Captain Mehedi hails Zakir's calming influence
When Bangladesh Under-19's captain Mehedi Hasan and wicketkeeper-batsman Zakir Hasan came together in the 29th over against Nepal Under-19, it was amidst much tension in Mirpur. The home side were 98 for 4 chasing 212 with a place in the semi-final on the line. Thankfully for Bangladesh, the pair did not panic and took the game away with their 117-run unbroken stand.
The partnership was not completely smooth-sailing; only after the pair had batted together for 13 balls did Mehedi smash one through the in-field and get his first boundary. Singles were not missed at any opportunity, but the run-rate kept rising, and by the time the next four came, at the start of the 35th over, Bangladesh needed 86 off 15.5 overs. For the next 7.2 overs, Mehedi and Zakir only picked singles and twos. Finally, in the middle of the 43rd over, Zakir's swept four off Dipendra Airee gave Bangladesh a release.
From the 42nd to 45th over, the pair took six, eight, 12 and 10 runs, which reduced the target from 63 needed off 54, to 27 needed off the last 30 balls. In one instance, they ran three and then took twos off the next two balls before taking a relaxed single. This was in the same over in which Mehedi lofted Sandeep Lamichhane over extra-cover for a boundary. Some of the pair's running between the wickets looked risky but their overall maturity proved much of it was calculated.
Mehedi said that it was Zakir who came up with the calming influence by giving him a plan and then chiding him when the Nepal captain Raju Rijal missed his stumping in the 38th over.
"He [Zakir] was unbelievable today," Mehedi said. "He got back to runs after a long time with this fine innings. It was great timing for the team, as we really needed him today. There was some pressure when we started our partnership. Zakir told me that we will just play on singles, rotate the strike. We won't go for fours or sixes. His words worked quite well for us.
"When the stumping incident happened, I had lost a bit of focus at that moment. The mid-off was up so I tried to hit it over him. When I had settled down after the miss, Zakir told me it is no time to relax. 'We have to bat long,' he said. I was fine from that point."
The fifth-wicket partnership was also the coming together of two young men who made it to professional cricket through contrasting circumstances, about 480km apart. When he was growing up in Khulna and falling in love with the game, Mehedi's father opposed the idea of his son taking up cricket seriously. But Mehedi would sneak out to play matches, and often get caught. However, after winning an award for Best Batsman in an Under-14 tournament, it became easier for Mehedi to convince his father that cricket was where his passion really lied.
It was different for Zakir while growing up in Sylhet. Although there was some pressure on him to take studies more seriously, his elder brother brought news that BKSP were holding a trial nearby. Zakir was selected for the sport institute's branch in Dinajpur, about 568km from his hometown.
Mehedi and Zakir came together for the Under-19 national camp during the 2014 World Cup, and are one of five players to play a second World Cup. But despite spending the last three years together in training camps, hotels and cricket grounds, their understanding frayed at times during their fifth-wicket partnership. Nerves were evident from the beginning as the non-striker, whether it was Mehedi or Zakir, continued to get too far out of his crease even when a single was not on offer.
There were plenty of close calls as Nepal missed the stumps on at least five occasions with the batsman short of his crease. Mehedi offered an explanation, suggesting that his team was not accustomed to the dimensions of the Shere Bangla National Stadium
"The ground is slightly different, sometimes we didn't understand where the ball was. Say, when we defended the ball we couldn't at times tell if it went into the gap or not. The ground is quite large too. But we have good understanding, and there can be one or two mistakes. I don't think it is a major problem," he said.
Mehedi and Zakir were possibly confused by the pronounced slope in Mirpur, which sometimes makes the ball hard to spot when it goes 15-20 yards from the pitch on either side. No matter, they have to get used to this ground quickly for the semi-final against either Pakistan or West Indies, on February 11.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84