Soon after arriving in Mirpur, Bangladesh's Under-19 World Cup-winning captain Akbar Ali sat straight-faced between BCB president Nazmul Hasan and coach Naveed Nawaz at a press conference. Having arrived in the city from South Africa at 5pm local time, they made their way through the crowds of media crews, selfie-seekers, and hangers-on at the airport. Akbar first met his father at the VIP lounge after getting past the initial crowd of photographers and the airport staff.
The short walkway from the VIP lounge building to the team bus was filled with flowers for both the players and the support staff. Rakibul Hasan and Shoriful Islam had wide smiles on their faces and the BCB enlivened the occasion by linking up Mrittunjoy Chowdhury with the squad when they took the bus. The allrounder had been forced to return home midway through the World Cup due to a shoulder injury.
Akbar and his team-mates watched thousands line up on one side of the highway as the roads were shut down in order to get the players to their destination quickly. In addition to hundreds of bikes, there were pick-up trucks with several people, holding posters and banners, and cheering on the World Cup winners.
When the players reached the Shere Bangla National Stadium's gate at around 6.30pm, a larger crowd was waiting for them. Chants of "Bangladesh! Bangladesh! Bangladesh!" reverberated through the area as they entered the stadium. There was also a similarly big crowd waiting to catch a slice of the champions inside the stadium. They eventually walked through the entrance to the playing arena, on a red carpet, to massive cheers.
The Bangladesh U-19 team are welcomed home as heroes pic.twitter.com/z7lvDIoHMY— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) February 12, 2020
The selfie-seekers then approached the players, who were then given a few minutes to rest behind the stage. There, some of their friends, who had come from Mirpur and other areas, welcomed the players home.
Then, they cut a cake, waved at the crowd and headed to the home dressing room. When Akbar was finally seated in the press conference room, he must've been tired.
However, his face lit up as soon as the World Cup trophy appeared. He looked at his coach, exchanging smiles and some words. After a week, the players are likely to be given a civic reception in Dhaka.
During the press conference, Nazmul also announced that the victorious Under-19 cricketers will be enrolled into a new Under-21 unit of the board to sharpen their skills and prepare them for international cricket. Each player will be paid BDT 100,000 (approximately USD 1,250) per month during the two years of this training.
"They will be getting specialised training to upgrade their skills," Nazmul said. "They will be paid BDT 100,000 per month for these two years. Our fund for this is unlimited. It will be renewed after two years if they improve. If anyone shows lack of interest, he will not be given the contract. We want to make their path to the senior team easier, and for that we will also arrange tours for them."
Akbar largely flew under the radar during the World Cup, but Nawaz was particularly impressed with how he had gone about his business calmly. Akbar's sound temperament was on bright display in the final, where he steered the side home with an unbeaten 43.
"I think Akbar was the least talked about player up to the World Cup final," Nawaz said "He has done unbelievable things in the last two years. He bats at No. 7 and does the hardest things for us. I don't think he batted in New Zealand and Sri Lanka. We sometimes had to shuffle the batting order to give Nos. 6 and 7 a hit in the middle.
"We always knew he had the temperament and confidence to finish games. He is one of the best players under pressure, keeping his cool. As long as he is in the middle, we have the confidence in the dressing room that we can win the game."
Nawaz was also pleased with the clarity the players had shown in their roles and in assessing the conditions in Potchefstroom.
"The boys played a lot of cricket in 2019," he said. "They were experienced by the time the World Cup began, and they were clear of their individual roles. We had specific plans, particularly to play on the Potchefstroom wicket, where 250 is a good score. It was drilled into the players that we don't need to do too much."
The Under-19 players will spend the night at the BCB's Academy residency before heading home to see their families. Shahadat Hossain can return to his mother who worked extra hard to put food on the table after his father had passed away. Shahin Alam will reunite with his father, a brick-kiln worker in a remote village in Kurigram, while Rakibul can rejoice with his parents, and perhaps crack a joke or two about spending money - that was meant to be saved for a tutor - on joining a cricket academy.
Akbar will walk into his home in Rangpur where his sister had passed away last week. What his family must be going through is inexplicable, but Akbar has displayed great composure through the personal turmoil, delivering Bangladesh the Under-19 World Cup title.
Can he maintain that composure and make the step up to the next level?