Asia Cup 2018 Moments | The Daily Star
Body: 

BIG-MONEY ANTHEM SHOT

Unless you had your head buried in the Arabian Desert, you already knew who the big draws in the Asia Cup were. India bring in the big money with their advertisers and broadcast deals, and the Asian Cricket Council seemed to have designed the Asia Cup around the top-ranked ODI side's schedule and needs.

The organisers would also have been wishing for the eyeballs that an India-Pakistan final would bring, but Bangladesh had spoiled the party.

Yesterday, even before a ball was bowled, that preferential treatment manifested itself through a cameraman. During the national anthem, it is customary for a broadcast cameraman to walk across the team whose anthem is playing, focusing on each player singing along and getting pumped up for the battle to follow.

However, less than halfway through the instrumental rendition of 'Amar Shonar Bangla', the cameraman -- who normally slow-walks across the players -- was seen jogging towards the Indian team and took up position at the far end of the players, waiting for the Indian anthem to begin. The Bangladeshis had to be content with zoomed footage from the cameras in the stands. After all, you can't miss the big-money shot.

MASHRAFE'S BRAIN FADE

Mashrafe Bin Mortaza is one of the most responsible cricketers going around, but with bat in hand he does have his odd moments of madness.

When he walked in with the score on 188 for six in the 41st over, having just lost centurion Liton Das, there was still hope that Bangladesh could mount a 250-plus score. After all, a specialist batsman in Soumya Sarkar was at the other end and Mashrafe just needed to stay there and let Soumya do the scoring.

He hit a six off his seventh ball off Kuldeep Yadav, and that should have been enough for the over given the circumstances. However, he decided to repeat the shot and missed the ball, which thankfully for Bangladesh also missed the stumps. But Mashrafe came down the wicket in the next ball, and this time the ball did not have to hit timber because Mahendra Singh Dhoni did the job.

NELSON STRIKES

Multiples of 111 are known as Unlucky Nelson in cricket. With Bangladesh on 222 for eight in the 49th over, perhaps Soumya Sarkar tried to avoid the inauspicious score and so hared back for a second run after hitting Bhuvneshwar Kumar to wide long on.

But it is best not to try and outsmart fate, because Soumya became the third batsman to be run out and two balls later Rubel Hossain was bowled. The score? 222.

Body: 

SOUMYA'S PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Soumya Sarkar was batting in the ICC Academy nets the day before yesterday's match. He was facing up to some local net bowlers. One of them, just about bowling at medium pace, bowled a bouncer and Soumya, who has faced much faster bowlers, went for the hook. It was astonishing to see that he was late on the ball, making the shot an ungainly one that resulted in the ball going straight up into the net.

On match day, he was facing the considerably faster Junaid Khan. The Pakistan left-arm pacer bounced one at him and the exact same thing happened. Soumya was eons late on the pull, the ball went higher than long, and he was caught at square leg inside the circle. Given the practice, Soumya might count himself unlucky that he got bat on ball at all.

CAN'T WALK, CAN FLY

It is always a source of wonder that Mashrafe Bin Mortaza still plays cricket.  A survivor and sufferer of seven knee operations, it is a common sight to see him limping on the field. That is, until the ball is in play.

But even by his inspirational standards, yesterday was special. In the 21st over, Rubel Hossain bowled on Shoaib Malik's stumps and he played early and uppishly towards midwicket. Mashrafe, as if his boots were spring-loaded, leapt to his left and, completely airborne, plucked the ball two-handed clean out of its intended trajectory. He had a reaction time of 0.84 seconds and took the ball 2.54 metres above ground, proving that you don't need to walk to be able to fly. 

FIVE BALLS WITHOUT THE BIG FIVE

Those watching the match on TV may not have noticed, and they would probably have had a panic attack if they did, but for five balls during Pakistan's chase Bangladesh faced a situation they have not ever faced in the last decade.  Shakib Al Hasan had gone home before the match started because of injury, Tamim Iqbal left more than a week before. After the 15th over Mushfiqur Rahim went off as he was struggling with the heat and his lingering rib injury. Mahmudullah Riyad left the field a little later and, after Mashrafe caught Malik spectacularly, he left the field clutching his hand.

