Bangladesh are playing their fifth World Cup and, unlike Scotland for whom Kyle Coetzer hit a hundred today, they are still waiting for one of their batsmen to score a century. Today, Tamim Iqbal came within a shot of ending that wait but in scoring 95 without ever getting impatient, he laid a template for the rest as Bangladesh successfully completed their highest ODI chase, which was also the second-highest in World Cups.
It's not everyday that you sense a calm Bangladesh batting performance. Imagine a similar target on a jam-packed Shere Bangla Stadium and it won't be too much of a stretch to expect Tamim to give the bowler a charge in the first over. A gifted batsman, Tamim only averages 30.03 after 137 innings, 130 of them facing the first ball, and there's probably a hint there.
Today, after ducking out of the way off the first ball, pushing the second to mid-off and defending the third one, Tamim punched, not smashed, a fuller delivery straight down the ground for a couple. The next two balls were left alone as Bangladesh picked up just three from the first over. A wicket in the next over meant Bangladesh were effectively 5 for 2, with Anamul Haque injured, sending a cloud of quiet over the two small groups of easily excitable Bangladesh fans in the grass banks.
Bangladesh players accept feeding off the energy from the stands back home. In Nelson, the few fans who had flown from Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington were restricted to two corners. In Dhaka, you know Tamim or Shakib Al Hasan is batting from the echoes you hear from the stands. Here, it was limited to "Bangladesh, Bangladesh" subdued from time to time by a 12-year-old playing bagpipes on the ground PA system.
In Bangladesh, you have grounds bulging with masses. Here, the numbers were just small enough for the players to break the game down into a simple mathematical equation that did not require someone to play the part of Superman. A target of 319 is daunting at most times, but not so much considering a flat pitch, short boundaries, and an attack without any real threat.
And so, Tamim and Mahmudullah focused over after over, feasting on easy deliveries that were available in plenty. The two batsmen did not have to go out of their way looking for runs - the Scotland bowlers offered enough short stuff at friendly pace and adequate width to go along - and Bangladesh coasted to 78 for 1 in 12 overs, both Tamim and Mahmudullah matching each other shot for shot.
Shakib and Mushfiqur Rahim have been the rocks in the middle order, although one could say both bat a position too low to make a telling impact on the game, but it was the top-order partnership, the kind Tamim and Mamudullah stitched together, that has been missing from Bangladesh's chases. The two added 139 at the rate of 6.41 without playing a shot that spelt panic.
"Actually, we had a team meeting before we came out to bat," Tamim said. "The coach said that we should bat like we're batting first and not to think about the total. We chased down a similar kind of score two or three years [five] back against Zimbabwe and we batted in a similar way. The wicket was fantastic and the outfield was really quick. So we didn't have to do too much because if we were timing the ball, then the ball was flying. So that made it easy for us. So we just batted ball by ball."
The batsmen to follow waited patiently in sunlit dressing rooms unlike the dim, dark corners most player areas turn to, amplifying fear that no doubt exists in any player, during the day-nighters in big grounds in chases like these.
When Mushfiqur walked out at No. 4, a position he probably should be batting in anyway, he would have seen the outlines of hills in the western horizon, the sea beneath, maybe a propeller plane landing, and a scoreboard saying 175 needed in 26.3 overs. He would have surely felt distant from the pressures that forced him out of the ODI captaincy. A full toss first ball certainly helped. A calm partner in control of the situation, definitely so.
Majid Haq had been troubling batsmen with his slow pace. Today he clocked 66.8 kph at his slowest. In his first five overs, he did not concede a single boundary. In his sixth, Tamim then used the extra time, and whatever pace was available, to play a late cut that barely reached the boundary. It was no mad slog, just another example of careful shot selection.
Tamim was finally dismissed in the 32nd over, not caught at the boundary, but playing a straight drive only to miss the line. Where Tamim left, Shakib continued, opting to quietly dab a couple of consecutive yorkers later in the innings before smashing the half-volley that followed over long-on. As they hunted down the chase clinically, it hardly seemed they had been stretched.
The chase bypassed 313 that Bangladesh had successfully overhauled against Zimbabwe in 2009, at the serene Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo. Would Bangladesh have been able to do it at Shere Bangla? "At Shere Bangla, Scotland won't have got 300, for sure," Tamim responded.