In stunning turnaround, Bangladesh knock New Zealand out

The ICC Champions Trophy 2017 (a mini World Cup), surprisingly held in England (given that the previous such tournament was also held there); had almost threatened to turn into a damp squib – with two matches being washed out due to rain, and terror attacks in London amidst poor security for the players. Then, two surprising results in Group B had brought the tournament back to life. On Wednesday, Pakistan; after restricting South Africa to 219/8, had reached 119/3 in 27 overs before rain ensured that further play would not be possible – they won by 19 runs as per the DLS method. On Thursday, Sri Lanka pulled off an astoundingly comfortable win over title holders India; chasing 322 (a Champions Trophy record) with 7 wickets and a few overs to spare. Yesterday, in Group A at Cardiff(Wales); Bangladesh made it a hat-trick of victories for the underdog, knocking New Zealand out of the tournament. And what a match it was!

I did not see the first part of the match as I came home from office by 19 25. New Zealand, on winning the toss and batting first; had reached a comfortable position of 201/3 in the 39th over – all set for a total of 300 or whereabouts. Then offspinner Mosaddek Hossain struck with 3 wickets, and NZ lost 5 wickets for 51 runs(including a spell of 4 wickets for 28 runs) and along with it the momentum – they finished on an imminently gettable total of 265/8. Once again, NZ’s over-dependence on their skipper Kane Williamson was exposed. Here he got 52 and before he got out the score was 152/2 in the 30th over. Apart from him only Ross Taylor made a substantial contribution(63); most of the rest got starts and failed to convert them. In the match against England, when Williamson got out for 87, NZ (chasing 312) collapsed from 158/2 to 223 all out. In the match against Australia, when Williamson got out for 100; NZ(batting first) collapsed from 254/3 to 291 all out in 45 overs – wasting an over(the match being reduced to 46 overs due to rain).

Anyway, coming back to this match; the way NZ started their defence of 265 – it looked like it would be more than enough. When I switched on the TV, Bangladesh were 12/3 in the 5th over! :O Bangladesh’s key player Tamim Iqbal had fallen for a duck; and right-arm pacer Tim Southee was on a roll, having taken all the 3 wickets to fall. This tournament had produced 2 successful 300+ run chases on batting belters(SL’s chase against India; and England’s chase in the very first match against Bangladesh). However, this match seemed to show the rewards of bowling with an upright seam position and making the ball swing both ways; as Southee and left-arm pacer Trent Boult were doing.  They were making the ball talk, and every delivery seemed like it could produce a wicket!

One of the best all-rounders in the game, southpaw Shakib-Al-Hasan was nervy at this juncture; hesitant to back-up at the non-striker’s end. Thus, singles could not be converted into twos; and the run-rate was climbing. Wicket – keeper Mushfiqur Rahman was holding fort, determined to weather this storm generated by the Kiwi pacemen. However, after striking a delightful boundary; he was castled by right-arm pacer Adam Milne – and Bangladesh were in tatters at 33/4 in the 12th over. At this point, it would have taken a very brave person to bet against NZ winning; as right-hand batsman Mahmudullah strode out to bat – a match-winner for Bangladesh but with a huge weight on his shoulders now. A target of 266 was looking like 320 now, with the Kiwi pacers on fire; supported by brilliant fielding (as expected of them) to ensure that the ball rarely crossed the infield.

However, the way Mahmudullah batted gave confidence to his partner. He rotated the strike well, making full use of the occasional loose deliveries to unleash a range of shots – especially on the onside and the leg-side. One shot that stood out was a powerful heave on the leg-side (off right-arm medium pacer Jimmy Neesham) for six. At that point, Bangladesh were 80-odd for 4; and the shot was a sign of a stirring fightback – the Bangladesh team members in the dressing room could feel it, the crowd(a disappointingly small one, but with a handful of Bangladeshis) could feel it; and the NZ team on the field could feel it as well. It sent out a message that the Tigers were prepared to fight from any situation, in order to win.

It was good old-fashioned attritional cricket by the left-and-right combination – rotating the strike, running the ones and twos hard; and scoring boundaries occasionally. As the partnership progressed, Shakib came onto his own – unfurling a range of boundaries; particularly crashing fours on the offside. You couldn’t really fault the NZ bowlers – they were disciplined for most part of the game, till the partnership crept past 150 – that was the time when errors started creeping in, with quite a few wides (including some that went past the boundary line) and short-pitched deliveries which the batsmen(Mahmudullah in particular) made full use of; to crash boundaries. The Kiwi fielding was superb as usual – there was not a single dropped catch that I could observe, though there were a few missed run-outs.

I was full of admiration for the determination and resilience shown by Shakib and Mahmudullah – they knew that there were not too many batsmen to follow after them; and so were determined to ensure that they would see it out to the finish. Kiwi captain Williamson brought the field in as Mahmudullah reached 98, in order to tempt the batsman into going for a big shot (and thus throwing his wicket away) to get his century. However, it was Shakib who pipped his partner to the post; getting his ton with an edged pull behind him that just cleared the ropes. Eventually though Shakib perished to a tired stroke, getting clean bowled as he tried to go for a slog (off Trent Boult) and missed the ball completely.

It was a superb innings – 114 of 115 balls with 11 fours and 1 six – one that rightfully got a standing ovation. The crowd and the Bangladesh team in the dressing room stood up to applaud the fine knock under pressure. What was even more heartening to see was the Kiwi players cheering him as he walked off the field. NZ are one of the top teams when it comes to sportsmanship, and it was no different yesterday. This partnership of 224 was a record – Bangladesh’s highest partnership in ODIs for any wicket – and what fitting circumstances for it to have come in!  The bowling hero for Bangladesh earlier, Mosaddek Hossain strode out to support Mahmudullah; as he marched towards yet another famous match-winning century – 102 off 107 balls, with 8 fours and 2 sixes.

Eventually, Bangladesh won with as many as 16 balls to spare; as Mosaddek nudged a  boundary square on the offside – to start the celebrations. It was wonderful to watch, as Mosaddek and Mahmudullah hugged each other; and the Bangladesh dressing room was delirious in delight. The presenter at the post-match ceremony said that both Mahmudullah and Shakib played superbly, “but unfortunately only one of you can get the Player of the Match award” 😉 – it was Shakib. I felt sorry for NZ – being knocked out in the first round of a major ICC event is not something that usually happens to them; but to be frank, as mentioned earlier – they have been too dependent on their skipper Williamson to get runs. Moreover, for me it was clear that yesterday Bangladesh was the team that wanted to win that much more. That’s what matters ultimately in cricket! 😉

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