Mirpur: History beckons Bangladesh as they aim to rise above the minnows tag and notch up their biggest title since arriving on the international scene when they take on an unpredictable Pakistan in the final of the Asia Cup here on Thursday.
With former champions India and Sri Lanka shockingly thrown out of the competition, it is the most surprising summit line-up for the event which is struggling for relevance in a crowded international calender.
Defending champions India paid the price for a stunning loss to Bangladesh in the league stage while four-time winners Sri Lanka failed to register a single triumph this time.
The debacles of the two teams, who have dominated the tournament since its inception way back in 1984, paved the way for an unlikely finalist in Bangladesh, a side which is known to upstage biggies but not for going the whole hog.
The giant-killers thrashed India, chasing down a mammoth 290, but that was seen merely as one of the rare stunners that the Tigers are so well known to throw up in multi-national events.
However, the determined side proved the critics wrong by beating an already demoralised Sri Lanka as well, a result that knocked India out of the final.
"It`s a great achievement for the country, so far the biggest. We realise it`s still not over, we have another very important game. We`ll enjoy, we`ll party, but tomorrow we`ll be back to business. I hope we will fire on the 22nd," said opener Tamim Iqbal, the hero of the win over Sri Lanka with a half century.
The triumph on Tuesday night triggered wild celebrations through the country and the team itself was in a delirious huddle much after the presentations were done with.
"I think when we talk in the dressing room its like, 100 runs in 20 overs is no problem. This is the sort of confidence that we have now," said in-form all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan.
"Cricket is a mental game so this confidence is very important. If a player goes down the wicket and thinks he`ll get stumped, he will. If he thinks he will hit a six, he`ll be successful at most times," he said.
If the hosts manage to carry this confidence and clinch the big prize tomorrow, the country is set for one big party that might last quite a few days. And both Tamim and Shakib hold the key to this, at least on the batting front.
But Pakistan would look to play the party poopers. Misbah-ul-Haq`s men have not won the title since 2000 edition, which was interestingly held in Bangladesh.
Pakistan were given a mighty scare in the league encounter that they played against the spirited hosts but would still be overwhelming favourites to win the title for only the second time.
They certainly have the arsenal to complete the job. Their batting looks solid with in form openers Mohammed Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed providing fine starts in the league stage.
Younis Khan and Umar Akmal have made decent contributions in the middle order. Overall, Pakistan have the line-up to post a huge total on board.
What probably might be slightly worrying is the way their bowlers have leaked runs. Pace spearhead Umar Gul has picked up wickets but it is the flow of runs that he has to check.
Aijaz Cheema was ineffective, at least against India, who managed to chase down a huge target of 330 due to the pedestrian effort of Pakistani bowlers.
Pakistan`s fielding too needs to improve. The reflexes haven`t been sharp enough and it could cost them dearly if Bangladesh manage to continue their superb run.
To sum it up, Pakistan certainly start favourites when the two captains walk out for toss tomorrow but given the high Bangladesh is on right now, it could well be the night of the underdog.
The Teams (From):
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Abdur Rehman, Aizaz Cheema, Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Hammad Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Saeed Ajmal, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Younis Khan.
Bangladesh: Mushfiqur Rahim (captain; wk), Abdur Razzak, Anamul Haque, Elias Sunny, Imrul Kayes, Jahurul Islam, Mahmudullah, Mashrafe Mortaza, Nasir Hossain, Nazimuddin, Nazmul Hossain, Shafiul Islam, Shahadat Hossain, Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal.
Match starts at 1.30 pm (IST).