Sports desk: Unfazed by a mammoth target, uncowed by their recent history, a blazing Bangladesh top order ran down Sri Lanka’s 214 for 6, Mushfiqur Rahimproducing one of the great T20 innings: an audacious 72 off 35 balls that built upon terrific work from openers Liton Das and Tamim Iqbal.
Against spin and seam, Mushfiqur was spectacular. Arriving at the crease with 115 to get and 63 deliveries remaining in the innings, Mushfiqur began to make calculated strikes – usually in the first four balls of an over – to ensure the required rate never spiralled out of control. With four overs remaining, Bangladesh needed 40, but with a flat, swept six off Jeevan Mendis, Mushfiqur tilted the game in Bangladesh’s favour. Though Mahmudullah and Sabbir Rahman would depart in quick succession, the visitors’ long tail now exposed, Mushfiqur’s nerve held.
When the equation had become 16 off 8 balls Mushfiqur walloped a monumental six over midwicket off a Nuwan Pradeep slower-ball full toss, then calmly drilled the nine runs remaining from the final over, bowled by Thisara Perera. This time, Mushfiqur waited until the winning run was hit – off the penultimate delivery – before celebrating. The celebrations were, nevertheless, raucous. His teammates charged the field to embrace him. The heaving Khettarama stands were rendered almost silent.
A shocked Sri Lanka will try to make sense of how they let this game slip. Their own innings was a blur of boundaries, Kusal Mendis smoking a 30-ball 57, Kusal Perera bludgeoning 74 off 48, while Danushka Gunathilaka and Upul Tharanga produced aggressive supporting hands at either end of the innings. But in the face of fearless Bangladesh batting, Sri Lanka’s attack was short on wit, perhaps a reflection of their relative inexperience as a group. Often they were too predictable, allowing batsmen to manoeuvre the field. No one went at less than nine an over. Contending with a slightly damp ball, they were also far from pinpoint with their lines and lengths.
The Bangladesh pursuit, in short, was a masterclass. The move to promote the in-form Liton to opener proved inspired, as he struck 43 off 19 balls while the Powerplay was still in operation. Second over, he ran at Akila Dananjaya to bash him over midwicket for six, before blasting him aerially down the ground later two balls later. His two flicked sixes off the fast bowlers were sublime – the ball helped off his pads or his hip into the stands beyond deep square leg. When he was dismissed late in the fifth over, he had hit five sixes. At the other end, and although no slouch, Tamim Iqbal was made to seem a supporting act, making 27 in the Powerplay. He would go on to get 49 off 27 balls. The pair’s 74 runs together, off 35 balls, had put Bangladesh ahead of a demanding asking rate.
It was at Tamim’s exit that Mushfiqur came to the crease. His first boundary was a reverse sweep against the turn off Jeevan Mendis – an omen of the daring he would bring to the chase. Once he had got his innings into motion, Sri Lanka could not really sneak in a cheap over anywhere, Mushfiqur bearing down on them with his full array of his strokes. If fine leg was up, he would shuffle towards the off side and scoop the bowler over his shoulder. If a bowler packed the off side and bowled wide, Mushfiqur would hit the ball well enough to beat the field, or carve the ball over it altogether. In between the boundaries, of which he hit nine in total – four sixes and five fours – he was constantly testing the field. He only played out four dot balls in his innings. Towards the end, the only delivery capable of containing him was a pinpoint yorker – a delivery that Sri Lanka did not execute well enough.
All this, after Sri Lanka had made the highest T20I score at this venue. A Kusal Perera-Kusal Mendis partnership which yielded 85 runs off 53 balls had been the centrepiece of their innings. Mendis progressed effortlessly to his third successive fifty against Bangladesh, while Perera bludgeoned his second half-century of the tournament. Mendis prospered largely on the leg side, as he hit five sixes in that direction, in addition to two fours. Perera did not really favour either half of the ground. He advanced more slowly than Mendis, but stuck around until the final over. Upul Tharanga’s 15-ball 32 provided a closing fillip to the innings, Khettarama having been in raptures for 90 minutes, more or less.