Mushfiqur coming to terms with pressures of captaincy
Like many Bangladesh captains before him, Mushfiqur Rahim has often stressed how important a start, of an innings, match, series, or tour, is for his team. As far as the tour of Sri Lanka is concerned, they had started well by drawing the Galle Test. A good finish, which can only happen by levelling the ODI series, will further reinforce their improvement as a team.
The sole Twenty20 on March 31 is the last game of the tour but it's the third ODI that will attract attention, and it has certainly been treated that way by their captain, the most important man in the side.
Mushfiqur has gradually become the team's central character, in the absence of Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, and Mashrafe Mortaza. He has had to absorb the influential roles of these three key individuals in the line-up, in addition to his job of captaining the side while wicketkeeping. It is not an easy task, and Mushfiqur appears to have worked with determination to accomplish it.
Mushfiqur's meticulous preparation is now well known, pulling him out of a career-threatening axe two years ago. It has landed him in a position where he doesn't just have his batting or wicketkeeping to hone or think of; he has 16 other minds to read and influence.
Mushfiqur certainly has kept the team from falling apart as it deals with a number of high-profile injuries. His double-hundred in Galle was an innings that has had considerable influence; the team believes it is not a second-rate side without Shakib and Tamim. Head coach Shane Jurgensen has talked about how much the team has pulled itself closer, and how more decisions taken are team-centric.
"Every decision we make is team-based," he said. "We train specifically, and I try to recognise when we win what we did before and after the game.
"The team does come closer [without the stars]. The young guys have been quite welcomed by the senior players. Tamim has been fantastic when he has been around. It is a bit of change for me because we are trying to work closer to each other."
In the ODI series win against West Indies in December last year, the key factors were the acceptance of responsibility of Mushfiqur and his deputy Mahmudullah, the surprising contribution of the younger players, and the manner in which some of the bit-part performers stood up.
Mushfiqur has had help from some of those on this tour but the likes of Mahmudullah and Anamul Haque haven't delivered by way of performance. The pace bowlers have been inaccurate at most times, leaving a lot to do for the spinners. The opportunities have been fewer but these have come against a quality opposition that has dominated.
Doing well against Sri Lanka in their backyard was a pipedream for Bangladesh teams that have visited the country since 1986. For instance, in 2007, the Bangladesh team had failed miserably in Sri Lanka after their best World Cup campaign and a home series against India in which they had their moments. Mushfiqur's side, however, has held its head high even after four weeks in Sri Lanka, a first.
With Bangladesh now on the verge of either going home empty-handed or leaving with dignity, Mushfiqur and several issues have been pulled into the limelight. He probably never liked being the centre of attention and throughout this tour, he has tried to keep himself a little secluded. A modern-day captain has several issues to deal with and many of those are off the field, but Mushfiqur has taken his time to come to terms with the demands placed on him.
As he will walk out to do the toss with Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews on Thursday, Mushfiqur should take a closer look and gauge the sort of pressure his friend from his Under-19 days is in currently. It will provide him with the perspective of the level of pressure that a captain can go through, and whether or not he must de-stress.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here