MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Bangladesh are one win away from their first final in a major tournament but whatever the outcome of their Champions Trophy semi-final against India on Thursday, it is clear the country’s long struggle in the game is now bearing fruit.
Bangladesh qualified for this year’s eight-nation Champions Trophy, having missed out on the last two editions, thanks to their improving fortunes in the one-day game combined with the decline of West Indies cricket.
Although still viewed until recently by many as “minnows”, it should not be surprising that Bangladesh, who reached the last four thanks to an impressive win over New Zealand, are now among the elite teams in the shorter forms of the game.
The country has plenty of talent to choose from with a population of 160 million which is lower only than India and Pakistan among test-playing nations.
Cricket is the national sport and has deep roots with the Dhaka Premier League having begun in 1974, three years after the country’s bloody war of independence from Pakistan - but it has been a long grind to get to their current level.
“I think everyone has contributed to what we are today. The whole nation will be with us as they were in our desperate times and good times,” Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza said after the victory over New Zealand.
By 1979, still dealing with many issues of post-war reconstruction, Bangladesh entered their first international tournament, the ICC Trophy in England, a tournament designed for the non-test playing nations in which they lost to Canada and Denmark.
Steady progress enabled Bangladesh to win the ICC Trophy in 1997 and two years later they played in the full World Cup where they pulled off a famous victory over Pakistan.
In 2000, the country entered cricket’s elite, becoming a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and hosting their first test match, against India in Dhaka.
The step-up in competition was tough, from 1999 to 2004 the side lost 71 of 72 completed matches, but by the mid-2000’s Bangladesh were starting to show signs of promise.
In the three-nation NatWest Series in 2005, they beat Australia at Cardiff and two years later enjoyed wins over India and South Africa in the 2007 World Cup.
Bangladesh have now claimed victories in one-day cricket against all the top nations, although their test record is poorer with just nine wins in 100 tests.
Two years ago in the World Cup, they beat and finished above England in their group to reach the quarter-finals, where they lost to Thursday’s opponents India.
It is a big ask for the Tigers to overcome the sub-continent’s dominant nation and reach that first final but the 224-run partnership between Mahmudullah and Shakib Al Hasan in the five-wicket win over the Kiwis showed they have the players capable of producing an upset.
Editing by Ed Osmond