Having lost their opening match against Pakistan, a result that went against the form book, Bangladesh would have been hoping for a smooth build-up to their game against Australia. They got anything but.
First they learned that their two most successful bowlers against Pakistan were to be banned due to a problem with their bowling actions. Taskin Ahmed and Arafat Sunny had both been reported during their match against Netherlands on 9 March, and subsequent testing found that they have a degree of flex in their elbows that is beyond the allowable limit. Neither will take any further part in the 2016 ICC World T20, although Bangladesh board has lodged a procedural appeal.
If that wasn’t bad enough, we discovered after the toss that Bangladesh would also be without the services of Tamim Iqbal, the tournament’s leading scorer, who was described as “sick”. Bangladesh have been served well from the quick starts generated by Tamim and his absence was perhaps an even bigger loss than the two bowlers.
Then you needed to factor in their record. Bangladesh met Australia 26 times in all formats before today and won just one game, an ODI victory in Cardiff in 2005. The other 25 in Tests, ODIs and T20I matches have all ended in losses.
Bangladesh were playing against a team that they had not beaten in over a decade, without their best batsman and sans two of their best bowlers. Things were most certainly not smooth.
Mohammad Mithun was promoted to open and did a steady job after he lost partner Soumya Sarkar early. Mithun’s 22-ball 23 was steady, but it was nowhere near the explosive start that Tamim is famed for. Bangladesh had to find a way to recover from the double blow of being less likely to score all the runs that they could and missing two key bowlers most likely to help them defend a low total. They never really did that.
The one truly bright spark was Mahmadullah, who has been in outstanding form in 2016. Going into this year he had made 411 runs in his T20 International career at an average of 15 and with a strike rate of 103. So far in 2016 he has made 252 runs at an average of 36 with a strike rate of 150. There was more of that stellar form today. He came to the crease with his side struggling at 78-4 in the 12th over and then blasted 49 runs from 29 balls.
His partnership with Shakib-Al-Hassan and then with Mushfiqur Rahim took Bangladesh to a reasonable score but not a daunting one. In fact, it was the highest T20 International total that Bangladesh have ever made against Australia. But at the halfway stage the Aussies were very much the favourites.
Bangladesh needed to dismiss Usman Khawaja early to stand a chance in the match, such is the left hander’s ridiculous form. When the Aussie opener got off the mark with a towering six it was clear how large a challenge they were facing. Khawaja looked in absolute control throughout the whole of his innings, and when he was bowled behind his legs by Al-Amin Hossain it came as a real surprise.
As against New Zealand, here too the Australians made a good start and needed their middle order to keep things steady when the top order got out. The win was theirs for the taking even after Khawaja departed; they needed 42 runs in 41 balls. Still the Australian batsmen tried their best to throw the match away.
Bangladesh kept up the pressure but not for the first time, they were badly let down by their fielding. There was dropped catches, poor attempts in the circle and worse ones in the deep. They let Australia have at least 15 runs in the field, maybe more, and as the Australian middle order crumbled like a plastic garden chair under the weight of an obese relative at a family barbecue the game became a lot closer than it should have been.
Having made an acceptable if not daunting total Bangladesh needed to be outstanding in the field to beat an Australian side that man for man was more talented than them. Instead they didn’t really give themselves a chance. Had they saved those 15 extra runs in the field when Australia lost five wickets for 37 runs they could well have gone on to win. By then it was already too late.
This defeat has not mathematically eliminated Bangladesh from the tournament, but they are in essence playing for pride in their last two fixtures. Bangladesh have made great strides in white ball cricket in recent years but have been more impressive in ODIs than in T20Is. Having said that, Bangladesh made the final of the Asia Cup ahead of both Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They are a better side that their performances against Pakistan and Australia have suggested in World T20.
They will feel that they were always playing catch up having lost three vital cogs in this team’s machine going into this match, but when they look back on their fielding they may feel they let the chance of a first win against Australia since 2005 slip through their fingers.