It was an all-too-familiar situation for Mushfiqur Rahim when he walked out to bat with Bangladesh floundering at 56 for four against New Zealand on Friday.
His highest ODI score - 144 off 150 balls - came against Sri Lanka with his side two down for one run. His second-highest - 125 off 127 balls - against the same opponent bailed his side out from 15/2.
Hence, his strides to the square reflected no signs of nerves. By now, it must be the instincts that take over.
Rahim’s charm lies in his diminutive stature. Having played international cricket for 17 years, he is well aware of his physical limitations. He doesn’t rely heavily on the extension of his levers, but instead trusts in his ability to play the ball as late as possible.
Rahim is selective in choosing his battles and excels in the mental game. Lockie Ferguson, who had only been bowling bouncers until then and had already taken two wickets, needed to make the slightest mistake to feel the pressure from Rahim. On the next delivery, Ferguson aimed for another bouncer but ended up straying onto Rahim’s thighs. However, Rahim was well-prepared, he got into position, lifted himself onto his toes, and gently guided the ball to the fine leg boundary for four runs. This was enough for the moment. Rahim managed to defend the other bouncers and length deliveries by tapping them respectfully on the offside.
Rahim’s first real breakthrough against the Kiwi team came when he faced Glenn Phillips. Rahim used Phillips’ bowling angle and turn into the body to his advantage and hit a six with a slog sweep. He showed his intent and dominance with a reverse sweep four in the same over.
Rahim displayed finesse when faced with half-trackers, choosing the gentle caress over a powerful hit. He executed this technique against Matt Henry initially, and then, when Kane Williamson did not move the third man finer or place a slip, he repeated it against Trent Boult.
Mushfiqur opted for a more cautious approach against Mitchell Santner and Rachin Ravindra, leading to a temporary slowing of the run rate. Meanwhile, Rahim’s counter-attack and Shakib’s consistent singles helped Bangladesh surpass the 100-run mark.
After showing respect in the first spell, Ferguson’s return was the time to attack. He didn’t compromise on his finesse, though. Rahim nudged a short and wide delivery over the deep point region. However, he was guilty of slashing at a similar delivery in Ferguson’s next over. Nevertheless, Rahim was pardoned for indulging in mischief as it got him to a fifty.
Shakib joined in on the fun. After clobbering Ravindra for a four and a six, the Bangla skipper pulled a Ferguson bouncer for another maximum. But it was one shot too many when Shakib caught a top edge and holed out to Tom Latham.
The fall of one from the old guard proved fatal for the second. But Rahim’s end did not arrive before he had bookended his range with a ramp shot over third man off Henry. The Kiwi pacer foxed Rahim with an off-cutter, but only because the ball stayed low.
Rahim’s walk back to the dugout, embodying defeat and shock in equal part, gave the impression that he felt betrayed by the pitch. Mahmudullah built on Rahim’s work and provided the final flourish for Bangladesh to post 245.
Rahim’s rescue act, even if momentarily, was complete.
Bangladesh bowlers struck early in the PowerPlay and kept a hold over the contest initially. Williamson and Daryl Mitchell eventually strolled to the target, but Rahim ensured his team did not go down without a fight.
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