Akbar Ali, the young man who led the Bangladesh Under-19 cricket team to an unprecedented World Cup triumph in South Africa this week, displayed a maturity beyond his years as he steadied the ship in the final against India, having come to the crease at a time when the Indians were threatening to make our ‘Cubs’ wilt under the pressure of the occasion. It was only fitting that he remained at the crease till the end to see his team through.
Despite some of the unsavoury scenes that greeted the win, in what was nothing short of a monumental upset against the 4-time champions, Akbar was grace personified in the post-match interview, paying tribute to the supporters who thronged the venue in Potchefstroom, and even apologising for his team’s part in the melee that ensued at the end. And the most important message he conveyed was that this was not an end in itself, but the means to an end: "This is the stepping stone for our future cricket," he said. "And this is just the beginning. We need to keep the momentum and the hunger when we go to the senior side."
The special place reserved for cricket in the nation’s psyche needs no repetition. Every time they pull on a Bangladesh jersey to represent the national team, at whatever level, our cricketers effectively act as the nation’s ambassadors. To see the composure and calmness with which Akbar Ali went about his business throughout the tournament must have been heartening to any Bangladeshi.
Does the victory also portend a new, glorious chapter to come in the nation’s cricketing fortunes? Only time will tell. That our sizable cricket-mad population provides a very potent talent factory has never been in doubt. It remains to be seen though, whether the cricket administration in the country is up to the task of providing them with the necessary ‘finishing school’ by way of a professional first class cricket structure, alongside the nurturing by way of coaching and mentoring, that ensures a steady supply of world class cricketers rolling off the conveyor belt.
The fact that that doesn’t happen often enough, was painfully apparent from the fortunes of the senior team, the Tigers (there is a case for swapping nicknames), who fared woefully on their tour of Pakistan. We will do well to remember that even before winning the world championship this time around, the Under-19s had previously reached the semifinals of the tournament in 2016 - itself a feat yet to be matched by the senior squad. We need to look hard and deep into the factors that prevent our talent from blossoming in full as they mature. This time, even as we celebrate what is undoubtedly a superb achievement, let us also pledge to do all we can to realise their full potential. In the words of Akbar Ali, let this be just the beginning.