“Life is never more fun than when you are the underdog competing against the giants”
Coming into the Asia Cup this year, it was easy to segregate the six teams into a well-defined category. India was the strongest of the lot, though Pakistan ran them close yet unpredictability had always been their aid. Sri Lanka had the potential to reach the top-2, while Afghanistan was certain to bring their attractive brand of cricket into the tournament. Hong Kong was the unfortunate minnows and Bangladesh was a side with great potential, but upon whom not much attention lay.
With a history of ill-mannered encounters and bitter celebrations, the aura of Bangladesh cricket risked losing its sheen due to the on-field performances of the players. They had tremendous bowlers, yet the unfortunate Naagin Dance was difficult to get over. They possessed one of the best all-rounders of the modern era, yet his vocal angst against an umpire threatened to stick around with him. A record of ugly representations and advertisements had long distanced the group of cricket fanatics who had started getting involved in Bangladesh’s progress on the international era, and even though the team was equipped with experienced match-winners, their on-field avatar and recent losses to Afghanistan meant that Asghar Afghan’s side had grown into the new audience favourites.
The Bangla Tigers were no longer viewed with admiration – their cricket was declining and the recent occurrences had left a poor after-taste in those involved. Hence, with not a lot of expectations and with the crowd clearly looking elsewhere, Bangladesh ventured into the Asia Cup, with the aim of impressing solely with their cricket. Even as the eyeballs were veered towards the might of India or the heart-warming displays from Afghanistan, Bangladesh ensured that they fought all odds – including injuries – to make a long-lasting mark.
Tamim Iqbal’s bravery in the very first game, when he walked out to bat with a fractured wrist, were signs of what was yet to unleash and despite their visible flaws and hectic schedules, Mashrafe Mortaza’s side gathered together as a unit to advance to the finals of the tournament. While Mushfiqur Rahim was a standout performer, players like Imrul Kayes, Mustafizur Rahman and Mohammad Mithun have been instrumental with their crucial contributions.
Mehidy Hasan, a silent performer
Very much like Bangladesh’s progress in the event, which was done sans much hullabaloo, Mehidy Hasan too has been pitching in at important junctures without grabbing much news space. Though he has picked only 4 wickets in the Asia Cup – 2 each against Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and has gone wicketless in 3 matches, his efforts and his economical bowling have helped installing the flow of runs in the middle overs, which could be of great importance in the finals against India in the absence of Shakib al Hasan, who has been ruled out with injury.
Though he had an easy route to success against the Lankans in the first game after Fizz and Mortaza had scalped the openers early, it was imperative that Hasan bowled a tight spell to prevent the likes of Kusal Perea and Angelo Mathews from resurrecting the innings. He finished his 7 overs for just 21 runs whilst also picking up Kusal and Thisara Perera, with his spell crippling the Lankan run-rate even further.
He was once again the bowler to fear in the next game against Afghanistan, which Bangladesh lost by a huge margin. Even as the likes of Abu Hider Rony and captain Mortaza were leaking runs, thus allowing Hashmatullah Shahidi and Rashid Khan to take Afghanistan past 250, Hasan stood out once again with an economy rate of 2.63. He troubled the batsmen with his sly googlies and furthered his fine bowling form against the high-flying Indians, bowling his 10 overs for just 38 runs.
While Mortaza was once again being battered all around, and Fizz failed to control the duo of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, it was only Hasan who brought back control of some kind. He was expensive by his standards in the Super Four game against the Afghans, going at 4 runs an over, which only signifies how tight he has been in the other matches. In the absence of Shakib for the virtual semi-final against Pakistan on Wednesday, the responsibility was on the spinner to take control of the middle overs, a role he played out with ease.
Hasan struck in only his fifth delivery of his spell – also the fifth of the innings – to dismiss Fakhar Zaman with a slower delivery that pitched outside off. Though the wicket can be attributed to Rubel Hossain’s acrobatic catching, he continued to vary his lengths so as to not allow the Pakistanis to settle down. He stuck to an outside-off and middle-stump line against the rivals, hardly providing width especially to Imam-ul-Haq who had to be content with the odd singles.
His accurate bowling resulted in the dismissal of Asif Ali, who had started to look dangerous. Varying his pace and looping it outside the off-stump, Hasan cleverly drew him forward after turning the ball to allow it to go past his outside edge. The bowler had been quick to realize that the batsman was not quite in balance and was standing outside his crease, and by showing maturity, he picked up his 14th international wicket.
Though Hasan has a bowling average that exceeds 40 after 16 games, his economy rate of 3.79 in 2018, which is the second best this year for bowlers who have bowled at least 65 overs, makes him a highly effective prospect. His silent performances are similar to Bangladesh’s quiet progress in the tournament so far; both were written off, both were considered underdogs but through consistent hard work, the results are there to see.