Taskin Ahmed lifts Bangladesh amid gloom
He brings heat, passion and energy to the middle. And Bangladesh need it now
Taskin Ahmed brings a whole lot of energy to the Bangladesh team. When he gets a wicket, he spreads the joy. His Shoaib Akhtar-like take-off and infectious smile lets his team-mates join in. And he celebrates every wicket, in every situation.
He took 2 for 31 on Friday against Pakistan, making him one of the bright spots in Bangladesh's four-wicket loss in the first T20I. Taskin removed Babar Azam in the fourth over, and when he had Fakhar Azam caught behind in the 15th, he broke a 56-run fifth-wicket stand between Fakhar and Khushdil Shah that set the stone of Pakistan's revival.
Both wickets felt like big events. His team-mates' reaction, the crowd's reaction and the opposition's reaction told you so. Taskin's energy resonates across the ground. Part of their admiration for him stems from how he has proved everyone wrong to bounce back from multiple setbacks when it appeared as if his career was over.
All said, there wasn't the usual air of expectation around the Bangladesh team on Friday even though the crowd sensed the need to give them a lift. And they cheered for every run saved - every stop - even though things remained difficult on the field.
But the defeat compounded Bangladesh's misery after the T20 World Cup debacle. On the field, the changed top order hardly made much of a difference to their approach or their score. The middle order quickly caved in too, leaving the lower order to get them past the three-figure mark for the first time in three matches.
Bangladesh also were left to rue a poor end-overs performance that blew away their strong start - they reduced Pakistan to 24 for 4 in defence. A late big-hitting onslaught from Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz ended the home side's hopes of a late revival. Mustafizur Rahman's 15-run over off the 18th gave Pakistan the spring to push over the line.
Having to chew on another tough loss, Mahmudullah once again was drawing on crumbs of comfort. "I wasn't frustrated [about the late onslaught]," he said. "I think we bowled well. We took wickets up front. These things can happen in the death overs when batsmen are chancing their arms.
"Our bowlers tried hard, especially Mustafizur. They [Pakistan batters] played some good shots there in the end. I think Mahedi [Hasan] has been performing well for the team, both with the bat and ball. Taskin has been outstanding. Afif [Hossan] and Sohan [Nurul Hasan] batted well. I still think we could have done better with the bat."
Mahmudullah will feel under pressure if Bangladesh can't pull one back in the second of the back-to-back T20Is on Saturday. There have been several points of criticism, including his bowling changes and his inability to finish the game against West Indies in the T20 World Cup. The latest in what is growing to be a long list of issues is his silence over selections, like Mushfiqur Rahim's axing from this series.
Another aspect he may have to potentially look at is letting his trail of thoughts filter through to the bowlers. Someone like Mustafizur, as experienced as he is, largely keeps to himself. He does his bowling, quietly fields and isn't the type who will proactively walk up to his captain with suggestions and advice.
This is where someone like Taskin can spruce things up. He gives Mahmudullah some breathing space. Every captain wants a genuine fast bowler in his attack and in Taskin, Mahmudullah has someone who can bowl 140kph on a regular basis. He loves being in the thick of things. He brings heat, passion and energy to the middle. And Bangladesh need it.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84