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Under-fire Shanto and Mustafizur finally come good

Shanto registered his career-best in T20Is, while Mustafizur was at his miserly and effective best, checking two key boxes for Bangladesh

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Najmul Hossain Shanto and Mustafizur Rahman came into this game against Zimbabwe as out-of-form players whose places in the team were being questioned. But it was these two that made the difference today, Shanto with a career-best 71 and Mustafizur with his miserly and effective best resurfacing to give him returns of 2 for 15 from his four overs.
Before today, Mustafizur was enduring a highly forgettable year in T20Is, averaging 48, conceding over eight runs an over, and striking only roughly once every 35 balls. Shanto had made 238 runs in 14 innings this year before this game, at a strike rate of 104.84 and average of 18.30.
Shanto, who struck seven fours and a straight six in his 55-ball 71 today to keep Bangladesh in the game despite the loss of two early wickets, said that it was a special knock for him. "It was a special day for me, having scored my first T20I fifty. I wasn't able to convert good starts [till now], but today I had the commitment in me to get a big innings. It is my best innings in this format."
But, he said, there wasn't a lot of pressure on him since he had the full backing of the team management; this fact has drawn the ire of many in Bangladesh cricketing circles, with several feeling he's been given a much longer rope compared to the likes of Soumya Sarkar and Litton Das.
"It will be wrong to say I was under pressure," Shanto said. "The team management, captain and senior players were in support [of me] so I wasn't in a lot of pressure.
"I wasn't worried about the strike rate. I just played the ball according to the team's situation. We might need to score faster in the powerplay in the next game, so it depends on the opponents and conditions. We will try to play according to the plan."
Shanto said that he was wary, though, about not throwing away another start. "I didn't do anything new in this innings. I wasn't able to convert my innings into big ones [before this], so it was in the back of my mind that I should make use of a good start."
Mustafizur, meanwhile, had a really good showing in T20Is last year - including his best annual haul of 28 wickets, at 17.39 - before faltering in 2022. That has meant he's had to concede the tag of the leader of Bangladesh's pace attack to Taskin Ahmed, while the likes of Hasan Mahmud, Shoriful Islam and Ebadot Hossain are also developing quickly. Taskin was at his best again today, and with Mustafizur finding form, a target of 151 was always going to test Zimbabwe.
"I thought we were 15-20 runs short but we believed the bowlers could defend our total," Shanto said. "We have to ensure that after getting a good start in the next game, we convert it to a 160-170 score. Our bowlers are doing really well, capable of defending any total."
Bangladesh will be hoping their pace attack continues to show this form and builds consistency, with no off days like against South Africa. The batting group might still be looking for the right balance, regardless of whether they play seven or eight specialist batters, but a win like today's should only serve to galvanise the traveling group ahead of the tough challenges that await: India and Pakistan over the next seven days.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84