Mahmudullah's clean-hitting against Gazi Group Chattogram last week was among the more thrilling knocks in whatever little cricket that was possible in Bangladesh in 2020. He belted 30 runs off just nine balls, thereby jumping out of a shell he'd seemingly been in for three weeks, possibly because of a combination of sluggish Mirpur pitches and loss of his batting rhythm.
He has since revealed that deeper self-analysis, a little help from someone in Mumbai and an effort to bring back a go-to shot re-ignited him into the short blast against Chattogram that is now the fastest 25-plus knock by a Bangladeshi. Two days later, he struck a tournament-winning knock in the final against the same opposition.
Mahmudullah's three successive sixes off fast bowler Shoriful Islam in the first qualifier was a reminder of his ability to switch gears in the death overs of a T20. By taking down a bowler who had outwitted him in their previous meeting, Chattogram were pushed to a corner and lost momentum.
How did he hit them? The first was swung across the line into the legside. Then he moved back and across to flick a length ball over deep square leg, reminiscent of his flick off Isuru Udana in the Nidahas Trophy thriller from 2018. The turnaround came about because of a series of things he worked on after a chat with Shrinivas Chandrasekaran, Bangladesh's performance analyst.
"I said to him: 'If you don't mind, can I say something?' You have been missing a lot of your pick-up shots which is probably your strength.' Then he asked if I could tell him my observations."
Chandrasekaran reveals an interesting phone conversation with Mahmudullah
"Before the first qualifier, I had a chat with Shri," Mahmudullah told ESPNcricinfo. "I was wondering what was missing in my power hitting. I was watching my videos but something was missing, which I probably couldn't see for myself. Shri took a bit of time to look at my videos, after which he gave me his opinion. We discussed a few things, one of which was that perhaps my shoulder was raising too early."
Chandrasekaran, known to be in constant communication with the players, has mostly been at home in Mumbai after Bangladesh had all their international assignments being postponed after March due to covid-19. He zealously followed the Bangabandhu T20 Cup, and spent a lot of time talking to players about what he had noticed in their game from time to time.
"Guys like Tamim (Iqbal), Mushy (Mushfiqur Rahim, Soumya (Sarkar), Liton Das and Yasir Ali, and even the bowlers, were in touch," Chandrasekaran said. "They would ask where they are going, about what the opposition are doing, how they will react and what needs to be done. I felt like I was also part of this tournament even though I was sitting at home. It is something I love doing, helping as much as I can with whatever I see."
"I noticed that (Mahmudullah) Riyad wasn't able to connect the pick-up shot, which is probably his go-to shot in the death overs. It was happening regularly in the league phase of the tournament. During a normal conversation, I said to him: 'If you don't mind can I say something?' You have been missing a lot of your pick-up shots which is probably your strength as well.' Then he asked if I could tell him my observations."
Chandrasekaran analysed videos of Mahmudullah's batting from 2018 until now. He went through footages of the Nidahas Trophy, the 2019 World Cup and the last two BPLs. He drew a parallel between that Mahmudullah knock against Sri Lanka from 2018 to the one where he hit a penultimate-ball six in the Bangabandhu T20 Cup.
"The best part was that on the TV they were showing the Nidahas Trophy game where Riyad hit that match-winning six off Isuru Udana, while at the same time I was watching a live (Bangabandhu T20 Cup) game on my mobile, where Riyad wasn't able to connect the same shot," Chandrasekaran said. "That gave the indication that there is something I can look into, and help him.
"I started watching all his videos, comparing all the surfaces where he has played, how he played and what was his setup. There was a common trend to it, so I just sent him all those things saying this was something which you did and this is something which you are not doing now. After hearing this, he told me, 'Tomorrow at the nets I will try to implement it.'"
Did he manage to? Yes, albeit with a few adjustments.
"I spent the next morning in the nets with (team assistant) Nasir, just hitting balls for one hour to get back my confidence," Mahmudullah said. "I practiced those shots, and then I brought out that shot in the first qualifier. It was the same shot that worked for me in the Nidahas Trophy. I want to personally thank Shri. We had a short conversation but it was very effective at a time when I was a bit hesitant about my power-hitting. He helped me out really well."
For most of his innings in the final, Mahmudullah had to chaperone the Khulna batting, until the final over when he blasted Soumya Sarkar for two fours and a six. The 17-run over proved the difference between the two sides, as Khulna won the final by five runs.
"I played the innings at the right time when the team needed it," he said. "I fulfilled my responsibility somewhat, but becoming champions was more important. I was pleased with my team's commitment to perform. Our side had capability from the beginning but we took a bit of time to play to our reputation.
"Thankfully we rose to the occasion. Full credit goes to the team, management and owner. Mashrafe [Mortaza] bhai's suggestions and advice helped me a lot. At the end of the day, captaincy becomes easier when your players perform."
Mahmudullah is now enjoying time at home before entering the bio-bubble for Bangladesh's first international series during the pandemic, against West Indies at home, next month. The make-up of the batting line-up will change now with Shakib Al Hasan's return. It's yet unclear what Mahmudullah's role will be, but he's ready for whatever he's asked to do.
"I will try to play the particular role given to me by the team management, whether it is batting in the top order, middle order, or as the lower-middle order finisher. I want to do it with 100 per cent honesty. We are returning to international cricket, and we all know the difference with domestic cricket. We have been practicing regularly for a long time, including these two domestic tournaments but I think we have to be mentally prepared to catch the rhythm of international cricket as quickly as possible, so that we are in tune from the first game and win the series."
Having elevated himself into match-winning roles in the domestic tournaments this season and by leading teams to both the BCB President's Cup and Bangabandhu T20 Cup trophies, Mahmudullah, you'd think, completely understands where his game is at. Most importantly, his willingness to take suggestion on board has contributed to this change in mindset and helping him rediscover a critical aspect of his batting.