Bangladesh and their fans celebrated like World Cup winners on Friday after turning what looked like an inevitable defeat by Ireland into a stunning victory which could effectively have salvaged their tournament.
A second loss within a week — they were well beaten by India in the first match of the event last weekend — would have gone a long way to sealing Bangladesh’s fate in the opening qualifying stage, with England, South Africa and the West Indies to come.
Instead, reborn pace bowler Shafiul Islam, having so recently been mauled by India, ripped through the Ireland order to pull off an unlikely 27-run victory.
To say the least, the result mattered to a country of more than 150 million that is just as besotted with cricket as either of its neighbors and World Cup co-hosts, India and Sri Lanka.
A capacity crowd, which had followed the ups and downs of a flawed, but enthralling contest with total intensity, launched a spontaneous party and recalled memories of the soccer World Cup last year with a lengthy blast of vuvuzelas and drums.
The Shere Bangla National Stadium positively shook with deafening celebrations for more than half an hour after victory was secured and even security officials, local journalists and local cricket board volunteers danced for joy.
The celebrations stretched across the capital, with boys and girls dancing and running in the streets.
Only 30 minutes before the climax, however, it was the smattering of emerald-clad Ireland supporters who looked most likely to party as their team approached a fairly low victory target of 206 with wickets and overs to spare, but Bangladesh never stopped believing and a couple of key moments turned fortunes irrevocably in their favor.
First, danger-man Niall O’Brien was spectacularly caught by a diving Tamim Iqbal with the ball only a few millimeters off the ground just as the beefy batsman looked capable of settling affairs with a hard-hit knock of 38.
Then Shafiul, who was humiliated by India’s Virender Sehwag last weekend, returned to the attack for a devastating final spell.
Needing 55 for victory off 81 balls, Ireland blew their chance as they surrendered their last five wickets for just 27 runs and they were all out for 178, with Shafiul the main architect of their downfall.
Conceding only 10 runs, he picked up the wickets of Kevin O’Brien (37), Andre Botha (22), Trent Johnston (6) and Boyd Rankin (3) to finish with four for 21.
“We didn’t bat well, but our bowlers and fielders showed great character,” Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan said.
Bangladesh’s win knocked the gloss off what had been an impressive World Cup debut for Ireland’s George Dockrell.
The left-arm spinner, 18, picked up the key wickets of Mushfiqur Rahim (36) and Mohammad Ashraful (1) to help restrict the hosts to a modest total.
Iqbal and Imrul Kayes had given Bangladesh a flying start when they raced to 50 inside six overs, but some inspired fielding and a controlled bowling display from Ireland stifled the innings to the dismay of the home fans.
Four years ago in the Caribbean, Ireland sensationally defeated Pakistan in the group stages and followed it up by beating Bangladesh in the following round.
No wonder then that the Bangladeshis celebrated. For them, the World Cup started on Friday night.