Tigers title hopes iced with hot Mahmudullah held back
In a big contest, Bangladesh were defeated by experienced batsmen who knew how to maneuver a tight chase, and the right moment to press on the gas. The home captain Mashrafe Mortaza said that nothing went their way from the time they lost the toss and were put in to bat.
But one other factor ended up going against them, and this one was in their control.
It was a big moment in the game when Mahmudullah, the team's most consistent batsman in the tournament, went to bat with only 20 balls remaining in the innings. The think tank perhaps could have sent him a little earlier. Just how early is still up for discussion though.
Mashrafe said it was a tough decision to hold back Mahmudullah until the 12th over but added that "capable" Shakib and Mushfiqur were expected to do well.
"It was a tough decision," Mashrafe said. "Mahmudullah was successful in his position quite consistently and he was playing his role according to our plans. It is not that those who went to bat ahead of him were not capable. They have played in these situations before and they have to play bigger knocks in the future too. Riyad has done more than our expectations."
A glance at the scorecard shows that Mashrafe's promotion to No. 6 was silly but he lasted just one ball and his intentions were clear. He was sent to swing from the hips against Ravindra Jadeja. It might also seem odd that Mahmudullah wasn't sent ahead of Mushfiqur Rahim, who hasn't had the best of times in the Asia Cup. But Mushfiqur is a senior pro and like Mashrafe, tried his best at slogging until he was run out.
After India chased down Bangladesh's 120 runs quite easily, and with hindsight being 20:20, it seems rational to think that Mahmudullah could have batted above Shakib Al Hasan, who had a 131.25 strike-rate over his 16 balls compared to Mahmudullah's 253.84 in 13 balls.
The thinking here was that if Mahmudullah had gone to bat in the fifth over, when Tamim Iqbal was the second wicket to fall for 13, Bangladesh could have had more firepower for nearly ten overs. But the great "What if?" in this case is what if Mahmudullah got out early?
When he replaced Mashrafe in the 12th over, Mahmudullah threw his bat at everything and connected sweetly on most of the occasions, just like he had batted against UAE, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He looked like the only man who could clear the boundary when he hit two big sixes off Hardik Pandya in the 14th. The late thrust helped Bangladesh post what initially seemed to be a stiff target in a final.
Mashrafe said that the tournament threw up Sabbir Rahman, Mahmudullah, Al-Amin Hossain and Taskin Ahmed as major performers. He also praised an intangible factor that is often missed out when a team loses big in a final.
"You look at what Tamim did last week. His son was born but within 24 hours he was in Dhaka and straight to a training session from the airport. That's the sort of attitude we have gained from this tournament," he said.
In the next couple of days too, Bangladesh will need to show this positive mentality as they rush to Dharamsala to get prepared ahead of their World T20 opener against the Netherlands on March 9. Mashrafe said that he hopes his team-mates can keep themselves motivated by remembering how they made it to the final of a competition in which they were projected as outsiders prior to the start.
"Momentum is a big thing in T20s," Mashrafe said. "I will try to keep everyone motivated but we just played a final in a tournament unexpectedly. So this is a major achievement and that should be motivation enough for our boys. We should forget what happened in the final because we lost to the No. 1 ranked team in the world. We should focus on our matches ahead."
Mahmudullah's late arrival in the final could continue to be a talking point but if there's something to take from this conundrum it is the batsman's attitude in those last 20 balls of the Bangladesh innings. If the attitudes of Tamim, coming back from a private moment, and Mahmudullah, reinventing himself as a late-order hitter, can catch on, Dharamsala could see some fireworks in the next seven days.