Bangladesh beat Sri Lanka by 103 runs (DLS method) in the second ODI at Dhaka, and in doing so they secured their first series win against the tourists, as well as rising to the top of the World Cup Super League table. Mushfiqur Rahim, with a fine century, was the chief architect of the victory for the second time in three days. Sri Lanka's batting misfired once again and they looked all at sea under the stormy Dhaka sky.
FEARLESS CRICKET OR A CULTURE OF FEAR?
"Fearless cricket", is one of the most overused cricket catchphrases of late, at times bordering on cliché. Its origins can be traced back to Brendon McCullum during his tenure as captain of the New Zealand ODI team, and was subsequently used ad nauseum by Eoin Morgan and other players and coaches. It's essentially shorthand for a batting approach where the consequences of failure are absent from the players' minds, thereby allowing thoughts to be unclouded and strokeplay to flourish uninhibited.
Prior to the ongoing ODI series, both Tamim Iqbal and Kusal Perara spoke about the need to play "fearless cricket". Of course, to nurture such a philosophy, requires buy-in from those at the very top of a country's cricket structure. It's fair to say that the memo hasn't been read by Nazmul Hassan "Pappon", the BCB president. His pronouncements about team selection and individual performances are both surprisingly frequent and inappropriate, given his lack of any playing or coaching experience. Yet, his critical comments during the first ODI were a nadir, particularly as they came halfway through a live game, which Bangladesh went on to win by 33 runs. Not only did he question Liton Das's capability to open the innings, he also damned coach Russell Domingo with faint praise by intimating that his contract would be extended, but only because there were no other alternatives.
The omission of Mithun, the middle-order batsman, from the starting XI, was the most direct consequence of Pappon's utterances but they most surely have had an influence on the way Das played. The right-handed opener's slump in form has been plain for all to see, and he managed to scrap to 25 off 42 balls before sending a long-hop from Sandakan straight to point. Perhaps he was already anticipating words of admonishment from the BDB supremo as he trudged off. More broadly, the culture of fearless cricket will always remain a dream as long as pointed criticism from the very top exists.
A FRENZIED START
The match began in dramatic fashion, Tamim deciding to seize the initiative by bludgeoning three consecutive boundaries in the opening over – he was almost out attempting a fourth when a sharp chance was spilled at point. In the second over Sri Lanka decisively took control as Chameera picked up the prize scalps of Tamim and Shakib, both lbw with similar full-length inswinging deliveries. That meant the entrance of Mushfiqur, Bangladesh's saviour of the previous game and umpteen times before. With the score progressing to 74 for four he was joined by his erstwhile ally (and brother in law), Mahmudullah. Their partnership wasn't quite as fruitful as it was in the first game, but the 87 runs they combined to score were vital in steering their team out of choppy waters.
Mahmudullah's wicket came slightly against the run of play as he'd begun to free his arms against Dhananjaya's off spin, striking a couple of sixes, when he was caught by Kusal Perera behind the stumps for 41, Sandakan claiming another wicket with a delivery that didn't really merit one, as the Sri Lankan captain took a sharp chance down the legside. The other meaningful partnership of the innings was between Mushfiqur and Saiffuddin; they put on 48 runs at almost a run-a-ball to propel Bangladesh towards another confident-looking total, 246.
MUSHI TO THE RESCUE
As was the case two days earlier, the Bangladesh innings was held together by their veteran wicket keeper batsman. Mushfiqur's achievements might come as a surprise to causal cricket followers. He often flies under the radar, as do most Bangladeshi cricketers in the wider cricket world. However, in compiling his eighth ODI hundred, only four players have now scored more centuries batting at No 4: Ross Taylor, AB de Villiers, Aravinda de Silva and Mahela Jayawardene. Yet there's a sense that he also remains unloved at home, or at least overshadowed by the bigger personalities of Tamim and Shakib. He's had the misfortune of being directly involved in some of Bangladesh's highest profile slip-ups, unsurprising given the sheer number of games he's played.
Mushfiqur is the consummate professional, constantly seeking to improve his fitness and training harder than any of his team-mates. He reached his fifty off 70 balls with just one boundary, his eager running between the wickets testament to his stamina and expert ball placement. His trademark unorthodoxy was also in evidence, his scoops and reverse sweeps running the Sri Lankan fielders ragged. The Bangladesh innings ended when he slapped Bandara straight into the hands of point, and rather than accept applause for his 125 off 126 deliveries, Mushfiqur was castigating himself for the 11 deliveries that were left unused.
CONCUSSION SUB RULES
In the 47th over, as Bangladesh sought to add precious late runs, Saifuddin was hit flush on the helmet by Chameera; an indication of the velocity of the delivery was how the ball looped at least 15 yards into the offside. Saifuddin set off for an ill-conceived single, no doubt with ringing in his ears, and his full-length dive failed to beat the direct hit at the non-strikers end. One of cricket's many grey areas is whether a run-out should be attempted when a player is injured. Perhaps the sympathetic gestures that Saifuddin received as he left the field indicated a degree of remorse from the visitors.
Saifuddin was visibly shaken by the experience and it was no surprise that, during the innings break, it was announced he would play no further part. And so Taskin Ahmed became the very first concussion substitute in ODIs, while also highlighting a flaw in the system. What constitutes a like-for-like replacement needs clarification, as it could be argued that Bangladesh benefitted from Taskin's frontline bowling in place of Saifuddin's role as first change bowler/allrounder.
SRI LANKA'S BATTING MISFIRES
Sri Lanka's run chase of 245 in 40 overs due to rain never looked convincing and was a diminished performance compared to two days earlier. Shoriful Islam was given an ODI debut, sealing a meteoric rise through the ranks as he's been capped in all formats in the space of just 59 days. The young, lithe pace bowler has much to learn but his upright action and positive attitude bode well. He claimed the first wicket, the Sri Lankan captain using too much bottom hand and being caught at mid-on.
A familiar batting strangle ensued, the Sri Lankans unable to cope with either the guile of the Bangladesh spinners or the raft of slower deliveries from Mustifizur. Intriguingly, Wanindu Hasaranaga's excellent batting in the previous game wasn't rewarded with a promotion in the order. By the time he arrived at the crease in the 30th over, the score was 104 for six and the chances of re-creating something special were slim. He managed 6six before being outfoxed by Mehidy Hasan, who ended up with three for 28 and seven wickets in the series so far. The inevitable ending came after one of numerous rain delays, the DLS method stipulating that an unfathomable 119 runs were required off two overs. The final winning margin of 103 felt entirely in keeping with the night's proceedings.
The smiles on Bangladesh faces at the end of match were a far cry from the anguish experienced on recent tours to Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In many respects a Bangladesh team playing at home, under lights in an ODI, is unrecognisable to the team that plays away in the other two less favoured formats. Dhaka in particular, has been turned into a fortress in recent years. In the past five years, 11 out of 12 bilateral home ODI series have been won by Bangladesh. Their fans should rightly enjoy the moment as being top of the World Cup Super League table is no mean feat. But being the finished article is still a long journey away. For Sri Lanka, the prospect of failing to automatically qualify for the next World Cup is a very real one.