Bangladesh came good when it mattered the most. It was all about handling the pressure and Bangladesh hung on to an absolute cliffhanger…..
All was not well in the Bangladesh camp.
The back to back defeats against Afghanistan and India immediately created a buzz outside the cricket field – a common scenario, which is always evident whenever the Tigers digest a surrender meekly in two or three matches in a row.
The media, fans and I started to make a noise about the sudden inclusion of Imrul Kayes and Soumya Sarkar. The Bangladesh Cricket Board Boss’s role came under scrutiny. The lack of match winners other than Fabulous Five of Bangladesh had been discussed like never before. The debate on the poor first-class structure of Bangladesh gained momentum, yet again.
The off the field matters added extra pressure on the Tigers, whose fragile batting order and lack of form of some of the players already put them under immense pressure. And in the crunch game against Afghanistan, the possibilities of another meek surrender were on the cards when Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim left the scene due to a panic attack – those two run-outs were unacceptable at this level of cricket and from two of the most experienced campaigners of Bangladesh cricket.
Bangladesh batting was reeling at 87 for 5.
No fear of failure
No one would like to invest faith in the newly-included Imrul Kayes, who was playing an ODI after 11 months and landed in Abu Dhabi just a day before the match and on an out of form Mahmudullah Riyad. Kayes was playing at number 6, a position, which he never relishes to bat and in fact, he never batted in that position previously. Moreover, he was supposed to bat as an opener, but Bangladesh decided to gamble with him, which ultimately paid off. Meanwhile, Mahmudullah’s fragility against the spinners is well known. The Afghan spinners had the better of him in the last match and his lack of foot movement makes him an easy target for the spinners.
Well, it was a tough situation and what needed was the ability to handle the pressure.
The best way to handle the pressure in that situation was to erase the fear of failure. Whenever the fear of losing gets into you, you cannot progress further. Mahmudullah and Kayes decided to dominate the Afghan spinners, especially Rashid Khan.
Now, you can dominate a bowler in two ways: 1. By counterattacking him and 2. By not giving him wickets. Kayes and Mahmudullah went for the second option. As Brendon McCullum once said, “One must rein oneself in under pressure. Instead of going for a big heave when you’re not seeing the ball well and your feet are not moving, take a single to get the other batsman on strike. Doing that gives you time to settle down and find form”.
They started to manoeuvre the strike more against the spinners and the plan was not to give them wickets. Even if they did not score against them, it would not matter much, but giving them wickets would automatically allow them to gain the momentum.
In the post-match presser, Mahmudullah said, “I think I wasn’t able to apply myself against him previously, but we decided during the partnership that we won’t give him wickets. We wanted to go deep and see it till the end. We achieved our target”.
Definitely, Kayes and Mahmudullah achieved their target as their sixth wicket stand helped Bangladesh to post a very competitive total. Both of them notched-up 36 runs off 48 balls against Rashid and Bangladesh lost just two wickets for 134 runs in 31 overs in comparison to losing six wickets for 78 runs from 31.1 overs in that group-stage encounter from 31.1 overs.
The fear factor did not Kayes and Mahmudullah them under pressure.
Aaaksh Chopra in one of his articles wrote, “Players who are able to detach themselves from the importance of the occasion are better equipped to handle pressure”. The best way to handle the pressure is by keeping detached by the heat of the occasion as Mahmudullah said, “There wasn’t enough time to think about it. We were playing three games in the space of four days. I was just playing him with an empty mind”.
Of course, playing with an “empty mind” works a lot in a pressure-cooker situation. It is almost like getting into the zone where your focus would only be on the bowler, his hand and the field set surrounding you. Over the years, in trying circumstances, Mahmudullah’s such a ploy bailed out Bangladesh on many occasions in the past.
Perhaps, Mustafizur Rahman also was bowling with an empty mind in that penultimate over. He was suffering from cramps and did not look fit enough to deliver the best, but his immense mental strength propelled him to bowl and his ice-cool look never, let us assume, he was engulfed by the pressure of the occasion, but it was just another routine over for him. Had he been feeling the pressure, he might not have varied his length so much.
Bangladesh escaped the Afghanistan fear by three runs.