The situation was really tense.
Bangladesh needed 12 off the last over with three wickets remaining to cement a berth in the final of the Nidahas Trophy alongside India.
While Mahmudullah seemed desperate at the non-striker’s end to get back on strike, Mustafizur Rahman seemed equally desperate to get off strike.
Mustafizur’s inability to put bat on ball on the very first delivery — a shoulder high bouncer — from Isuru Udana made things gloomy for Bangladesh as they still needed the same runs, but with a delivery less. And on top of that, Mahmudullah — their only hope to get them over the line — was still off-strike.
The second delivery from Udana was another bouncer and Mustafizur missed it once again. This time, however, he scampered away for a single. But guess what? He was run out at the non-striker’s end. The situation became even worse for the Tigers. They needed 12 off four deliveries now with just two wickets remaining. Everything looked so gloomy and dark.
But there is always a brighter side to darkness. Isn’t there?
Mahmudullah — the only Bangladesh had at that moment — was back on strike. He had already scored 31 off just 15 deliveries that suggested that he could fetch those required 12 runs as well. Bangladesh were still in with a chance. But the drama was yet to unfold.
Suddenly, the Bangladeshi substitute players were seen having a heated exchange with the Sri Lankan players on the field. The issue was not clear. The attention then shifted towards a fuming Shakib Al Hasan venting his anger around the boundary lines probably over the same issue. But nobody was really sure of what the problem actually was.
It took a couple of minutes for everyone to decipher the reason behind the Bangladeshi skipper’s anger. The second short delivery bowled in the over was shoulder high once again. According to rules, that should have been a no-ball. But the leg umpire — as alleged by the Bangladeshi fielders — had called it so, but finally decided not to after consulting with the other on-field umpire. That was the spark that gave rise to the wildfire in the Bangladeshi camp.
Shakib had already called his team’s batsmen to return to the dug-out multiple times. Mahmudullah — reluctant to leave the ground and unsure about the right thing to do — was seen taking a few steps back and forth, sometimes towards the pitch and sometimes towards the dug- out. Finally, on Khaled Mahmud’s intervention, Shakib calmed down and allowed the game to resume.
These kind of situations generally get on to everyone’s nerves. With the pressure completely on Bangladesh, it seemed quite an uphill task for Mahmudullah. However, when Udana bowled a wide and full delivery, Mahmudullah smashed it over covers for a boundary showing that all that drama had little effect on his concentration and composure. The next delivery was a low full toss and he tucked it to mid-wicket for another couple of runs.
Bangladesh now required six off just two deliveries. A tricky situation again, but probably a familiar one for Mahmudullah!
He flicked the next delivery bowled at length on middle and leg over the deep square leg boundary for a six and Bangladesh found themselves home with two wickets remaining and a delivery to spare. And all that was because of the efforts of one man — Mahmudullah, who remained unbeaten on 43 runs off just 18 deliveries in a 160-run chase that got off to a pretty slow start.
It was not the first time that Mahmudullah had played a match-winning innings of this kind. He has done it numerous times before. He has played such innings when the likes of Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim — the players who enjoy iconic status in Bangladesh — have failed to step up. He tends to produce meaningful innings in critical situations. Still, he is undervalued a lot and continues to live in the shadows of those three players.
Friday's innings at Colombo certainly helped him to come out of that zone a bit and carve his name in the heart of the Bangladeshi fans again after a long time. The last time he had played such a meaningful and vital innings was at Cardiff during the Champions Trophy last year when they skittled New Zealand out of the tournament with a five-wicket victory. His innings of an unbeaten 102 had helped Bangladesh to create history by marching into the semi-finals. However, his innings was overshadowed by Shakib’s 114, who was adjudged the Man of the Match as well.
It's true that Mahmudullah hasn't been as consistent as the other three players across the three formats over the years. In a career spanning 153 ODIs and 66 T20Is, he has gone past the score of fifty only on 21 occasions in ODIs and scored 25 or more runs only on 12 occasions in T20Is.
But his penchant of scoring big runs on big occasions is what sets him apart from the trio of Tamim, Mushfiqur and Shakib.
The ICC World Cup 2015 was probably the tournament when Mahmudullah came of age as a player. Although it was Rubel Hossain’s heroics with the ball that skittled England out of the tournament in that memorable match at Adelaide, Mahmudullah’s century — a classy knock of 103 when the chips were down batting first — was the main reason Bangladesh had a total to defend.
Not only that, his unbeaten 128 in the very next match against New Zealand had once again saved Bangladesh from getting bundled out for a low total. Although, the Tigers still lost that match, that innings was probably one of the best knocks played by any batsman in the history of the tournament.
His knock of 75 against England in the second of the three-match ODI series at Dhaka in October 2016 had almost single-handedly helped Bangladesh to victory along with some vital help from their bowlers as well. The victory had helped Bangladesh to level the series and take it down to the final ODI. The trio of Shakib, Mushfiqur and Tamim had failed to score big in that match too thus, bringing forward Mahmudullah’s grit, composure and ability to play influential innings once again.
His knock on Friday against the hosts Sri Lanka will again stand there at the top amongst the list of the best knocks produced by Bangladeshi batsmen in knockout matches. While it was Tamim who top-scored with 50, his slow scoring rate certainly didn't boost Bangladesh's winning chances.
Mahmudullah has once again proved himself as Bangladesh's man for the big occasions — the one who delivers the knockout punches. All he needs to do now is to become a bit more consistent in order to match the status the trio of Tamim, Shakib and Mushfiqur enjoy back home.