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Mustafizur Rahman has been brilliant with the ball throughout the Asia Cup…..¬†

It was against India that Mustafizur Rahman emerged on to the international stage in 2015 and it will be against India that he will lead the bowling attack for Bangladesh in the Asia Cup 2018 final on Friday. The world got a glimpse of a special talent when he bamboozled some of the top batsmen from India and then South Africa in his first two series and in three years, Mustafizur is perhaps one of the first names on the team sheet in all three formats. Bangladesh have tasted a lot of success over the years with Mustafizur leading the attack alongside his captain Mashrafe Mortaza and he has managed to find top gear in the Asia Cup, just at the right time.

Having set Pakistan a modest target of 240, the onus was on the bowlers to bowl them out. Pakistan have not had the best of tournaments. The match against Bangladesh was a virtual semi-final and to add to their misery, Bangladesh had won the toss and elected to bat first on a hot and humid day at Abu Dhabi. A score of anywhere close to 250 has been competitive throughout the tournament and getting to that score would have been Bangladesh’s first target. ‘

Toss has played a crucial role in the Asia Cup this time and also a crucial factor in all the matches in the UAE. Teams ideally love to bat first and get some runs on the board. They then back themselves to defend whatever total they put up. Bangladesh in a crunch game followed a similar pattern and it paid off and now in back-to-back editions, they face India in the Asia Cup final. Things did not go according to plan in the previous edition (T20 format), however, despite injuries to star players like Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan, they look set to give India a strong fight in the final.

India have been the most dominant side in this tournament. They brushed aside Pakistan twice and also Bangladesh once in the Super 4s. They were pushed right till the end by Hong Kong and Afghanistan, but they did enough to book their place in the final. India will welcome back their captain Rohit Sharma and vice-captain Shikhar Dhawan in the final after they were rested for the inconsequential match against Afghanistan. The likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will also return to the XI, making them a formidable side. Bangladesh will have to be at their best to topple this strong side.

That is where someone like Mustafizur can come in handy. It was difficult to read him at the beginning of his career, but now that he is three years into international cricket, many teams would have analysed and studied him, as a result, can pick his variations a little easier. Yet, Mustafizur finds new ways to trouble batsmen in every match.

The left-arm pacer struggled to find a rhythm against India in the Super 4s. Also, the fact that Bangladesh managed to score just 173 did not help him either. The problem with Bangladesh has been their partnerships at the top. They have tried various combinations at the top, but none have been successful, putting pressure on Mushfiqur Rahim, Mohammad Mithun and the rest of the middle-order to deliver. On the contrary for India, their top-order have clicked and that’s the reason they are able to put up match-winning totals or chase targets down with relative ease.

India have in the recent past, especially the right-handed batsmen, have found it hard to counter the left-arm pacers. Over the last year or so, they have successfully figured out how to counter them. Their good show against Mohammad Amir in the last two matches shows that they can score freely against the very man, who traumatised them in the Champions Trophy final 2017. They did not lose a wicket to Mustafizur, but given the Bangladeshi seamer’s performance against Pakistan (4-43), he will go into the match with a lot more confidence.

This is not the first time Bangladesh have made it to the Asia Cup final. The is the third time they have made it in the last 4 editions. However, at the final hurdle, they always fall short. The final in 2012 was the closest they have come to lift a major trophy, but a brilliant fightback from Pakistan ensured they won a nail-biting match by 2 runs. Four years later in 2016, Bangladesh faced India in the T20 format, but lost by 8 wickets. Will Bangladesh be third time lucky? There is no reason they cannot be.

Sometimes losing out on some of the best players can bring the best out of the team. Bangladesh are going through something similar. However, they still have a few quality players left in the side and Mustafizur is certainly one of them. If Mustafizur has a good day with the ball, you can bet Bangladesh will have a really good chance of winning their maiden Asia Cup title.

His fast arm action, change in pace and other variations, which he has added over the years have certainly made him a better bowler in limited-overs. There is still some way to go for him in Tests, especially when it comes to his fitness. Whenever he has played Tests, his fitness has dropped and has missed out on a few matches as a result. But the one-day format requires different fitness levels and playing under the lights under extremely humid conditions will be testing.

It will be difficult to knock the 6-time champions off their perch, but Mustafizur will be key for Bangladesh in winning the final. Of course, he will need support at the other end as well. Mortaza has been excellent when it comes to his captaincy, be it in his field placements or bowling changes. It will also come down to him as to how he uses his young quick and the combination he goes in with for the final. All in all, it promises to be an exciting finish.

Following an off day with the ball against India, Mustafizur has produced two match-winning performances against Afghanistan and then against Pakistan. He is certainly entering the final with the right frame of mind.

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