Reality check for Rohit Sharma and India

Mushfiqur Rahim's match-winning knock gave Bangladesh its first victory against India in T20Is and a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.

Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim walk back after leading Bangladesh to victory in the Delhi T20I.   -  Sandeep Saxena

Mushfiqur Rahim isn’t just a well-known cricketer from Bangladesh, he is its tireless servant and a reason for the team’s strength in limited-overs cricket. Despite a match-winning knock at the Arun Jaitley stadium here to steer his team to its first-ever T20I win over India, his knock found no mention from India captain Rohit Sharma when the latter reflected on the loss at the press conference after the game.

Rohit felt India lost because it “failed” to execute its skills. Yet, it wasn’t in any way a disgraceful performance: on a pitch where run-making wasn’t straightforward, a competitive total was put up, and despite the opposition top order firing, the contest was open until the penultimate over. It took a magnificent knock from Mushfiqur – with a much-needed piece of acceleration near the end – to take Bangladesh home.

Regardless of how strongly Rohit asserted that Bangladesh did not create ‘upsets’ anymore but beat other teams, the loss certainly stung. That’s because Rohit seemed to be searching for areas where the game was lost; as if, with certain tweaks and realignments, all will be well and India would start rolling over such opponents again.

Read: Match report of 1st T20I

To be sure, India is the stronger side going by its overall potential. But Bangladesh has a number of stars in Mahmudullah, Soumya Sarkar, Liton Das, Mushfiqur Rahim, and Mustafizur Rahman. Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah have been giants in limited-overs matches for Bangladesh in the last few years. Their intervention lifts the side and at times lift them to victories.

For Rohit, India’s total was a “good score,” yet it wasn’t enough, and the loss could also be attributed to some decision-making when fielding.

“We decided if we bat first, we have to look to get somewhere around 140-150. That was the message. We had seen that before as well when we’ve played on pitches like that, a winning score becomes somewhere around 140-150. Even in this match we saw, it was a good score. We would have defended it if we were smart on the field. A couple of decisions we didn’t make right on the field, that went against us. And that batsman got a 50 towards the end. That was probably where we lacked in terms of decision making,” Rohit said.

Pant and DRS

Mushfiqur would have been dismissed lbw in the 10th over if India had opted for a review. Commenting on the ability of Rishabh Pant in judging the certainty of dismissals, he said, “When I’m standing in the slips, the angle is not right, you’re not right behind the stumps. So you’ve got to trust your bowler or your keeper – what they say. Based on that we always try and make that decision, whichever format you play, doesn’t matter. You have to trust your keeper and your bowler. Of course, Rishabh is still very young. He’s hardly played 10-12 T20I games (sic). He will need time to understand those kind of things. It’s too soon to judge whether he can make those decisions or not, because it’s too early. He will understand slowly and we need to give him time to make those decision. Plus, the bowler as well. It’s a combination of a keeper and a bowler to make those decisions when the captain is not in the right position to make that decision.”

The end result may have been different if Mushfiqur hadn’t struck four consecutive boundaries off Khaleel Ahmed, the left-arm seamer, in the penultimate over of the innings. Bangladesh needed 22 off two overs before that over, but at the end of it, needed only four. Rohit elaborated on why the inexperienced Khaleel was kept for the back-end – he bowled three of his four overs towards the business end.

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“Looking at that batting line-up, after No. 3, three guys were right handers and I wanted him to bowl to the right handers, taking the ball away from them. We saw on the pitch, when we use those cutters it was going away and it was gripping a little bit. That was the thought process and I didn’t want our spinners to bowl towards the back-end. I kept one over of Chahal – because he has bowled in that situation before – and two right handers, I would take a chance like that with Chahal, taking the ball away from them. That was the idea behind keeping Khaleel for the back-end. But it depends on how the game is going. If we had two right handers early, I might have got him early,” he said.

Mushfiqur, elated at the win, called it “a great moment in Bangladesh cricket.”

“It is a great moment in Bangladesh cricket. We have beaten them for the first time in T20Is. We had two of our key players missing in our line-up but it was outstanding the way the young players stuck together and bowled on this track against India. It set up the game. It wasn’t an easy wicket to bat against couple of quality spinners. Our guys showed their character. We had nothing to lose coming into this game, and the whole series. It has given us a great cushion, and frees us up to play fearless cricket,” he said.

It could be seen as a redemption of sorts for Mushfiqur after the gaffe in the World T20 contest in 2016. On that occasion, he got his team close but not close enough; three wickets were lost in the last three balls of the innings as Bangladesh lost to India by one run.

“As long as you are learning from your mistake, it is the most important part. After that incident, I have closed the game for Bangladesh in T20Is and ODIs on three or four occasions, so it gives me a lot of confidence and experience. I had a chat with Riyad bhai at the start of the 20th over. We were very clear. After a couple of years, me and Mahmudullah finishing off the game - it is a great feeling for us,” he said.

The win was significant from another point of view. It has boosted the morale of the team after the setback due to ICC’s ban of Shakib Al Hasan. “The last two or three weeks have been the toughest situation that I have faced in my 15-year cricketing career. I told all the journalists before I left Bangladesh that we can come back on the right track with couple of wins in India. It will bring back smiles and calmness to the team and the nation,” Mushfiqur said.

The foundation for the win was laid by the bowlers. The seamers were disciplined upfront, not providing the Indian top order any room to play their strokes and bowling back of a length consistently. The spinners – Afif Hossain and Aminul Islam Biplob in particular – were effective. Commenting on the seamers’ plan of action in the first few overs, Mushfiqur said, “If you look at the size and dimension of the ground, it is easy to predict now. The straight boundaries are small and with the dew, there’s not much swing for the bowlers. It hardly swung in the first couple of overs. We knew we needed to hit the length hard and hope for the ball to nip back. Something that happened to Rohit. It was a great start for our seamers. Al-Amin [Hossain] is coming back after three years and Shafiul [Islam] is in and out. They all chipped in. Afif and Biplob bowled well, too.”

Mushfiqur dedicated the win to his 21-month-old son. “I want to dedicate this knock to my son. I really miss him a lot. He is growing very fast. When he saw me on TV, he can recognise me. It is really special,” he said.

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