What could be the beginning of a turnaround for Bangladesh in the ongoing Asia Cup may seem on the surface to have been caused by the inspired inclusion of Imrul Kayes in the team for Sunday's match against Afghanistan a mere 17 hours after he was flown into the United Arab Emirates as emergency reinforcement.
Imrul stepped in and scored an unbeaten 72 to help take Bangladesh to 249 for seven after they were cut down to 87 for five in the 21st over. It showed great resolve from the left-hander not just because he coped with the extreme heat with zero time for acclimatisation, but also because he batted at number six for the first time in his career, never having batted below number three in 70 previous matches.
The triumph however was not Imrul's alone. It was that very decision to bat him at number six that rescued the team from wallowing in confusion because, thinking out of the box, they had devised a solution that seemed impossible when they crumbled to 119 all out in their first encounter with Afghanistan. Under the circumstances, it was perhaps the only way to avert potential discord within the team. Unsurprisingly, it seems to have been the result of skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza staying true to his convictions.
Confusion infected the Bangladesh camp ever since talismanic opener and the country's highest run-scorer went home with a fractured left hand last Tuesday. The decision to bring in Imrul and fellow discarded opener Soumya Sarkar was taken after Bangladesh's abject failures in two successive matches against Afghanistan and India on September 20 and 21 stemmed from persistent top-order implosions in Tamim's absence. It was not a decision that would have sat well with inspirational leader Mashrafe, who likes to back the players he is given so that he can ask them to give their all when it is required.
He was not part of the final decision to call in reinforcements as he was busy playing India when the decision was made, and hinted after the game that it was no real solution as those two had also been dropped for non-performance.
Promising left-hander Nazmul Hossain Apu made his debut against Afghanistan on September 20 as Tamim's replacement, but neither Tamim's partner Liton Das nor the newcomer were successful. Both Mashrafe and vice-captain Shakib Al Hasan, the latter speaking the day after the defeat against India, seemed to speak out in support of the newcomers -- Liton has been a regular opening option for just four matches in this Asia Cup -- saying that they needed more time.
On the day of the match, Mashrafe spearheaded the decision to send the left-handed Imrul at number three to counter Afghanistan's demon leg-spinner Rashid Khan and perhaps negate his googly. It also served the purpose of showing faith in the opening pair that, when Tamim left, was deemed good enough to see them through the tournament. It was out of the box thinking that worked like a charm as far as the result was concerned, but also laid down a positive marker that newcomers can take courage from.
The tournament had started with Mashrafe taking the wildcard decision to ask Tamim to go out at number 11 even though he had his hand in a sling, and that contributed to a memorable 137-run win over Sri Lanka. While that decision was followed by Tamim's departure and, in turn, dismal performances -- the latest example of Mashrafe's out-of-the-box thinking has put the Tigers back into contention.