After false start, Sabbir sparks to life
For a birthday party, Sabbir Rahman's was a quiet one. He cut a vanilla cake with some of his team-mates at a restaurant near the team hotel, after which they sat for lunch. Mahmudullah, Rubel Hossain, Imrul Kayes, Anamul Haque, Jubair Hossain and Arafat Sunny were with him.
"Normally every year I speak to my parents on my birthday," Sabbir said. "I haven't talked to them yet but the big difference this year is that I am spending my birthday while in the senior team, with the cricketers. Everything feels good. I did well on my ODI debut, the team won and it is my birthday today. It is exciting. Maybe it would have been great if the match was today."
Sabbir, whose international career had nearly been buried after the World T20 debacle in March, might have counted himself lucky to be there.
Having made his T20 debut the previous month against Sri Lanka, Sabbir had been touted as the next big thing in a Bangladesh T20 side lacking in a genuine big hitter. His past and recent successes in the format had helped him build this reputation but he made only 50 runs in four innings, his failure against Hong Kong the lowest point as Bangladesh were shocked by the minnows. He was picked for one more game, against West Indies, against whom he only scored 1, and hardly featured in conversations relating to selection thereafter.
He also fell into poor form, having not done too well for Bangladesh A on their tour of the West Indies or for the full-strength side in the Asian Games. His Dhaka Premier League form hadn't been too impressive either but the Faruque Ahmed-led selection committee kept faith in Sabbir. They must be quite happy with their decision at the moment, having watched Sabbir make a promising ODI debut against Zimbabwe.
Sabbir crunched three sixes and three fours in his 25-ball 44, and provided a final flourish often missing in Bangladesh's ODI innings. He started poorly, missing a few and looking a little frustrated, and Mushfiqur Rahim helped him through this little phase. Coach Chandika Hathurusingha had earlier told him to stay not out till the end, and support the set batsmen in the middle since Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur were going great guns.
"Mushfiq bhai gave me a lot of encouragement when I wasn't timing the ball or missing a few," Sabbir said. "I thought I wasn't able to do anything, felt guilty for wasting deliveries at that stage. I was confident that if I could stick through it, I could cover it up later. There were nerves when I was waiting to go in to bat. But it went away as soon as I went inside. Seeing such a big crowd made me feel big at heart. I always like playing in front of a crowd, it inspires me.
"The coach told me to finish the innings, stay not out and support whoever is out there with me. And I like batting in these situations. I can bat freely. It is difficult but also quite simple. The bowlers are on the back foot. It is easy to find singles and hitting four or five big ones can increase the scoring rate."
For all the fun, it was only Sabbir's first ODI, and many Bangladeshi cricketers have done well at the start of their careers, in different formats. The man Sabbir has replaced, Nasir Hossain, is among two batsmen to have made a fifty on ODI debut for Bangladesh. Sabbir is aware of the cautionary tales, but also said that starting well was important to create a good first impression.
"Some have a good debut, some don't," he said. "I will try to play as well as I did on my debut or do better. I am taking it positively. Some did well in their debut and are now out of the picture while some survived.
"Starting well is also important. It gives you confidence and makes playing for the national team normal. I am thankful to Allah for getting what I wanted. I was thinking of giving up any hope of playing for Bangladesh if I couldn't make it this season."
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84