Those who watch cricket regularly will tell you that in a tight contest, the winning side will always show some signs of their impending triumph.
Mahmudullah’s upright blast over extra cover at the start of the 17th over can only be described as the shot of the tournament so far. In a tight chase of 130 against Pakistan, it was only fair that Mahmudullah struck the blow that took Bangladesh to the Asia Cup final.
Despite Shakib Al Hasan’s brain freeze to Mohammad Amir in the 18th over, Mashrafe Mortaza struck two heroic fours immediately after to ease Bangladesh’s nerves. Then, in a manic 19th over bowled by Mohammad Sami which included two no balls, Mahmudullah’s squeezed boundary past point all but sealed victory for the hosts. Once Mahmudullah duly knocked off the winning runs with a slog past midwicket, he and Mashrafe wheeled away in wild celebration, nearly ramming into their on-rushing team-mates.
Mahmudullah’s unbeaten 15-ball 22 was perhaps the most important innings of his career, particularly because he was at the crease in the last over of the 2012 Asia Cup final, when Bangladesh fell short by two runs against Pakistan. This game went into the last over too, but mostly because Bangladesh lost wickets at crucial stages and were trying their best not to crumble to Amir. The other Pakistan bowlers were all shoddy, and they were not helped by the team’s very poor effort in the field.
Still, it was Bangladesh who were pegged back early in their 130-run chase. Tamim Iqbal was the first to go as a rare leg-before victim of Mohammad Irfan, who brought the ball into the batsman and hit the striding front pad half-way up. Luckily, Soumya Sarkar found Sabbir Rahman willing to stick around to weather the initial Amir storm. After the pair had safely negotiated those two overs, they looked for runs off the other bowlers. Soumya managed to hit Amir for an elegant four through midwicket, while Sabbir’s only boundary in his 15-ball 14 also came through a roll of the wrist, through fine-leg.
Sabbir fell to Shahid Afridi in the ninth over, missing a charge completely to be bowled. Soumya survived a few close calls with miscued hits dropping short on a number of occasions, but he was generally hitting them well on the leg-side. Mushfiqur Rahim was also lucky to survive a close leg-before appeal to Afridi before Amir and Malik brought Pakistan into the game in the space of eight deliveries in the 13th and 14th overs.
Having been brought back for a single over as his second spell, Amir yorked Soumya by clattering into his leg-stump. Soumya had made a run-a-ball 48 that had five fours and the pumped six into the midwicket stands, but when he got out, Bangladesh needed 47 off 40 balls.
There was much expected from the experienced duo of Mushfiqur and Shakib at that stage, but Mushfiqur was given out leg-before trying to reverse-sweep Malik in the over after Soumya got out.
Taskin Ahmed and Al-Amin Hossain were Bangladesh’s best bowlers, stepping up in the absence of Mustafizur Rahman, who was ruled out through a right side strain. Taskin bowled his first maiden over in his T20I career in a first-spell that saw him give away just one run. His second spell produced the wicket of Umar Akmal; he finished with figures of 4-1-14-1. Al-Amin bowled two tight overs at the top, giving away just nine runs before returning in the last four overs to give away four and 12, as Bangladesh decently closed out the Pakistan innings for 129 for 7.
Pakistan’s innings followed the same pattern of their previous games, losing three early wickets. Khurram Manzoor sent to open the batting, played out the first over and then got out for one off the first ball of the second, an Al-Amin delivery that jumped on him outside off-stump. It was the third time in the four Asia Cup matches that Al-Amin had taken a wicket in his first spell. Sharjeel Khan was bowled after missing a slog off Arafat Sunny in the fourth over, after he had faced just eight balls till that point, hitting a four and six.
Mohammad Hafeez was unlucky when he was given out leg-before by umpire Ruchira Palliyaguruge when even on the first view, it looked as if the Mashrafe Mortaza delivery was climbing. Replays confirmed that it was yet another erroneous decision by an umpire in the Asia Cup. When Taskin removed Akmal in his second spell, Pakistan ended with the lowest score – 34 for 4 – in the first ten overs against Bangladesh.
Sarfraz Ahmed and Malik then joined hands for a fifth-wicket partnership. Malik struck Shakib for a six that was as straight as an arrow, and also found three fours on the off-side as well as one that was tickled past long-leg. Sarfraz got both his sixes with swings to midwicket, and tucked into fours through covers, midwicket, and mid-on.
Malik was in the groove when he mistimed Sunny to the deep midwicket boundary for 41 off 30 balls. Soon, Sarfraz reached his second T20I fifty with an inside-out blast over cover in the penultimate over.
But it was Mahmudullah’s inside-out blast over the covers that would be the most memorable moment of the game, as Bangladesh got themselves to the final of a tournament that they were fearing a bit more than the World T20 itself.