The match took place at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, but the pitch and the crowd were such that Bangladesh’s method during yesterday’s 62-run win against Afghanistan was straight from the Mirpur playbook. On a slow wicket, they overcame Afghanistan’s spin threat with steady partnerships built around Mushfiqur Rahim’s 83, and slowly but surely accelerated to a total of 262 for eight. Then, the bowlers, all raised on sluggish surfaces, choked the Afghan batsmen into making mistakes and one particular player drew blood five times as the required run rate ballooned and the wickets in hand shrivelled.
Also, like Mirpur, the support for Bangladesh was overwhelming. When the match was nearing its conclusion, loud chants of ‘Shakib, Shakib!’ went up when Bangladesh’s highest scorer and highest wicket-taker in this World Cup was fielding at the deep square leg fence. He had just completed the quintessential star all-rounder’s performance, scoring 52 in Bangladesh’s innings and then returning spectacular figures of five for 29 from 10 miserly, incisive overs. If his contribution to Bangladesh staying relevant in the World Cup needed to be underscored, he has been the player-of-the-match in the three matches that Bangladesh have won so far.
The win, with two World Cup matches left, moves the Tigers up to fifth position with the equation remaining much the same – having to win their last two matches against India on July 2 and Pakistan on July 5, as well as needing one or two other results to go their way, to make the semifinals.
Skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza had placed great importance on assessing conditions during play to win matches across the varying conditions and grounds of the UK. He could not have asked for more than a slowish wicket, a large outfield and Afghanistan skipper Gulbadin Naib’s favour of batting last on a used wicket. Afghanistan had played India on the same surface on Saturday and held their mighty opponents to 224 for eight in an 11-run loss and so would have had a good idea of conditions. But being the superior team on paper, in rankings, on current form and in experience proved to be enough for Bangladesh who understood the Mirpur-ness of the situation and played accordingly.
But it was not all roses for Bangladesh. Their toughest tests are to come in crunch matches against stronger subcontinental opposition, both of whom can be expected to largely negate their spin strength. In that regard, the pace department is a concern. All of them — Mustafizur Rahman (6.7), Mohammad Saifuddin (6.69) and Mashrafe (6.34) – have been expensive throughout the World Cup. Mashrafe has gone wicketless in five of the six matches so far, including yesterday. Mustafizur and Saifuddin are equal with Shakib on wickets with 10 each, but the two wickets that Mustafizur took – Rashid Khan in the 44rd over and Dawlat Zadran in the 46th – and Saifuddin’s wicket of Mujeeb Ur Rahman to end the chase on 200 with three overs left were all taken when the result was beyond question.
It was Shakib who, in three spells of wily left-arm spin, won the match for Bangladesh. Coming on in the 11th over, he dismissed Rahmat Shah with a skidder that the batsman top edged to mid on. Mosaddek Hossain chipped in by having Hashmatullah Shahidi stumped, but Shakib was back in the 29th over to deal the decisive blow. Naib, the innings’ top scorer with 47, was caught smartly by Liton Das at short cover and a ball later, Shakib bowled
Mohamamd Nabi with a classic arm-ball that snuck through bat and pad. In the 33rd, he had Asghar Afghan smartly stumped by Mushfiqur Rahim. At the end of the over Shakib’s figures read four for 10 from seven overs. Mashrafe could have gone for the kill, but chose to rest Shakib, who had to wait till the 42nd over to bag his second ODI five-for through another stumping, this time the victim being Najibullah Zadran as Afghanistan fell to 188 for seven.
When Bangladesh were batting, even the new ball was stopping on the batsmen, as illustrated by some airy drives early on by Tamim Iqbal and Liton Das, who was opening the innings instead of Soumya Sarkar presumably to deny off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman two left-handers to bowl to.
It was one that stopped that got rid of Liton for 16, when the right-hander drove early against a carrom ball and offered a low catch to cover, where Hashmatullah Shahidi got his fingers underneath the ball just before it hit the turf. The decision went upstairs with a soft signal of out, and after a few replays it was concluded that the catch was clean.
The in-form Shakib Al Hasan was nurdling singles, while Tamim found it harder to score, especially against the off spin of Mohammad Nabi, who was extracting sharp turn from the surface. Tamim made up for a slow start by striking two boundaries off Gulbadin Naib in the 14th over. However, as has been a feature so far in this World Cup, he departed after having done the hard work when, on 36 from 52 balls in the 17th over, he shaped to cut the last ball from Nabi anticipation of turn, but was bowled by one that went straight through.
Off the very next ball, bowled from the other end by Rashid Khan, Shakib was adjudged leg-before and immediately reviewed and, fortunately for Bangladesh, the decision was overturned as the ball was shown to be going over the stumps.
Tamim’s departure brought the form duo of Mushfiqur and Shakib together, and they set about milking the Afghan spinners, bringing up the fifty-run stand in just 51 balls in the 25th over. Shakib’s dismissal, leg-before to Mujeeb, brought to an end a 61-run third-wicket stand. Soumya did not last long, but Mahmudullah Riyad stitched together another significant partnership of 56 for the fifth wicket with Mushfiqur. Despite being visible hampered by a calf strain that he would later get scanned last night, Mahmudullah ran hard and hit some timely blows before a tired looking shot off a Naib slower delivery saw him depart for 28 off 37.
From 217 for five after 43 overs, Mosaddek and Mushfiqur took some quick runs, focusing as much on boundaries as on singles. Bangladesh scored 68 off the last 10 overs. Mushfiqur holed out off Dawlat in the penultimate over for a valuable 87-ball 83, and Mosaddek was bowled by Naib off the last ball for a vital 24-ball 35.