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Mithun has paid the faith back to the selectors……. 

A disciplinary issue with Sabbir Rahman paved the way for Mohammad Mithun’s inclusion in the Asia Cup squad. Sabbir, whose horrendous run of form had attracted criticism from several quarters, assaulted a minor in the crowd during a Rajshahi Division first-class game. His place should perhaps have been under scrutiny way before that but the altercation and a consequent disciplinary action meant that Bangladesh needed some firepower down the order.

Mashrafe Mortaza and Steve Rhodes, the head coach, was pretty clear about what they wanted. They needed a no.6 batsman who could play spin well. Mithun, used as an opener in his previous stint with the national team for shorter formats, was on the back of two half-centuries against Ireland in a five-match series.

Mortaza and Rhodes are believed to have recommended Mithun to the national squad. As per chief selector Minhajul Abedin’s words, “They [Mortaza and Rhodes] wanted Mithun for the No. 6 or 7 batting position, in place of Sabbir.”

It took little time for Mithun to justify his selection. In the opening game against Sri Lanka, he walked in with the side reeling at 1 for two, but virtually three men down due it Tamim’s injury. With Mushfiqur Rahim going strong, Mithun kept his end ticking with boundaries and constant strike rotation.

By the end of his innings, Mithun had made 63 in 68 balls, aiding Rahim in not only resisting Sri Lanka’s surge but fighting back with a counter-attacking knock. The 133-run partnership signalled an end to Sri Lanka’s mesmerising start courtesy Lasith Malinga. Even if Rahim was the architect-in-chief for the final total of 261, Mithun was the one who doused the fire with fire initially.

Fast forward to the virtual knockout game against Pakistan yesterday and Bangladesh were once again in strife at 12/3 after early strikes from Shaheen Afridi and Junaid Khan. Once again pitted in with Rahim, Mithun went about repairing the early damage. Once again, Rahim was pushed to the background as Mithun took centre stage with a flair and flamboyance unforeseen in Bangladesh cricket.

Rahim was constantly in Mithun’s ear with advice but he barely needed any. After wading through the early tricky period, Mithun upped the ante in the company of the former skipper. A 144-run partnership put Bangladesh in the driving seat after they had nearly conceded the game to the Pakistanis on a platter early on.

“He is a very positive guy,” Mushfiqur said of Mithun. “So I can’t tell him to play for the dot balls. I told him to back himself and make sure that in the first five-six overs, we just assess the situation, don’t worry about the run rate. We have from the 11th till 40th overs with one fielder up, and you can easily target one bowler and you can easily have some boundaries over there.”

Despite what the total suggests, the pitch was fairly easy to bat on and Bangladesh, after being pegged back early, could not afford to let the game drift. This was a reprise to what happened in the Lankan game early on and Mithun knew exactly what to do. “I think the wicket was a pretty good one, so no need to take any undue risks. He complimented me very well and I really enjoyed the way I talked with him and batted with him both times,” Mushfiqur said as revealed by ESPNcricinfo.

Bangladesh haven’t had great stability from the lower middle-order aside from Mahmudullah in the past. Sabbir Rahman had his moments in the ODI side but with his returns waning, Bangladesh needed a more reliable option. Mahmudullah was, of course, a permanent but to complement him and Rahim, there had to be a player who could switch gears effortlessly or consolidate if needed. Then arrived Mithun. His confidence was evident from his words before a clash against Afghanistan this Asia Cup.

“They [Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman] are world class bowlers but it is not that they are unplayable,” Mithun was quoted by bdcrictime.com. “Our one-day game is strong, we should not build their spinners up too big in our mind because most of the times that result in a downfall. We need to have a good game plan in place and that should hold us in good stead.”

That kind of confidence from a new guy in the team is quintessential to Bangladesh’s chances against India in the finals. The two teams have faced each other off 23 times in multi-nation tournaments (including tri-series) but Bangladesh have managed just two wins. With Mithun – Rahim – Mahmudullah forming a steady middle-order, Bangladesh have been uber competitive despite the absence of stalwarts – Shakib-al-Hasan and Tamim Iqbal – at crucial junctures.

 

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