For the remaining five balls of that over, Bangladesh were without the five cricketers who have been the beginning and end of Bangladesh cricket for the last decade. Mahmudullah came back out at the end of the over and, let alone the fans, the cricketers themselves probably breathed a sigh of relief. 

Body: 

Fizz's fantastic final over against Afghanistan, saw Bangladesh successfully defend eight runs in the last over in a tight match where Afghans looked like they were in the driving seat with wickets in hand.

The Tigers' ace-paceman was having a difficult time bowling with a cramp which he suffered due to the extreme conditions in UAE. The Tigers played three matches in the space of four days in those conditions and while Afghanistan did the same, they are more conditioned to playing in such heat, having played their home matches at the UAE in the past.

Mustafizur, hailed as a magician by his skipper after the game was seen doing stretches as he went to bowl the crucial last over. Captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza detailed the incredible story of how Fizz had to bowl within limitations that might have derailed any other bowler mentally. In death overs a bowler looks to bowl yorkers in order to force dot balls but Fizz was in no condition to do so.

"Cramp increases the chance of suffering injury and Mustafizur bowled knowing that risk. He did not bowl a single yorker and did not even try to," Mashrafe said.

Fizz was not able to bowl with a normal run up and ran up to the crease with a slight limp.

"When I told him that he must bowl, he told me, "Bhai, I will not be able to try anything else and won't be able to take a run up at my normal pace. I will just be able to bowl a slow length-ball or cutter.""

"The way he backed himself up in those conditions was really great," Mashrafe concluded.

Body: 

On Monday, there was a media day at the ICC headquarters, not far from where India will play Afghanistan in the Asia Cup today, where bigwigs like ICC CEO Dave Richardson, general manager of the Anti-Corruption Unit Alex Marshall and general manager of cricket Geoff Allardice spoke to the media about the state of cricket in 2018.

While that was in equal parts engaging and dull, it was a treat to get a tour of what is the factory of the cricket world. Working there would be a cricket lover's dream as the thread of the gentleman's game runs through the building. Historic and iconic pictures line the walls on every level. In the main conference room where the meeting was held, one side of the wall bears some of the most memorable lines ever written on cricket by the likes of Neville Cardus, John Arlott and CLR James.

The smaller meeting rooms are no less inviting. You can take your pick of the Bradman Room, the Sobers Room, the Heyhoe Flint Room, the WG Grace Room and the Tendulkar room. Each has a wall dedicated to pictures and trivia about the icon the room is named after. On second thought, maybe working here wouldn't be a good idea as it would be too easy to get distracted.

Back in the main conference room, Marshall was talking about the evils of match and spot-fixing and how private leagues attract corruptors like bees to honey. A few hours later in the same city, the T-10 League auctions were set to start.

BANGLADESH WOMEN MAKING WAVES

Allardice was talking in excited tones about women's cricket and how the previous Women's World Twenty20 had set attendance and viewing records for the women's game. While the Bangladesh men's team staged a thrilling turnaround the previous day in the Asia Cup in Abu Dhabi, it was their female counterparts that got special mention because of their recent brilliance in upstaging India in the Women's Asia Cup final in Malaysia in June and following that up by winning the World T20 qualifiers in the Netherlands.

"We acknowledge the giant strides Bangladesh have taken in recent times, upsetting India at the Asia Cup. They're starting to emerge as a strong team, and one of our key areas now is to continue to explore the growth of the women's game. One of the ways to do this we felt was to give international status to all internationals so that it has the potential to unlock government funding," Allardice said.

Body: 

Before yesterday, Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan had played four ODIs and three T20s against Bangladesh. Handling the world-class leg-spinner has always been a bothersome prospect for the Tigers. In each of the four previous ODIs that Rashid played against Bangladesh, he had managed more than one wicket and did not give away over 40 runs in any of those games.

