Of all the boxes ticked by Mahmudullah and Imrul Kayes during their 128-run sixth-wicket stand against Afghanistan, perhaps the most crucial one was keeping Rashid Khan at bay. The legspinner, who has been in red-hot form through the Asia Cup, took a wicket in his first over and had only bowled 1.5 overs when Mushfiqur Rahim's run out brought Imrul and Mahmudullah together at 87 for 5. The bulk of Rashid's 10-over quota was still left, and the sixth-wicket pair thwarted him successfully, between them scoring 36 off 48 balls against him.
Most of those runs came in Rashid's last three overs. Mahmudullah crashed him for two sixes over midwicket before Imrul nailed a reverse-sweep to the boundary in his final over. There's no shame playing for safety against Rashid, especially since his birthday special had crushed Bangladesh only four days ago. Mahmudullah was one of his two victims, bowled by a googly, in nine miserly overs that only cost him 13 runs.
In the press conference that followed Bangladesh's three-run win, Mahmudullah said restricting Rashid's wicket-taking had been his and Imrul's only target.
"Rashid Khan is an outstanding bowler but he isn't unplayable," Mahmudullah said. "I think I wasn't able to apply myself against him previously, but we decided during the partnership that we won't give him wickets. We wanted to go deep and see it till the end. We achieved our target.
"There wasn't enough time to think about it. We were playing three games in the space of four days. I was just playing him with an empty mind."
In their earlier game against Afghanistan, Bangladesh lost six wickets to the spinners while scoring 78 runs against them in 31.1 overs. They did much better this time around, scoring 134 for the loss off two wickets in 31 overs.
They had a plan for Rashid, pushing Shakib Al Hasan and Imrul down the order to Nos. 5 and 6 to give him more left-handers to bowl at. Shakib lasted just two balls and was run out in a mix-up with Mushfiqur but Imrul, playing his first ODI after 11 months and batting in an unfamiliar position, finished the innings unbeaten on 72, having kept out 25 balls from Rashid.
"It was definitely a particular plan," Mahmudullah said. "Imrul is an experienced player so we wanted him to use that in our gameplan. He just flew in yesterday and played such a knock in this heat today. I feel happy for him.
"He had also never batted at No 6 before. He has been a top-order batsman, and for him to play such a knock at No 6 is quite outstanding."
Mahmudullah's previous half-century had come in July in Basseterre, where he cracked five fours and three sixes in an unbeaten 49-ball 67 that lifted Bangladesh past 300 in a series decider against West Indies.
In Bangladesh's three previous games in the Asia Cup, he had walked in with plenty of time left to craft an innings, but had only managed 1, 27 and 25. Faced with a similar situation at 87 for 5 in the 21st over, Mahmudullah's back was firmly against the wall once again.
"I probably enjoy playing under pressure," he said. "It gave me the opportunity to get into my rhythm and give back to my team as well. We have to find ways to handle pressure, which will always be there."