For Bangladesh, there's always Mushfiqur
Apparently, the Bangladesh dressing room wasn't overly nervous when their kingpin, Shakib Al Hasan, was adjudged out with victory still some way off. When Shakib was dismissed against England in the World Cup game last year, all hope was lost until Mahmudullah and Shafiul Islam brought the team back from dead. Customarily, the dismissal of Shakib at such a crucial point would have meant most of the crowd slowly turning their backs to the green of the Shere Bangla National Stadium and heading out of Mirpur. But Mushfiqur Rahim walked to the crease, and this is one of the reasons why the loss of Shakib has gradually stopped being quite such a deterrent these days.
The Bangladesh captain, especially after his penultimate-ball six to close out a tight Twenty20 against West Indies last October, is now the third force of the team, its other matchwinner after Shakib and Tamim Iqbal.
Forty-nine balls in hand and 66 to win. That was the equation when Mushfiqur came out. The upside was that the team had six wickets in hand, but as they had shown in the previous game against Pakistan, things could go belly-up with just one moment of lazy footwork or one poorly chosen sweep shot.
Mushfiqur had his little chat with Nasir Hossain, a street-smart guy who kept tilting his head to one side as a sign of agreement to whatever the captain was saying, meaning he knew the game was within their grasp and was charting out plans with his partner accordingly. Someone had to show that he believed as much as the millions across the country. But the start he got off to had Mushfiqur worried.
"Oh no, there were a lot of problems," Mushfiqur said later when told how confident he looked. "After a few dot balls at the start, it seemed like a difficult task. We [then] needed 9.5 and at some stages we needed around 11 an over. Nasir and I wanted to take it to the last over."
The pair added just 20 in the next 19 deliveries and were left with 46 to get in the final five overs. But, crucially, Mushfiqur, even from a distance and obscured by his helmet, looked in control of the situation.
"We wanted to capitalise on the loose ball," Mushfiqur said. "I thought that in the last five overs we needed one big over, something like 15 to 20 runs. It would be enough at that stage.
"We planned that way since you can't take 10 to 15 runs from every over. That [Irfan Pathan] over released the pressure."
It was the 48th over when Nasir took a single off the first ball and let his partner have a go at the medium-pacer. Mushfiqur showed finesse with a well-timed flick over square leg for six, before brutally clubbing the next one over midwicket for the same result; the match, at the end of the over, was now well within Bangladesh's grasp.
On the eve of the game, Mushfiqur had pointed out that India's bowling was their only weakness. "What I meant was that compared to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, they are a bit weak," he clarified. "But I would give credit to our batsmen for handling them so well, which was the most important thing."
Now he had those bowlers at his mercy. Praveen Kumar was first sliced past point for a boundary and carted over long-on for another six. Nasir then went for glory and got himself out, but Mushfiqur held on till the end - he knew he had to.
With his deputy, Mahmudullah, closing out the match in the next over, Mushfiqur, the man who is often the first player to come onto the field at the Shere Bangla National Stadium (often at least an hour before Bangladesh's training sessions), was the last to leave, mobbed by his team-mates.
"We have a game in hand and we'll play like we have done so far in this tournament. If we can start well and hold on to the momentum … we will definitely play to win," he said when asked if he had plans to play in the final of the Asia Cup.
If Mushfiqur is there till the end once more, Bangladesh could honestly believe it possible.
Edited by Nikita Bastian
Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter at the Daily Star in Dhaka