While Bangladesh showed tremendous fighting spirit in their two-wicket loss against New Zealand at The Oval on Wednesday, the defeat was a timely reminder of the old follies that the Tigers can revert to when faced with opposition playing at a higher level than them.
Bangladesh were all out for 244 on a wicket that was good for batting, despite all of their top seven batsmen getting a start, and then they allowed New Zealand to canter to 160 for two through a bad miss from wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim and questionable defensive bowling changes from skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza -- in a nutshell all the failings of Bangladesh team's past.
“I think the big mistakes were done in batting,” Mashrafe said after the match. “Getting set and getting out. If we could have scored 25-30 runs more, it could have been a different match, because the outfield was slower than other matches.”
Bangladesh played 157 dot balls out of a total of 296 deliveries, which indicates that they -- with the exception of Shakib Al Hasan, who scored a 68-ball 64 -- were unable to take singles to let off the pressure that a relentless New Zealand side exerted. That is another old failing that the Tigers reprised against a well-drilled opposition.
However, the most worrying regression under pressure was that of the Bangladesh captain. Under cloudy skies in their only day-night league match of the tournament, Mashrafe chose to open the bowling with off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz and astonishingly did not give Mustafizur Rahman the new ball even though the left-arm pacer had shown the ability to swing the new ball at pace in the first match against South Africa and also in the warm-up against India, troubling batsmen of both top-four sides.
Bangladesh’s defensive mindset came through crystal clear when, after Mehedi broke the 105-run third-wicket partnership between Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor by getting the former caught and then following it up with the wicket of Tom Latham in the same over, Mashrafe still persisted with part-time off-spinner Mosaddek Hossain even though Mustafizur had five overs left.
Instead, Mustafizur was brought back in the 42nd over. That smacked of a premeditated mindset of saving the best bowler for last, regardless of the fact that the match would all but be lost by then. And that was the case because New Zealand needed just 40 runs off the last nine overs with five wickets in hand when Mustafizur was brought back on.
“We wanted to give him as much of the old ball, with which he is more effective. He did the same thing in the last match [against South Africa]. He is our strike bowler,” Mashrafe said and seemed to resort to wishful thinking when talking about them needing two wickets at the end after New Zealand’s lower order panicked. “At the end, two wickets, anything could have happened. You know, 12 runs or 16 runs, two balls could have taken the wickets. Especially with Mustafizur, he has done it so many times before. It did not happen this time. Maybe sometimes luck has to be going with the team. It didn’t happen this time, maybe next time.”
Next time is June 8 against England, the top-ranked team in ODI cricket. It cannot be said whether Mashrafe really believed that he was tactically sound in some of his decisions on the field. In not bringing Mustafizur back on when New Zealand were on the ropes, he betrayed a lack of aggression and an unwillingness to capitalise on opportune moments, and it will benefit Bangladesh if the skipper learns from that, because he cannot expect to beat the best with a premeditated mindset that bears no relation to the prevailing situation.