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Match Analysis

Taskin Ahmed finds his match-winning magic

A renewed focus on discipline and fitness has helped the Bangladesh fast bowler become the best version of himself

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Taskin Ahmed celebrates his five-wicket haul  •  Getty Images

Taskin Ahmed celebrates his five-wicket haul  •  Getty Images

Returning to the Bangladesh team in 2021 after a three-year break was regarded as an accomplishment for Taskin Ahmed. Bangladeshi fast bowlers don't usually come back after being written off let alone put in a Player-of-the-Series performance to seal victory in a country where they had never won anything in bilateral cricket.
South Africa had no answer to Taskin's two-card trick, where he would attack the stumps relentlessly and then throw one outside off to get the edge. The 26-year old finished with eight wickets in three games. This included a five-for in the series decider as he followed in the footsteps of Zaheer Khan and Kyle Mills to become only the third visiting fast bowler to be named Player of an ODI series on South African soil.
And this isn't a one-off thing either. Taskin took key wickets in Mount Maunganui in January although Ebadot Hossain's six-wicket haul was the defining performance there. Taskin also bowled well at home against Afghanistan, where, for once, the curators put out green pitches to deter Rashid Khan and company. Taskin, Mustafizur Rahman and Shoriful Islam bowled so well that captain Tamim Iqbal didn't change the line-up even once in their last six ODIs.
After his 3 for 36 in the first ODI, Taskin was off-colour in Johannesburg where he got hit for four sixes. But this is a very different Taskin. He doesn't let emotions get the better of him anymore. On Wednesday, Tamim gave him two overs in the first Powerplay, then switched him to the Hennops River End in the 13th over and well, the rest is history.
Taskin had Kyle Verreynne inside edging on to his stumps, before Janneman Malan was done on the outside edge. Malan used hard hands, but that was because Taskin forced him into a poor shot with a quick, short ball just outside off stump.
Later in the innings, he removed Pretorius, David Miller and Kagiso Rabada, all caught behind in the space of his ten balls. Miller was caught down the leg side. Unlucky, you might say, but take a closer look at the balls leading up to that wicket.It was the perfect set up. Taskin bowled nice and tight around the off stump, and then cornered Miller with a surprise short ball.
In the first match too, Taskin took two in his first spell to derail South Africa's chase of 315. He returned to remove Rassie van der Dussen when things were about to get tight.
Four years ago in South Africa, Taskin took two wickets in 61 overs. It was the beginning of the end, some said, and when he was about to board the plane this time, he remembered that he had to do things differently.
"I am happy with the series win," Taskin said. "I want to contribute in every series win. It was a huge achievement to win the series here. Before coming to South Africa, someone told me that I was out of the team for four years after my last South Africa tour.
"I told him that I want to help win matches for the team. I am trying to stick to the process, and I am thankful to Allah for helping me."
Since returning to the side in January last year, Taskin has taken 22 wickets in 16 ODIs at 29.50. This on top of an economy rate below five per over. Numbers aside, his in-your-face style of bowling in the middle overs has added a new dimension to Bangladesh's attack.
"When I come into bowling at any time in the innings, I ask the captain, 'Bhai what does the situation demand?' I try to bowl according to that situation. I try to bowl fast and aggressive, to take wickets. I stick to the process. I won't get wickets if I bowl ulta palta (here and there). I have to stick to a good line and length, and bowl to my strength which is to bowl fast. So far it has been, by Allah's Grace," he said.
This is the same Taskin whose pace dropped into the 120s kph in Sri Lanka three years ago. The selectors forgot about him despite good performances in subsequent BPL campaigns. So he decided to make them all sit up and take notice. First came the focus on fitness. Then discipline. And now the results.
"Taskin's hard work is paying off," Tamim said. "We can see his hard work because he puts a lot of videos on Instagram (smiles). I think everyone works hard. Sometimes they don't get the results, but Taskin's change of mindset has paid off. I hope he continues to do this. He pulls me into the gym when I don't want to do it. We need this type of characters in the team."
Taskin is one of only five Bangladesh cricketers with an all-format central contract. Those close to him have noticed the big change in his attitude. He doesn't even react to dropped catches now. He has worked hard to win everyone's trust. But this comeback story needed a high point, and it got the perfect one on a sunny day in Centurion.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84