When Mashrafe Mortaza unleashed his big surprise, giving Liton Das his fourth opening partner of the Asia Cup in Mehidy Hasan, the most intriguing nugget doing the rounds on the internet and otherwise, was – Mehidy has never opened the batting in international or first-class cricket across formats before.
Mortaza’s top-order concerns were legitimate. In the five matches leading up to the final, Bangladesh’s best opening stand was 16 runs, and begged for a change. The move also came as a cushion for the top-order that was cut short by a batsman to accommodate left-arm spinner Nazmul Islam.
But throwing Mehidy into the mix wasn’t as big a punt as the initial piece of fact suggested. Mehidy’s role with the bat in 17 prior ODIs has been in the lower-order, but the 20-year-old wasn’t a tailender by any stretch of imagination. Just two years ago, he was Bangladesh’s second-highest scorer in the Under-19 World Cup at home with four fifites from a middle-order role, only behind Nazmul Hasan Shanto, who he kept on the bench on Friday.
Very soon into Bangladesh’s innings, it was clear that Mehidy’s role was to hold his end up while Liton tested waters with some stroke-making. He was in luck as Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah oddly opted to keep bowling length balls on a barren wicket, inviting Liton to add some exquisite pull shots and inside-out cover drives to his highlights reel, and force Rohit Sharma to ring in early changes. Yuzvendra Chahal was reached out to inside the powerplay, but that project lasted all of two overs following Liton’s demonstration of clean slog sweeps.
Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja were turned too very shortly in a bid to thwart Bangladesh’s grip on the game, but came away unsuccessful. Liton raced away to a 33-ball 50, and had his skipper make a passionate, animated plea for him to make his start count.
Bangladesh’s uncharacteristic calmness led India to perhaps, their most nervous drinks break of the tournament after the 18th over as an opener with a batting average of 14.06 until Friday’s outing was making them sweat.
But the true revelation for Bangladesh wasn’t Liton’s first-ever ODI score in excess of 41. That came from the other end in the form of Mehidy. He didn’t match up to Liton, shot for shot, but was the sort of assured presence that allowed the other opener to find some run-scoring rhythm.
Mehidy went beyond his official brief of being able to stick around for about 10 overs. He doubled that number, scoring 32 valuable runs along the way in a 125-ball partnership worth 120, and helped put Bangladesh on course for anything between 250 and 300.
“Actually, we thought that we weren’t clicking in the top-order in the whole tournament. We wanted to keep Soumya [Sarkar] and send Mehidy to open, so that at least we have seven solid batters later on. We wanted Mehidy to hang in there for 10 overs. Then the middle-order will come into play. But I think they did more than what we wanted,” Mortaza said.
For only as long as Mehidy was around, Bangladesh kept a safe distance from self-inflicted pain. But then came the post-Mehidy syndrome, that saw Bangladesh go from the authoritative highs of 120 for no wicket to the absolute pits of 222 all out, allowing India to sneak back in.
Once he walked off and the original top-order was put to the task of carrying on the good work, Bangladesh switched back to a default mode riddled with tentative batting and the sort of nervous running that’d earn you lengthy punishments and a bench role in the next game in school cricket.
On Friday, it earned India three wickets – two of which had both batters comically closer to the same end of the pitch.
“To be honest, we wanted a partnership when [Mahmudullah] Riyad and Mushfiqur Rahim were batting. We were 120 in the 21st over. If we had played low-risk cricket for the next 14-15 overs, we could have added 60-70 runs for the loss of one wicket. Mushfiqur couldn’t execute well. The run-outs also hurt. Intent doesn’t mean getting out playing big shots. You have to look after the batting after the good start. We should have scored 250-260 on this wicket,” Mortaza said.
Every Indian wicket in the second half must’ve felt like a dagger through the hearts of Mortaza’s men, who had it in their hands to score what would’ve surely been a title-clinching total.
Bringing India’s top-order to its knees was the rarest of rarities, so much so that it had been three years since India chased a 150-plus score successfully after none of the top three scored at least a fifty. The opportunity was there for redemption and to put an end to questions regarding the lack of mental fortitude against India. But a shambolic middle-order performance let that slip away.