mahmud revealed how the plan worked,
"We focused on mental strength in the last two years. If you noticed, our batsmen do not rush anymore. If they were set they knew how to play with wickets in hand. These boys won a lot of matches, but also learnt to get the positives out of a defeat" said Mahmud.
In the last two years, this team played 30 youth ODIs, winning 18 of them. This gave them the confidence, the temperament and above all the maturity they needed to handle tough situations as a team, rather than depending on individual brilliance.
Former youth team skipper and national team spinner Mehedy Hasan Miraz noticed this change in mindset. He told The Business Standard that playing as group worked wonder for the current squad.
"The difference between the two sides is that this team played as a unit, not depending on 1 or 2 players. Everyone chipped in when needed. Pacers did pretty well. Also, the top and middle-order performed when mattered" commented Miraz.
The change of mindset was evident in the final, where Bangladesh was in a spot of bother at 102/6. But from there, a very composed and calm Akbar Ali dragged the team over the ropes. Also, there were late contributions from Rakibul Hasan and Shamim Hossain, who made 9 and 7 runs respectively but partnered Akbar for a combined of 43 deliveries.
This resolute nature and calculative finishing was the result of two years of hard work. However, if we want to really dig deep and go to the root of the process, then we have to look back to 2016 when BCB decided to have a nationwide talent hunt for its age level teams of U 14, U 16 and U 18. BCB was looking for a total of 135 cricketers for these teams. 45 for each of the age level teams.
The board then arranged triangular tournaments throughout the following year to test the chosen cricketers. And from those tournaments, BCB selected the final 15 for extended training.
Another stalwart of the 2016 Bangladesh youth team and now a national team all-rounder Mohammad Saifuddin, agree upon the undeniable role age level cricket plays in the development of the sport.
"Me and Miraz are product of the under 19 cricket team. Age level cricket is very important for Bangladesh cricket overall. This team also has some members who can play for the national team in the future" agreed Saifuddin.
Meanwhile, even before the smoke from the celebratory fireworks cleared from the Potchefstroom sky, social media is flooding with the optimism of seeing the newest heroes in the national team colours.
A lot of cricket connoisseurs might ponder upon the thought that the current national team, which is struggling against Pakistan in Rawalpindi, will be better off without some of its veterans. And instead of the strugglers, some fresh blood should be called up for a better solution.
To dismiss that idea, it should be reminded that, though a U19 World Cup is a global stage and winning it is by no means a smaller feat, but National team is a totally different ball game. A lot of gems have lost their shine when promoted to the big league overnight. Unmukt Chand, Wayne Parnell and Anamul Bijoy are some of the names, who failed to fulfil their massive potential on a bigger stage.
So, for the time being, let all the celebration and adulation sink in. These world-beating youngsters need a plan to preserve their skill and prolong their career. Anything done in haste could well be curtain calls for many of them. In the meantime, they should be allowed to have the luxury of time, to flourish and prosper.