Match Analysis

Mehidy and Shanto flex leadership credentials in partnership for the ages

They took Bangladesh into the Super Fours with a 194-run stand that showcased their best individual qualities

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
With Bangladesh on the brink of elimination at the Asia Cup, there was an onus on their in-form players to step up against Afghanistan. And step up, they did. Najmul Hossain Shanto, the team's leading run-scorer in all formats this year, and Mehidy Hasan Miraz, their transformed allrounder, struck vital centuries. Their 194-run stand made the difference in Bangladesh's 89-run win in Lahore.
Mehidy retiring hurt with a cramped right hand effectively ended their partnership, but when they came together in the 11th over, Bangladesh had lost two quick wickets after making their best start against Afghanistan. Mehidy was one of those who made the good start possible after bring promoted up to open.
He is growing into one of the rare international cricketers who can bat anywhere in the order, besides regularly bowling his full quota of overs. Mehidy opened the innings against a bowling attack that Bangladesh consider one of the best in the world. The absence of Tamim Iqbal (back injury) and Litton Das (fever) had already unsettled Bangladesh's usual opening line-up; and then both openers - Tanzid Hasan, on debut, and Mohammad Naim - failed in the first game against Sri Lanka. Thus, when Mehidy and Naim walked out against Afghanistan, it almost represented a hint of desperation from the Bangladesh dressing room.
Mehidy said that he was informed about the new role on the eve of this game, but that he had also mentally prepared himself.
"I am really happy to get my second hundred," Mehidy said. "I was confident batting in the middle. The team management said that I should play normal cricket. The wicket was excellent. There was a bit of movement in the first few overs. I just tried to handle the situation. We played really well in this match.
"Credit goes to the captain and team management [for the opening role]. Last night, they told me to open the innings. I agreed with them. I can play [as opener]. The last Asia Cup, I opened in the final. I was confident. I am always ready for every bowler. Actually, it is a new journey for me."
Mehidy said that although it was a hot day in Lahore, he enjoyed batting on that pitch.
"It was too hot today, but conditions in the middle were very good. The wicket was really good. This is my first game in Lahore. I was a bit confused before getting here, but our practice was excellent. I was a bit cautious at the start, but after playing a few balls, Naim and I started well. It gave me confidence."
Mehidy has picked up a knack of successfully moulding himself into every role that the team management has given him - whether with bat or ball. Like any good opening foil, he allowed Naim to go for his shots before launching into his own boundaries.
Later on, Shanto was positive from the start which was possible only because Mehidy was batting positively at the other end. Mehidy isn't your run-of-the-mill slogger from the lower order. He has shots around the wicket - from a proper cover drive to cheeky ramps to big hits down the ground. He rotates the strike, whether he is opening like he did on Sunday, or when he bats at No. 7 or 8.
Shanto, meanwhile, continued to bat serenely. It is hard to imagine that the same batter was in the doldrums for the two years before the T20 World Cup in 2022. That tournament was his turning point as he put together the best BPL season by a Bangladeshi batter soon afterwards. It was followed by plenty of runs - in all formats - against England, Ireland and Afghanistan this year. His ODI average before the T20 World Cup last year was 14.53. Since then, he has averaged three times of that - at 42.86 in 15 innings.
Shanto and Mehidy contributing heavily in a critical game is an invaluable addition for a dressing room which gets into a flux sometimes. The Bangladesh team, from time to time, finds itself surrounded by controversies and unnecessary discussions. Talk about the senior players ending their careers soon has been a hot topic off late; the Tamim saga and the Mahmudullah question have overshadowed a lot of other things that had been happening in full view.
In that sense, the improvement of players like Shanto, Mehidy and Taskin Ahmed in all formats - and how others like Towhid Hridoy and Shamim Hossain have taken to ODI cricket - is heartening.
Against Afghanistan, there was a point in the 34th over during Bangladesh's innings when Shanto was struggling to get Rashid Khan away. "It is no biggie," Mehidy kept telling Shanto, who the TV commentator predicted could play a big shot out of frustration. But Shanto didn't. He held his own, taking just a single after playing four dot balls.
The surprising thing was that Shanto and Mehidy were batting together only for the second time in ODIs. The previous occasion was against Sri Lanka last week, when Mehidy ended up getting run-out after a big mix-up. In their Under-19 days, they were joined at the hips: at the time they played their last game together in 2016, Shanto and Mehidy were the fourth-most prolific partnership in Youth ODIs.
As Bangladesh expect the next generation of cricketers to become match-winners at the highest level, they also need a group of leaders to guide the future. Shanto and Mehidy have been earmarked for this role for a long time, but they needed big performances in big moments for Bangladesh. These last 12 months have seen them take that next step. This big partnership and their centuries while batting in the top four against Afghanistan could go a long way into establishing their leadership credentials for a not-too-distant future.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84