Wow! What a match that was. It was all but over for Bangladesh at 33 for four. They struck back and how! It’s like the referee in the boxing ring giving the man on the mat a long count. When everybody is certain that the case of the fallen fighter is over, he springs on his feet and delivers the knock-out punch to the rival. This is stuff of sports movies. What Bangladesh achieved on Friday was nothing less. Their five-wicket win over New Zealand was not simply a victory, it was an ode to their fighting spirit and character.
No, we are not going into the ever heartwarming story of the underdog trumping the top dog here. Bangladesh outgrew that status long back; they may be underperformers in international cricket but underdogs? No way. The chase of 265 in 50 overs by a team might appear insignificant in times when 300-plus scores are overtaken by teams quite easily. But not so when you factor in the fight, resolve and tension packed into that exercise. It is not often that you see a team winning from that position; it is not often you see a batting partnership so calculated and mature.
When Mahmudullah and Shakib Al Hasan came together Bangladesh were in dire straits. Tamim Iqbal, their prolific run-getter was back in the hut. New Zealand bowlers were breathing fire, affirming their quality as a pace attack with every wicket and every slow-scoring over. The gang of Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Jimmy Neesham and Mitchell Santner is known to be a potent one and when they get going as a pack they become dangerous. They were looking so when the duo began the repair and redemption job for Bangladesh.
With both batsmen beyond their respective 50s and the century partnership up after a watchful start against early innings swing from rival pacers, it was evident that something special was in the works. They had contained the early damage but for victory the last dependable pair in a fragile batting line-up had to do much more. Any loss of wicket at this point would have meant a certain defeat for Bangladesh. As they started opening up, scoring freely, and registered a double-hundred stand, the target looked much less unachievable than when they came together. Shakib perished at 114, with the scoreboard reading 257 for five. But the main job was done; the rest being a formality.
The 224-run partnership, the best for Bangladesh for the fifth wicket, could well be one of the best in recent times in international cricket. Indeed, the match could figure among the best in recent times. It’s rather depressing that it has not been appreciated and celebrated enough in the sports media. All attention was on the England-Australia match on Saturday. If the unlucky Australia — two of their matches were hit by rains — does not come up with an amazingly spectacular performance, Bangladesh makes it to the semis. Almost everyone focused on the apprehension over Australia not making the cut, forgetting that a wonderful match just took place.
There’s something about partnerships that makes cricket immensely interesting. In fact, more interesting than brilliant individual knocks. Two batsmen working in tandem to revive an innings with perfect coordination — imagine the number of run calls that could go wrong; the times one partner would lose focus while the other would coax him back into the task at hand — and doing it successfully, is perhaps one of the more under-acknowledged aspects of cricket.
How many great partnerships you, as a cricket lover, remember? Not too many, one would guess. As an Indian fan, the one that would come to mind immediately is perhaps the 376-run one between Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in a Test match played at Eden Gardens in 2001. Recollection would be hazy beyond it. Good partnerships are what makes the experience of a cricket match so fulfilling. The one between Shakib and Mahmudullah was simply a masterclass. It should get the applause it deserves.