That changed with Mahmudullah Riyad's fantastic innings of 74 yesterday.  Not only was he the first Tigers batsman to hit a six off the Afghan spinner, he hit him for two sixes in the match. Rashid also ended up conceding 46 runs in his 10 overs and bagged just a wicket.

Mahmudullah used the slog sweep to great effect and hit Rashid for two sixes – one in the 43rd over and the other on the 45th, during his fantastic knock which also saved Tigers' blushes in an important game.

Even in T20s against Bangladesh – Rashid played in only three, all three of them this year, the fantastic spinner had never conceded a six. The experience was a new one for the cricketer who has bagged 10 wickets against the Tigers in ODIs so far.

Mahmudullah spoke of trying to not give wickets to Rashid, who is Afghanistan's strike bowler. Rashid bagged the wicket of Liton Das yesterday but Imrul Kayes and Mahmudullah looked to play out the overs against his world-class bowling.

"We all know that Rashid Khan is a very outstanding bowler. He is playing very well and is one of the strike bowlers around the world. That does not mean however that he is unplayable. Maybe we couldn't apply ourselves against him the way we wanted. In our partnership, our plan was to not give Rashid our wicket. We dug deep and we saw it through till the end. That was our target, and Alhamdulillah, it came off," Mahmudullah said.

Having struggled to read his googly on Thursday, Mahmudulllah at first hunkered down and focused only on singles against the leg-spinner. But when he had settled down and Rashid came back to bowl in the death overs, hit him for two sixes over square leg – picking up the googly perhaps for the first time.

"I didn't do too much. We probably played three times in four days, so there wasn't much time to think. I was just playing with an empty mind," Mahmudullah recalled.

Body: 

LITON'S AMBITION

However many runs he has scored in ODI cricket, the scale of Liton Das's ambition is staggering. Wiley Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan is the biggest bogeyman around for Bangladesh cricket. He bowled nine overs for 13 runs and picked up two wickets in the first Bangladesh-Afghanistan match in the ongoing Asia Cup on Thursday. So even when, after the customary loss of two early wickets with 18 runs on the board, Mushfiqur Rahim and Liton stitched together a 63-run partnership all eyes were on how they would fare when the bogeyman came onto bowl.

Liton hit the third ball of Rashid's first over inside-out over cover for four -- a sparkling example of the talent he possesses. What followed, however, was a slog sweep off the very next ball and, predictably, it went straight up and was caught at first slip. The shot reflected a mindlessness that has not only defined his career so far, but also infected the batsmen around him yesterday. At least his ambition cannot be faulted -- in the very first over, he tried to hit a bowler out of the attack against whom his teammates could barely buy a run three days ago.

DON'T HIT RASHID FOR FOUR

Bangladesh's fear of Rashid Khan is on another level -- beyond perhaps even that held by Daryll Cullinan when Shane Warne took the ball in years gone by. Liton's insolence in hitting the 20-year-old for four in his first over must have made Shakib Al Hasan, the batsman coming in after Liton's brain explosion, nervous. Off his second ball the left-hander tapped Rashid to short midwicket -- straight to short midwicket -- and hared down the pitch towards a horrified Mushfiqur. The run out was as straightforward as it gets.

Which is more than can be said of the next run out, but the circumstances were similar. In the 21st over, Imrul nudged Rashid towards short fine leg, where the fielder misfielded and allowed a boundary. That apparently meant that you have to get down to the other end as soon as possible, regardless of where you play the ball. Imrul bunted a googly towards short midwicket, took two steps down the track and stopped. But it was too late for Mushfiqur who was halfway down the track and although there was doubt over whether the stump was broken with the hand holding the ball as Rashid fell backward onto the wickets, the third umpire probably did not want to interfere in Bangladesh's hara kiri strategy.

