Fading light, unfading resolve
A reduced dependence on the big stars and the confidence derived from past successes are driving Bangladesh's progress
Bangladesh's successful 308-run chase in Fatullah brought to mind some previous instances where they faltered, but there remained a sense of inevitability about it all. Even when the light was fading at 4:20pm and the floodlights began to flicker, the batsmen didn't seem in awe of the atmosphere or hurried by the match situation. It was almost as if they knew they wouldn't fail.
The 300-plus chase, the stringing together of partnerships, playing in fading light and an almost predictable conclusion are, however, not very new to the Bangladesh team. Three matches from the recent past have presented each of these situations to them, and the team have had mixed results. The obvious one is the successful 313-run chase against Zimbabwe in 2009, where Tamim Iqbal recorded the country's highest ODI score. The partnerships were a reminder of Bangladesh's win over India in the 2012 Asia Cup, where Tamim and Jahurul Islam provided a 113-run second-wicket stand after which Shakib Al Hasan and Nasir Hossain turned the game with an eight-over burst that yielded 64. The sense of inevitability almost certainly came from the point at which Bangladesh realised they were going to crush New Zealand 4-0 in 2010. In the final match of that series, they were defending only 174 and, despite a dangerous partnership developing between Daniel Vettori and Grant Elliott, the players didn't seem too fazed. At that point, Shafiul Islam swooped in from deep midwicket to take a diving catch to dismiss Vettori, who stood between Bangladesh and history. The fading light situation in Fatullah brought to mind the valiant Mushfiqur hundred in Harare in 2011. Bangladesh were desperately trying to avoid going down 3-0 in the five-match ODI series, having already lost the one-off Test match by 130 runs.
Mushfiqur brought out different versions of his slog sweep, and kept on connecting in near darkness. For those who watched that innings in the freezing cold, there is still a sense of wonder how he batted under so much pressure in those conditions. The press box and the restaurant at the ground had full lighting, and the camera flashes were noticeable when Chris Mpofu ran in to bowl at Mushfiqur, who was shielding the tail at that point too. He was finally caught trying to hit the winning runs, and he cried his way all the way into the dressing-room.
There were no tears today under the Fatullah floodlights as the insects swarmed in the evening while the Bangladesh players celebrated minus a trophy (it will be presented on Wednesday after the Twenty20 match).
Best of all, however, there were six important partnerships which is a major sign of the improvement in batting while chasing a total, and dependency on all the specialist batsmen rather than just one or two.
Shamsur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman started off the Bangladesh innings like they do in the Dhaka Premier League for Mohammedan Sporting Club and Prime Bank respectively. Ziaur didn't look great when his slogs didn't connect, but when they did, Bangladesh were ensured an initial thrust at the expense of the young New Zealand bowlers.
Mominul Haque once again began brightly before being dismissed after a quick 32, but he too added a vital 65 for the second wicket with Shamsur. Naeem Islam then joined Shamsur and the pair, both second choice as far as selection ahead of the ODI series was concerned, changed the course of the game further. Nasir Hossain was unbeaten in a Bangladesh chase for the fourth time in his short career, as he tackled the final bend with a calm head. He now averages a staggering 117 in successful chases, at a more than healthy strike rate of 88.30.
The Bangladesh team's leadership group is slowly tightening the batting line-up by cutting out a specialist batsman at No 8. Two things have resulted from this: the knowledge that each of the seven has to score to win, and Sohag Gazi has to become a batting option. But it is ultimately a change in mentality for a team like Bangladesh.
They have now gathered enough memory, muscle or otherwise, from the past that they know exactly how to react in all situations of a one-day game. Of course they don't play as much, but each of these past instances have been scrutinised whether it ended up as a success or not. And they are a settled line-up these days, which gives the players the cushion to be themselves rather than always be in a hurry and try something different.
Nasir's calmness towards the end was perhaps predictable, but the way Shamsur and Naeem batted in the middle-overs, and the fact that Bangladesh won both times when Shakib and Tamim were not in the team in completed matches, says a lot about the progress of the Bangladesh team in the last four weeks.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here