Conventional wisdom spells Tigers’ downfall
When Bangladesh posted an impressive 171 for four against Sri Lanka in their opening Super 12 game of the ICC T20 World Cup in Sharjah, not many thought they were going to lose the game so badly.
Despite Sri Lanka's impressive start to their chase, the game was heavily leaning towards the Tigers, thanks to two quick wickets from champion left-arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan.
His double blow in the ninth over reduced the Lankans from a confident 71 for one to 72 for three. The Lankans were reduced to 79-4 by the end of the 10th over, with medium pacer Saifuddin getting danger-man Wanidu Hasaranga with a well disguised slower delivery.
But after that, nothing went right for the Tigers thanks to an inexplicably stereotypical mindset from skipper Mahmudullah.
Shakib did not bowl an over after that till his third and final in the 17th while Mustafizur also had three important overs to bowl, but the captain only turned to him when the damage had already been done.
Bangladesh played three spinners, including left-arm tweaker Nasum Ahmed, but the captain also ignored him, probably for being expensive in his first two overs.
Instead, Mahmudullah himself bowled two overs and gave one to fellow part time off-spinner Afif Hossain. The reason for not turning to left-arm spinners was probably because there were two left-handed batsmen out in the middle -- Charith Asalanka (80 not out of 49 balls) and Bhanuka Rajapaksa (53 off 31 balls).
Conventionally, captains tend to follow that pattern. But it is not like a bible or a video game that one plays virtually at home. Cricket out in the middle is all about trusting your bowling unit and adjusting accordingly to situations. Good captains always try to play to their strength, not just follow set patterns.
Here, Mahmudullah was visibly very rigid about not moving an inch from that set pattern.
The captain might argue that they could have won the game had Liton Das not spilled a couple of sitters in the deep at crucial moments. But not many will buy his argument, nor his decision to ignore Shakib when he was needed most primarily to keep the runs in check and get another wicket to expose Sri Lanka's lower-order.
When Mahmudullah bowled the 12th over, it made some sense since he had experience on his side. But when he threw the ball to Afif for the next over, the only justification was that he was trying not only to shield Nasum from further assault but also that he could not trust Shakib unless the left-handed partnership was broken.
The outcome was ominous. Afif conceded 15 runs in that forgettable over and Mahmudullah dared to bowl a second over only to concede 16 and allow the Lankans to seize complete control of the game. Mahmudullah also brought Saifuddin earlier than anticipated to do some damage control, but he too disappointed the captain, conceding 22 runs in the 16th over.
By the time he finally brought Shakib back into the attack in the 17th over, the Lankans had seized complete control of the game, needing 13 runs from 18 deliveries.
Mahmudullah also brought Nasum Ahmed for the penultimate over and the beleaguered left-arm spinner broke a terrific 86-run fifth wicket partnership but could do little to stop the chastening defeat.
Mahmudullah will certainly learn from this mistake -- which is indeed a costly one on the biggest stage.