Mahmudullah, sublimely poised while chaos roiled around him, hoisted an Isuru Udana ball over the square leg boundary when six runs were required off the last two balls, propelling Bangladesh to victory in scintillating fashion. It is difficult to overstate the importance of his innings, though the numbers - 43 off 18 balls - bear witness to its quality. Incensed by several mistakes from his team-mates, maintaining his focus even through an ugly final over in which a Bangladesh sub was given a shove by a Sri Lanka player and Shakib Al Hasan seemed intent on bringing his batsmen off the field, Mahmudullah completed the chase of 160 with No. 10 batsman Rubel Hossain at the other end.
A year's worth of nerves and acrimony was packed into the final over. Tension between these teams had been high throughout the tournament, owing partly to the "nagin" [cobra] dance that they had mockingly traded with each other, a childish saga that had begun during Sri Lanka's tour of Bangladesh. But it was upon the umpires' failure to call the second delivery of that over a no-ball for height (it was the second bouncer of the over, the first having been a dot ball to Mustafizur Rahman), that the drama really sparked off. Mahmudullah was in the umpires' faces, imploring them to award a no-ball that would make the requirement 11 off five balls with a free-hit to boot, instead of 12 off 4. Mustafizur, meanwhile, was run out attempting a bye at the other end.
While Mahmudullah was arguing with the umpires, a fracas had boiled over elsewhere. A Bangladesh substitute who had come on to the field with drinks had become embroiled in an argument with the Sri Lanka players. It was when one of the Sri Lanka fielders gave the sub a push - not an almighty shove, but not a gentle prod either - that the Bangladesh dressing room became truly incensed. In a flash, Shakib came down the stairs and to the boundary, where after after speaking animatedly with the fourth umpire, he summoned Mahmudullah and Rubel off the field.
In the end, after things had seemed to settle slightly, Mahmudullah carved a four over cover the first ball after resumption, then hit two to deep midwicket and gloriously lifted that leg-side six, with Udana having overpitched. His euphoric team-mates charged the field to embrace him, dusted off a group version of the nagin dance, and were celebrating when another unseemly altercation ensued. This time Kusal Mendis was yelling at the Bangladesh players and gesturing animatedly, while Tamim Iqbal put an arm around his shoulder and attempted to calm him down. In a month in which player behaviour has been under the microscope, all this made for especially disagreeable viewing.
It was a pity that the theatrics marred what was otherwise an incredibly riveting game: a T20 that had had a top-order collapse, a stirring recovery, wonderful bowling, baffling dismissals, and a myriad dramatic moments even before that denouement. This was a match in which Bangladesh had justifiably installed two slips to Thisara Perera in the ninth over of Sri Lanka's innings, after the hosts had found themselves 41 for 5, the collapse engineered by Mustafizur, Shakib and Mehedi, with a run-out thrown into the mix. Kusal Perera was the only top order batsman to survive this mayhem, and together with Thisara, forged a courageous 97-run stand that yanked a side on the brink of being annihilated, to a respectable score.
Beautifully did the Pereras dovetail, Thisara laying low and digging in early in their association, while Kusal struck vital, boundaries to keep run rate above water. His scorching cut off Mahmudullah in the 10th over produced the first boundary in 25 deliveries. After two more fours off Rubel Hossain, Kusal took a mighty gamble - he attacked Mustafizur who had taken two wickets and conceded only four runs in his first two overs. That over - the 13th of the innings - would yield 18 runs, and energy would re-enter the Sri Lanka batting effort. Boundaries began to be found regularly, and twos were desperately run in between - the pair forever flirting with another run out, but just escaping. Thanks largely to the Pereras, Sri Lanka managed 69 off the last six overs - their 159 for 7 just about a par score on a slower deck.
Akila Dananjaya made two breakthroughs in the Powerplay, to have the chase wobbling at 33 for 2 in the fourth over, but Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal combined for 64 runs off 52 balls, and ensured the chase stayed on track - Tamim hitting an important 50 off 42 balls. Bangladesh's senior batsmen perhaps banked on being able to score quickly towards the end of the match, because one of Sri Lanka's frontline bowlers - Nuwan Pradeep - sustained a game-ending leg injury in the field, after he had delivered only one over.
Mushfiqur was out to Aponso in the 13th over, the bowler playing an imaginary snake-charmer's flute in celebration, which was perhaps the only piece of real wit throughout the exchange between the two teams. When Tamim was out next over, and Soumya Sarkar soon after that, Bangladesh were in a little discomfort, with 51 still required off 31 balls, and only five wickets in hand.
Mahmudullah eased himself into this innings. His first boundary came via a misfield at long-on in the 16th over. His next was a six down the ground off Jeevan Mendis, to bring the equation to 31 required off 21 - very gettable, so long as this senior pair saw them home. Shakib, however, would hole out to long leg with two overs to go, off a leg side half-volley, leaving Mahmudullah visibly angry.
He would be even more irate at Mehidy Hasan at the end of the penultimate over, after Mehedi failed to dive at the end of a risky run, and was found to be short of his ground. As important as his nerveless boundary hitting was Mahmudullah's running between the wickets, and his ability to place his shots between fielders. His innings contained six twos and a three, as well as four singles. He failed to score off only one dot ball. In purely cricketing terms, this was an outstanding T20 finish. His innings only glows brighter for having come amid such rancour.