Mature Mahmudullah manoeuvers momentum in crunch time
With seven balls remaining in the Bangladesh innings, the hosts sat precariously on 115 for 7. Mohammad Naveed just claimed Mashrafe Mortaza for a duck four balls earlier and had figures of 2 for 11. With one ball to go in a superb spell, a final dot ball to Mahmudullah would have been the icing on the cake.
Instead, Mahmudullah pushed a single down the ground, enabling him to retain the strike throughout what became a crucial 17-run final over, squeezing in every run possible to finish unbeaten with 36 off 27 balls. In the larger scheme of things, it may look superfluous but had he not taken on Rohan Mustafa with a four, a string of twos and a six, only UAE would have walked off at the half way stage with a sense of purpose.
His final flourish told the Bangladesh dressing room that they could still push the opposition from a tough position. Bangladesh's turnaround, thanks to Mahmudullah, was complete when Mashrafe Mortaza and Mustafizur Rahman sunk the UAE to 34 for 5 in the eighth over. Mahmudullah took the sixth and eighth wicket, which effectively ended the contest for good.
Bangladesh, always in a state of flux in T20s, needed Mahmudullah's all-round performance to give them belief that they can befriend this format despite their poor record and constant struggle to come to terms with it. Mahmudullah has adjusted his batting style in the BPL and against Zimbabwe earlier in January, and now against the UAE, he made sure that he knew exactly when to press the accelerator.
Mashrafe Mortaza said that Mahmudullah played well under pressure and has a proper understanding of his role, wherever he goes to bat for Bangladesh.
"[Mahmudullah] is a very important player and always he knows his role very well," Mashrafe said. "Sometimes when the team is under pressure, he goes to bat for us. When you can't play your best, then everybody talks about it. So his job is very difficult. Today was a similar situation and it feels good that he took the pressure and played the best possible innings for the team, and at the same time the bowling is going well for him.
"Hopefully he can continue in this way. Towards the end of our innings, we were targeting... we knew that there was one offspinner [with an over left] and we targeted to score 10-15 runs which would help us reach a score with which we could fight. Riyad was at the wicket and that's why it was possible."
Mashrafe said that they have discussed how not to slip into a collapse after a good start, as it happened against UAE on Friday. Bangladesh were comfortably placed at 72 for 1 when Sabbir Rahman holed out in the deep in the tenth over, and thereafter, the run-rate was stifled as wickets kept falling. Bangladesh only scored 59 runs in the last ten overs, losing six wickets in the process.
"We have collapsed in similar situations in the past," Mashrafe said. "We lost wickets after a good partnership and that creates pressure, no doubt. It is difficult for the new batsmen to come in. So we are trying, we have discussed about how we can stay at the wicket."
Given how Bangladesh have been reactive in their batting lineup in T20s, it wouldn't be a surprise if Mahmudullah bats higher up the order against Sri Lanka on Sunday. More importantly, he is now better prepared to arrest a slide to help Bangladesh reclaim the initiative in a crucial stage.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84