ASIA CUP 2018
Mushfiqur too had character to display, as Bangladesh seemed out of it very early in the day courtesy Lasith Malinga’s exceptional return to the international game. © Getty
Halfway through the Asia Cup 2018 opener, Mushfiqur Rahim and a heavily-bandaged Tamim Iqbal walked off with a peculiar record to their names – of the best tenth-wicket stand involving an opener. Their 32-run alliance was peculiar because, over the course of the four-hour long Bangladesh innings, Tamim opened the batting, went off the field with a wrist injury, was rushed to the hospital for scans, discovered a fracture that could send him home early, and then heroically batted again at No. 11.
“I was really surprised that Tamim came out to bat. It shows his character and commitment to the team. It is a great gesture,” Mushfiqur said after his exceptional essay of 144 – his best, and the best by a Bangladesh batsman in the Asia Cup, now on par with Younis Khan’s 144 in 2004 and only behind Virat Kohli’s 183 in Mirpur.
Mushfiqur too had character to display, as Bangladesh seemed out of it very early in the day courtesy Lasith Malinga’s exceptional return to the international game. When Tamim trudged off with a broken wrist, Bangladesh had 3 for 2 in 2 overs, leaving Mushfiqur with much to do against a side he averaged below 20 in ODIs – his worst against a Test-playing nation.
If the pressure of a sorry-looking scorecard wasn’t enough, the full house at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium had gone entirely quiet all of sudden. It took some time for them to regain their voice as Mushfiqur and his new batting partner Mohammad Mithun took time to get the innings back on track.
A big share of credit for Bangladesh’s fine revival should be afforded to the 27-year-old ODI rookie Mithun, which led them to another record – putting together a 100-run stand from the lowest possible score at two wickets down. Mithun went after Dilruwan Perera in the 15th over, hitting him for two fours and a six, and did most of free-spirited scoring at the heart of his partnership with Mushfiqur. They took Bangladesh from a conservative 24 for 2 in 10 overs to 102 for 2 in 20 overs while Angelo Mathews pondered his bowling options.
“I thought the wicket was very good. We were under pressure in the first 10 overs. They bowled well with the new ball. Mithun took a lot of pressure off me with the way he batted in the middle overs. It made my job easy,” Mushfiqur said on Saturday (September 16).
Yet, when the partnership broke – courtesy Malinga’s second spell – Bangladesh were far from settled. Both Mithun and Rahim scored fifties during their 133-run stand, but once that was broken Bangladesh were vulnerable again as Sri Lanka picked up three wickets in as many overs. Mehidy Hasan and Mashrafe Mortaza were only marginally better than their predecessors, as Sri Lanka stared at a sub-250 total. Tamim then decided on his own that he would bat with a broken hand, and won over his captain in a rather emphatic manner.
“It was Tamim’s decision. One should remember Tamim for this match. Anything could have happened. His career could have been affected. Mushfiqur was boosted by his reappearance at that stage. Hats off to Tamim for going out to bat at that time,” Mashrafe Mortaza reckoned in his post-match press conference.
By the time Tamim was in with a torn up left glove that allowed more room for his injured hand and kept it together with his wrist, reports of his ouster from the tournament were doing the rounds.
His agenda of batting with only one functional arm was simple: to stay away from the striker’s end as much as possible. Of the 16 balls that were bowled to the final batting pair, he only faced one, somehow offering a defence without any use of a bottom hand. For the rest 15, he watched Mushfiqur make the best use of his bravado, as Bangladesh slowly dragged the game away from Sri Lanka a touch.
At 229 for 9, Sri Lanka could’ve envisaged a simple run-chase on a surface which didn’t necessarily assist the spinners. As many as 118 runs were scored in 19 overs of spin between Dilruwan Perera, Amila Aponso and Dhanajaya de Silva. But Mushfiqur denied them that joy, by taking apart Thisara Perera and Dasun Shanaka at the death, while also battling some fatigue after staying put for more than 100 deliveries in the sweltering weather.
There were grimaces on the face but it hardly showed in the strokeplay. Perera’s attempts to negate him with wide yorkers outside the offstump were second-guessed and smashed for fours while Dasun Shanaka’s more generous offerings of length balls whacked for sixes over deep extra cover and deep midwicket.
“I think it was one of the best ODI innings for Bangladesh. It came under pressure, losing two wickets and Tamim very early. The way Mushfiqur finished was really good. Mithun handled the pressure very well,” Mortaza said, even as Bangladesh’s 261 – of which Mushfiqur scored a Bangladesh record of 55.17 percent – was far more than what they really needed against a listless Sri Lankan batting order.
The late blitz though adds to their all-important Net Run Rate, that will get priority in case teams are tied on points in a qualification jostle.
In the end, this game had two important takeaways for Bangladesh: One, there’s incredible amount of support for them in UAE, which Mashrafe gladly thanked them for, several times. And two, at a time when Shakib is still not fully fit and has begun with a first-ball duck, and Tamim is all but out of the Asia Cup, Mushfiqur’s role in the line-up and his performance on Saturday can hardly be overstated.
With 395 runs at an average of 49.50 this year so far, the 31-year-old will have a telling influence on how far Bangladesh can advance.