Chants of ‘Miraz…Miraz’ in the stands at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium during Bangladesh’s three-wicket loss against West Indies in a tense semifinal of the ICC Under-19 World Cup on Thursday (February 11) had a nice ring to them.
That Mehedi Hasan Miraz, Bangladesh’s captain, is already a star in his country is no secret. Apart from his eloquence and calm demeanour that have evoked comparisons with Mashrafe Mortaza, the captain of the senior team, Miraz has been successful on the field as well.
The most-capped captain and highest wicket-taker in the history of Youth One-Day Internationals, Miraz steered Bangladesh to the Plate title in the 2014 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, led his team in four series wins building up to the tournament and then took them to the semifinal of a World Cup at any level for the first time.
The ease with which Miraz soaks in the situational demands to deliver almost every time his team needs with the bat, the ball and as a leader suggests that he is one for the long haul.
Against Nepal in the quarterfinal, Bangladesh were 98 for 4 in their chase of 212 when Miraz made an intelligent 55 not out and shared an unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 117 with Zakir Hasan. Against West Indies, Bangladesh were 88 for 4 after electing to bat in foggy conditions when he changed the flow of the game with a fluent 74-ball 60. Then, he opened the bowling and took two wickets to keep Bangladesh in the game despite Gidron Pope’s quickfire 38. As captain, he made some smart moves that resulted in a breakthrough on most occasions, and took their defence of 227 into the 49th over.
Miraz’s control over his game was best visible in Bangladesh’s 27th over when Alzarri Joseph, the tournament’s fastest bowler, returned for a second spell looking for a breakthrough.
An edge off Miraz’s bat off the second ball went to the third-man fence. Possibly as a response, a riled Joseph bowled a beamer off the penultimate ball. Next up, a worked-up Miraz converted a yorker into a length delivery by going deep into his crease and hitting it to the long-on fence.
“When he bowled that beamer, I got really angry. So, I thought I would go after him, no matter what,” Miraz said. “And, he gets angry when he is hit. I wanted him to be angrier so that he bowls even faster.”
Miraz, however, was the sixth wicket to fall in the 46th over, and Bangladesh were bowled out for 226. He took responsibility for the collapse.
“If I was there till the end, we could have reached 250. We had to take risks as we had wickets in hand in the last five overs,” Miraz said. “The wicket was slow. We thought if we score 240-250, it would be difficult for any opposition. We were short by 20 runs. The runs dried up after me and Saifuddin got out and that’s where it went wrong for us.”
Miraz admitted that 15,000 fans cheering the team was a new experience for most of his boys, and could have played its part in Bangladesh dropping two crucial catches. He, however, felt that the positive atmosphere was a good initiation to their potential future.
“As much as we say there’s no pressure, there is some at the Under-19 level. We (had) never played in front of such a big crowd. We had the pressure of expectation that we has to win the semifinal,” he shared. “We are still very young. We learned how to handle pressure situations, and our mental strength will improve now. We have to manage all this, and now that we have seen such situations, played in front of big crowds, we will manage it well next time. It will help us for the future. Many of my teammates will play at the top level.”
Miraz has one more game as an Under-19 cricketer when he leads Bangladesh against Sri Lanka in the third place play-off match on February 13. Even as he remained focussed on the immediate assignment, he looked beyond that.
“I have played Under-19 cricket for three years, so it will take a bit of time to forget all this. I will go home, stay with friends and family and that will help me move on,” the left-arm spinner with 77 wickets in 55 matches said. “We have some good cricketers in our team. They can reach the top level in a couple of years. They have to be strong to play for the national team. If they focus on the game and not be swayed by outside influences, they will get called up.
“I don’t think about my family, friends or the crowd once I enter the field,” he added. “All I think about is the ball coming towards me and how to tackle it.”
Miraz was looking forward to the third-place game in order to create some splash that would be another small step towards Bangladesh’s attempt to be viewed as a strong cricketing force.
“The third-place match is also important as it would mean we would be among the top five nations in this competition,” he said. “Mushfiq bhai’s (Musfhiqur Rahim) team were fifth, and after us, the next generation can better our result.”
No matter what advantage he has gained as a junior cricketer, Miraz, the symbol of Bangladesh’s future, has to start from scratch if the crowd has to keep chanting his name. It helps that his family keeps him grounded.
“My family doesn’t really get the game,” he said, when asked what message he had been getting from his folks through the duration of the tournament. “My parents are happy if I do well. They only tell me to give my best effort.”