Body: 

Pakistan will open their Asia Cup campaign on the second day of the tournament against Hong Kong. They are taking the match against the minnows as an opportunity to gain momentum which can be carried into tougher contests. That's the key to success for them. Pakistan's Champions Trophy triumph last year taught them the significance of carrying momentum in multi-team tournaments.

Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed spoke about it at the end of his side's week-long training camp in Lahore on Monday. "Momentum is very important," he said. "During the Champions Trophy, we carried forward the momentum which we had gotten against South Africa and Sri Lanka. We will try to do the same here... We will try to gain momentum in our first match [against Hong Kong] and go into the contest against India with full preparation."

Three days after their tournament opener, Pakistan will be up against their arch-rivals India. Due to the dearth of Indo-Pak matches these days, it is the most-anticipated contest.

"Every match against India is important," he said. "That match [Champions Trophy final] is in the past. It was almost one and a half years ago. So, I don't think we should consider it that much. If we play India in the final, then we will be playing them thrice. All professional teams put the past behind and look forward. Both teams will do the same."

Body: 

With injury concerns looming over Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, arguably two of the most important seniors of the side, Bangladesh's batting department will bank on another experienced campaigners in Mahmudullah Riyad and Mushfiqur Rahim during the Asia Cup.

The Tigers departed yesterday for the UAE, where their tournament will start on September 15 with a match against Sri Lanka. 

Mahmudullah, who was in good form in the Caribbean Cricket League (CPL), has been an integral part of the Bangladesh team and said that he will be looking to utilise the confidence in the upcoming multi-national event.

"I think any challenging cricket gives you good practice and I had a fair outing in the CPL this season. I won't say that I did something exceptional, but whatever scope and opportunity I received I tried to get the most out of it. Let's see how much of that confidence I can take with me," said Mahmudullah before departing at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport yesterday.

The 32-year-old thought that Bangladesh's recent limited-overs series wins in the West Indies will boost confidence ahead of the Asia Cup.

"If we talk about confidence as a team I would say we are in a very good position as we won the ODI and T20I series in West Indies pretty well. The last series went well for us as both batsmen and bowlers did well and we played the final of the last two editions of the Asia Cup, so from that point of view we are confident. Having said that, every team [in the Asia Cup] is good and they have been playing good cricket, so every match is equally important for us. We have to play our best cricket and we have to keep that in mind when we play," he said.

Photo: Firoz Ahmed

There are concerns over whether Shakib will be available for the whole tournament since he is suffering from a finger injury sustained earlier this year during the tri-nation series at home in January, and when asked whether he is ready to fill Shakib's boots at number three, Mahmudullah said that he is prepared to contribute anywhere the team management wants him to bat.

After the tournament opener against Sri Lanka in Dubai, Bangladesh will face their other group member Afghanistan on September 20 in Abu Dhabi and Mahmudullah said that their main aim would be to qualify for the second round.

"I don't think it will be good if we are relaxed, as every game is important. I previously said that we have to play our best to beat the opponents and there are no alternatives to that. Be it Sri Lanka or Afghanistan, our main aim is to play good cricket and qualify for the second round and then we will take it from there," said Mahmudullah.

Mushfiqur Rahim, Photo: Firoz Ahmed
Body: 

Shakib Al Hasan has been the one name in Bangladesh cricket that has always remained the centre of discussion when it comes to planning for upcoming series. In the lead-up to the Asia Cup to take place in the UAE from September 15, all discussion centred on whether the Tigers' Test and T20I captain would participate as there was talk of him undergoing a surgery for a persistent finger injury. To the relief of  millions of Bangladesh fans, the world's number one ODI all-rounder was named in the squad. The champion all-rounder, who is currently in USA after performing Hajj in Saudi Arabia, will join the Tigers directly in Dubai for the Asia Cup. He spoke about his fitness, the Tigers' recent tour of West Indies, Bangladesh's chances in the Asia Cup and other topics during a telephone interview with The Daily Star's Mazhar Uddin yesterday. The following are excerpts from the conversation:

 

The Daily Star (TDS): How fit are you for the Asia Cup?

