Two of Bangladesh’s most experienced batsmen reflect on an epic partnership that has left the team on the cusp of a semi-final berth
An hour into Bangladesh’s chase against New Zealand in their must-win clash, all Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah were intent on was staying at the crease and not getting out. Two hours into the chase, they felt that an astounding come-from-behind win was possible. Three hours in, they were within touching distance of a miraculous win.
In the end, Bangladesh won by five wickets in 47.2 overs after New Zealand had put up 265 for 8 at the Cardiff Wales Stadium on Friday (June 9), thanks to Shakib’s 114 and Mahmudullah’s 102 not out. The duo shared a 224-run fifth-wicket stand, the highest ever for any wicket for Bangladesh, and the third highest for the fifth wicket overall. It marked a stunning turnaround from 33 for 4, when they first got together.
That meant Bangladesh’s hopes of a semi-final berth in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 were still alive, while New Zealand was knocked out.
The feature of the match-winning stand was that the batsmen hardly spoke.
“We didn’t talk too much,” a joyous Mahmudullah told ICC. “Normally when we bat, we don’t speak too much. That’s the chemistry we have, we don’t need to talk much. We just need to tell each other ‘Just keep going, just keep batting.’ I know what he can do and he knows what I can do. The main thing was, we were positive from the beginning. Shakib took some time and then he took off.”
Shakib echoed those words to a tee. “Nothing at all,” he said when ICC asked him what he told Mahmudullah when the No. 6 batsman walked out to join him. “Just ‘keep batting’. That’s all we say normally. Every time we bat together, we don’t talk much. There’s just an understanding.”
Both men counter-attacked superbly, never letting the magnitude of the target or the quality of bowling deter them. “At one stage, we were really struggling, but the way Shakib batted and our partnership went… It was a great innings by Shakib and the best thing was that even though he was cramping at one point, he kept going,” said Mahmudullah. “We had a chat, that we can’t stop here. We just need to bat and bat and bat. We didn’t even think in terms of over by over. We just wanted to bat, and then see.”
Asked to sum up what he felt immediately after the win, all Shakib could utter was “Wow!”
Later, he did find the words to elaborate. “I think the way we chased that down showed a lot of character. It showed how much talent we have in our team. I thought they were 30-35 runs short on that wicket. I think we bowled really well, as a bowling unit everyone chipped in, and we fielded really well too. That gave us a lot of momentum going into our innings, though obviously the way we started wasn’t ideal. But it was up to me and Mahmudullah today to take us home and we were lucky that we could contribute. It’s a great feeling.”
Shakib has had a quiet tournament, but he exploded into life when it mattered, showing just why he has a strong claim to being Bangladesh’s greatest ever cricketer. “I like to face these types of situations. I like challenges,” he smiled. “Contributing in challenging situations is always a good feeling. These are the situations I want to face every time. When there is no challenge, to be honest, I don’t feel that motivated. This gave me a lot of motivation. And coming into this tournament, I didn’t have a great time, I hadn’t got a fifty in my last six matches, so there was pressure. It was good that I could contribute for the team, and I hope I can continue like this.”
Both men knew that no one, perhaps not even their own dressing room, seriously believed that the chase could be pulled off from 33 for 4, with New Zealand’s pacers operating superbly.
“I think even the dressing room wouldn’t have had that belief at that time, when we were 33 for 4,” acknowledged Shakib. “When we started getting that partnership, when we put on 100 runs, there was a little something we started feeling. We thought we should bat another 10 overs, another 15 overs and from then on even the dressing room started believing that ‘Yes, we can get this’.”
The belief and audacious shot-making ability of both batsmen ultimately turned what seemed a certain lost cause into one of Bangladesh’s most famous wins.
To take the next step, though, the side must rely on England to beat Australia in the final Group A match, at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Saturday. If England wins, Bangladesh will finish second in the group, but if Australia wins, it will finish third and crash out.
Thus the England team will not only have its natural home crowd support, but an entire nation will be willing it on to beat its oldest rival. Mahmudullah had just one word to describe how many Bangladesh fans would be cheering England on, but it was eloquent enough.
Bangladesh has already got one of its best ever victories, thanks to Shakib and Mahmudullah. Now, there is the opportunity to make the victory a springboard to a first-ever ICC semi-final.