Shere Bangla National Stadium, both literally and figuratively, lit up on Thursday evening
as crowds returned in full capacity to Bangladesh's home of cricket. As icing on the cake, the home team trounced Afghanistan by 61 runs in the first T20I, which sets up the second game, the last of the tour, quite nicely.
Bangladesh would be glad that they finally broke their eight-match T20I losing streak. It had been a painful experience for the side, having lost all five of their Super 12 games at last year's World Cup, followed by a 3-0 drubbing in the hands of Pakistan at home. Nothing seemed to be working, but wins in other formats perhaps helped them bring that energy into the T20Is.
Bangladesh's win over New Zealand in January
had given them a different perspective as a cricket team. One-day cricket has always been the perfect tonic for this team, but even so there was a feeling of dread among the fans about these games against Afghanistan, largely stemming from the last bilateral series
between the two teams in 2018.
The demons of that 3-0 defeat have all been exorcised though. Central roles from Litton Das
and Nasum Ahmed
, and minor support roles from Afif Hossain
, Shoriful Islam
and Shakib Al Hasan
got Bangladesh to a big win against a dangerous side in T20Is. Litton has turned full circle since the T20 World Cup, while Nasum is just continuing his good form from August last year. Newcomer Munim Shahriar looks the part in the format, although there's some concern about Mohammad Naim in the top-order.
Afghanistan, meanwhile, continued to give away positions of strength, just like they did during the ODI leg of the tour. They took three early wickets, but gave away loose runs during the Litton-Afif partnership and let the opposition off the hook. Perhaps they bank a little too much on their three leading spinners, and when they don't come off, the team looks short of answers. In that context, even with the series lost, the emergence of Fazalhaq Farooqi
cannot be understated. He has been a revelation, giving them an extra option at both ends of the innings.
Afghanistan's all-or-nothing batting approach also has to be tempered, at least within the top three. They could have picked and chosen their shots better, but instead they left left Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi with too much to do. Taking stock of this will probably serve them well as they look to square the series.
Bangladesh WLLLL (Last five completed matches; most recent first)
Nasum Ahmed broke Afghanistan's top-order in the first game, picking up the important wickets of openers Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz. Both are known as dangerous big-hitters, but Nasum beat them beautifully in flight. The left-arm spinner has made a steady rise in T20Is since his debut last year and is now being asked to take the new ball in almost every game.
After bowling very well in the BBL and BPL earlier this year, Mujeeb Ur Rahman
's form has suddenly dipped on this trip. He has taken only one wicket in 31 overs across four white-ball matches. Litton has said that he is confident against Mujeeb, who has usually been cast as a mystery bowler since coming onto the scene.
Bangladesh may yet find reason to tinker with a winning combination given Mushfiqur Rahim has been passed fit.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Litton Das (wk), 2 Munim Shahriar, 3 Shakib Al Hasan, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim, 5 Mahmudullah (capt), 6 Yasir Ali, 7 Afif Hossain, 8 Mahedi Hasan, 9 Shoriful Islam, 10 Nasum Ahmed, 11 Mustafizur Rahman
Afghanistan are expected to play the same XI as the last game.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), 3 Darwish Rasooli, 4 Najibullah Zadran, 5 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 6 Azmatullah Omarzai, 7 Karim Janat, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 10 Fazalhaq Farooqi, 11 Qais Ahmed
Gamini Silva, the curator, put out a grassy wicket at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, much to the frustration of the Afghanistan spinners. The weather will remain dry for the course of the game.