Shakib Al Hasan (SAH): I would say I am 20-30 percent fit right now. I still have pain in my hand, so honestly I don't know how I would bat or bowl. I am out of practice for some time so I have no idea.

TDS: As a top cricketer ahead of a demanding series, what effect does carrying an injury have on you?

SAH: I don't know. Normally top players don't play if they have an injury. Let's see when I go there -- if things don't look good I might go straight for surgery from there (laughs).

TDS: As Test captain, you presided over a humiliating series defeat to open the West Indies tour but came back in the end to lead the side to a series win in the T20Is. How challenging was the comeback?

SAH: Everyday is a new challenge whenever you play but there is nothing to prove separately. You have to give your best to help the team and that's what I tried in all three formats, regardless of whether I am captain. I always believed that we will be able to make a comeback after the first Test. We created opportunities in the second Test but were unable to capitalise. Overall, we did not bat well where our highest score in four innings was probably 160 odd runs. You can't win a Test scoring so low and if we were able to score 600 combined in two innings then there would have been a chance to compete. We were no way near that as we were 300 runs short in both Tests, maybe more.

TDS: Why are Bangladesh yet to become a consistent Test side, especially abroad? How can the situation be improved?

SAH: Look, which team is playing well abroad at the moment? If you look at international cricket nowadays I think we should not make it a huge concern. Yes, we should plan how to get better as a team but it is not the end of the world. India have lost the series against England 3-1, South Africa lost all matches in Sri Lanka. So I don't see any team doing well abroad. Many big teams have lost against us at home.

TDS: What are your thoughts on the Bangladesh fast bowling department in Tests?

SAH: Not just in Test cricket; if you want to play well abroad you have to do well in fast bowling department. We have a huge lacking in this department and we need to improve along with batting, which is also another weak point. Despite our spin department doing well with [Mehedi Hasan] Miraz, myself and Taijul [Islam] we failed in both the batting and fast bowling departments big time. So we need a massive improvement in these two departments and it has been a concern for us whenever we go abroad. Teams like India have created such bowling attacks that their fast bowlers are taking 10 wickets in England and it's not like they are conceding 500-600; they are bundling out opponents for 250 -300. So I think we should also invent some formula from where we will get improvements.

TDS: As a batsman did you always want to bat at number three in limited-overs? If so, do you think that it can have a long-term impact as you also need to bowl 10 overs.

SAH: I think I am comfortable batting at number three and it's a new challenge for me. When there is no challenge I don't get that interest, to be honest. So as it's a big challenge for me I personally want to stick to it. But it's up to the team. Wherever they want me to play, I will try to contribute accordingly. In terms of my bowling I don't see any issues about batting at number three as wicketkeepers keep wicket for 50 overs and open the innings. In Tests, I normally bowl 30-35 overs, and have to bat inside the first 10 overs.

TDS: Your supposed lack of desire to play Test cricket had been the talk of town during the tour of West Indies. Do you want to clear the air?

SAH: When I feel that I need to clear anything I will, but someone can give their personal opinion. Being a professional player and representing the national team, I will try to contribute as long as I can. When I will feel that I have nothing more to give I will say so on my own. But until then I am not worried about what people are saying.

TDS: Do you think the inclusion of Nazmul Islam Apu has added some strength in the spin department in limited-overs cricket?

SAH: Our spin department has always been good with Miraz, Taijul and Apu bhai has really been doing well, which is beyond expectation. Alhamdulillah, I hope he continues in that way for us. I think he has huge potential and courage as he does not have that much variation, such as the doosra or teesra, but it's his courage and brain which keeps him ahead of many bowlers.

TDS: Bangladesh's chances in the Asia Cup?

SAH: Well, we should do well. I believe we are a good ODI side but we have to be fit and confident, which I think most of the players are at the moment. Let's see what happens.

TDS: Do you prefer to be called Hajji Shakib now?

SAH: (Laughs) It doesn't sound bad; if calling me Hajji can help anyone, then why not? People started calling me Hajji Shakib and I like it.