TORONTO - There were tears in Irish eyes and there was no relief for the New Zealand squad trying to put behind it the trauma of that catastrophic earthquake in Christchurch last Tuesday.
Ireland should have kicked off its World Cup campaign on a winning note against Bangladesh but succumbed to a heartbreaking 27-run loss, and champion Australia crushed New Zealand by seven wickets in Nagpur, India.
The 25,000-strong crowd in Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla stadium erupted into joy after their team’s nail-biting victory. An hour prior to the end there was a pin-drop silence as it appeared that the best of the four minnows in the competition was on the verge of pulling the first surprise of this World Cup.
Ireland had eliminated both Bangladesh and Pakistan at the last World Cup in the Caribbean and it looked like another upset was in the cards after it restricted Bangladesh to a modest 205. In reply, Ireland could only scrape together 178.
The Irish now face an uphill task of finishing in the top four of Group B to make the quarter-finals, while Bangladesh has thrown itself a lifeline. The group also includes heavyweights India, South Africa, England and the West Indies. Bangladesh or the West Indies could grab that fourth spot, but there is still a lot of cricket to be played.
With the constant beat of the drums, the Bangladeshi crowd was at its vociferous best and this fact wasn’t lost on skipper Shakib Al Hasan in his victory speech. “We thank them,” he said. “Their support will help us get into the quarter-finals.’’
One of the placards read “Revenge on this dish is well-served cold,’’ in reference to that loss four years ago.
For Bangladesh, opening batsman Tamim Iqbal led the way with 44 with other useful contributions from Mushfiqur Rahim (36), Raqibul Hasan 38) and Naeem Islam (29), but the rest of the batsmen were tied down by superb bowling by Andre Botha (three for 32) and leg-spinner George Dockrell (two for 23).
The Irish will be praying that the 18-year-old Dockrell will not be lured away by England who have in the past poached its best players.
Ireland started off well and got solid contributions from brothers Kevin O’Brien, who slammed a six and three fours in his 37, and Niall O’Brien hit 38 to silence the crowd. At 151 for five and in a seemingly strong position, Ireland fell apart. It was undone by the introduction of paceman Shafiul Islam for his second spell and he proved deadly, cooking the Irish tail to finish with four for 21.
In Nagpur, the two teams wore black armbands and the crowd observed a minute’s silence in memory of the 113 people who died in Christchurch.
After that Ricky Ponting’s three-man pace attack went to work, taking eight of the wickets to fall in New Zealand’s paltry total of 206. Mitchell Johnson led the way with four for 33, Shaun Tait three for 35 and Brett Lee one for 29.
After struggling at 73 for six at one stage, Nathan McCallum (52) and skipper Daniel Vettori (44) added 54 runs for eighth wicket to give their team a semi-respectable score.
Australia’s openers Shane Watson (62) and Brad Haddin (55) punished the Kiwi bowlers to put up 125 in 16 only overs and the Aussies reached their target in 34 overs.
“You’ve got to be very, very happy with a result like this,” Ponting told a press conference. “We said right at the start of the tournament, if our fast bowlers bowl as well as they can, it can’t matter who we play.’’
Vettori said the tragic events back home did not distract his team.
“We are professional sportsmen and I don’t think that it was a distraction. But I can say what we are going though here is nothing compared to what the nation is suffering.’’