Bangladesh pace sensation Mustafizur Rahman took the Natwest T20 Blast by storm as he picked up a man-of-the-match award on his debut for Sussex Sharks against Essex Eagles at Chelmsford on July 21.
Mustafizur’s four-wicket haul was instrumental in Sussex emerging victorious by 24 runs and therefore staying alive in the tournament. They were placed sixth in the nine-team South division before the match and facing relegation, but the strong performance elevated them to number four in the table and in line for a quarterfinal place.
A strong batting display topped by a 21-ball 45 from all-rounder Chris Jordan carried Sussex to 200 for six after they were asked to bat by Essex skipper Ravi Bopara. Mustafizur bowled just one over in the Powerplay overs, and it was left to the other bowlers to stave off the Essex charge till the death overs, when they would hand it over to the death-overs specialist.
It is a measure of the respect that Sussex have for Mustafizur’s talent that skipper Luke Wright left three of the last five overs for him. That included the last over, which for a 20-year-old with very little experience of English conditions and presumably some jet lag was a huge show of faith that he repaid with interest. Mustafizur had earlier shown, by taking the catch of opener Nick Browne off Tymal Mills, that he was ready to perform.
The stage was set perfectly for Mustafizur. The opposition needed 68 off the last five overs with six wickets in hand. There was no choice for England discard Bopara, batting on a 25-ball 32, but to attack. And for Mustafizur, who had just completed a long flight to get to England a day ago on Wednesday, that was the signal to pounce.
It was a classic Mustafizur wicket as Bopara tried to play across the line only to sky a steep edge that was gleefully accepted by Wright in the infield. Wright knew that the challenge was all but snuffed out.
Mustafizur’s first over had gone for just four runs, but the death overs of a T20 game is where he excels, and excel he did. Ryan ten Doeschate did manage to hit a straight six off a length delivery in the first ball of Mustafizur’s next over, but the single he took off the next ball opened the floodgates. Former England wicketkeeper James Foster shuffled across but was bowled around his legs in a dismissal reminiscent of the Fizz’s castling of Australian captain Steven Smith in the World Twenty20 earlier this year.
Callum Taylor stepped away to hit his first ball through the off side, but Mustafizur darted it in outside off stump to beat the right-hander with a quick ball. The next delivery was a classic off-cutter that moved across Taylor and bowled him as he tried to turn it to the leg side.
With three wickets for just 13 runs in three overs, the Fizz may have been eyeing his best T20 figures. That seemed even closer when he set up ten Doeschate brilliantly in the first two balls of the last over, which started with Essex needing an improbable 35. The first ball was a very quick delivery that beat ten Doeschate for pace, and the next one was a slower outside leg that the Dutch big hitter could only scoop to short fine leg. After 3.2 overs, the Tetulia terror had taken four for 13. A no-ball single to new batsman Graham Napier was followed by another single as Paul Walter failed to take advantage of the free hit, but Napier spoiled Fizz’s figures somewhat by hitting a six that just eluded long-off’s hands.
But that did not matter much as Mustafizur rounded off the innings with two more dot balls and fabulous figures of four for 23 in four overs, perhaps leaving the Sussex management wondering about what could have been had the Bangladeshi arrived earlier.
Scores in brief
Sussex Sharks: 200 for 6 (Jordan 45 not out, Salt 33, Wright 32, Nash 25; Bopara 2-32, Lawrence 1-10)
Essex Eagles: 176 for 8 (Lawrence 36, Bopara 32, ten Doeschate 26; Mustafizur 4-23, Mills 1-36, Archer 1-39)
Result: Sussex Sharks won by 24 runs
Player-of-the-match: Mustafizur Rahman