Mashrafe Mortaza couldn’t stop praising it. Kane Williamson spoke at length about it. Even Tim Southee doffed his hat. But during the partnership in question, the two protagonists exchanged more silences than exhortations.
Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah just batted. When Shakib walked out, Bangladesh were 12 for 3. When Mahmudullah joined him, it had become 33 for 4. The two just put heads down, barely a muttered word exchanged for the longest time in a stand that eventually was worth a whopping 224 runs. In 209 balls. From 33 for 4. 114 to Shakib, 102 not out to Mahmudullah. What a time to put together the country’s highest ever ODI stand. When they began, even the Bangladesh dressing room didn’t believe victory was possible.
Defeat was not a pleasant thought, because at the innings break on Friday (June 9) at the Cardiff Wales Stadium, Bangladesh had a bounce in their step. They had just restricted New Zealand to 265 for 8, an eminently gettable target. Victory would keep their Champions Trophy 2017 semifinal hopes alive and would also mark a great achievement for a team that still sometimes struggles to earn the same respect as other Test-playing nations.
“There was nothing in my mind at that time, to be honest,” said Shakib. “I just focussed on batting, and batting as long as I could because there were so many overs left and so few wickets. When we had a 100-run partnership and we were still in the game, then we thought that ‘Yes now we have a chance, but we need to bat another 20 overs.’ And that’s what we did today. Even our players wouldn’t have thought a win was possible. But like I said, when our partnership reached 100, we began thinking that it is possible from here.”
And what did Shakib tell Mahmudullah when they got together with the team in dire straits? “We don’t talk,” came the answer. “When we bat together, we don’t talk, we just tell each other to keep going. That’s all we were doing. But when we were both batting in our 70s, then we started talking a bit, saying we need to bat for a bit longer to ensure we win the game. Whenever we felt like we needed to talk, we talked but most of the time we were quiet and just batting.”
Mahmudullah gave an almost identical answer. “Normally when we bat, we don’t speak too much. That’s the chemistry we have, we don’t need to talk much. We just need to tell each other ‘Just keep going, just keep batting.’ I know what he can do and he knows what I can do,” the batsman told ICC’s website. “We didn’t even think in terms of over by over. We just wanted to bat, and then see.”
Kane Williamson: “In the past, we have defended totals like that on those sorts of surfaces, and we were in a pretty good position to do it again. But what a fantastic partnership. Two very talented players, very experienced players, and it came together today. To get a 200-plus partnership under pressure was simply superb, but frustrating to be on the other side of it. Shakib and Mahmudullah batted out of their skins, and it was just an unbelievable knock by both of them. A lot of credit needs to go their way.”
Mortaza, the Bangladesh captain, was a lot more effusive while praising his two heroes, and completely candid in admitting that he didn’t really think they could have won. “To be honest at that time, it was very difficult,” he said of Bangladesh’s start. “I didn’t think so. But once they went past 100, and the partnership went to 100, I started to believe. I knew these two could make a difference, they have done it a lot of times. But I never thought they would have a partnership of more than 200. That was phenomenal.”
Williamson could admire the partnership from a cricketing point of view, though he admitted it was ‘frustrating’ to be at the receiving end. “In the past, we have defended totals like that on those sorts of surfaces, and we were in a pretty good position to do it again. But what a fantastic partnership,” he said. “Two very talented players, very experienced players, and it came together today. To get a 200-plus partnership under pressure was simply superb, but frustrating to be on the other side of it.
“We did have the belief that we could defend that total, and with the start that we had, was outstanding. Tim (Southee) and Trent (Boult), the way they bowled was superb. I guess we come back to that partnership where Shakib and Mahmudullah batted out of their skins, and it was just an unbelievable knock by both of them. A lot of credit I think needs to go their way.”
The over immediately following the fall of the fourth wicket was a telling comment on just how ‘in the zone’ both Shakib and Mahmudullah were. Southee had taken 3 for 17 in six overs, and Williamson decided to give him one more, banking no doubt on the fact that he had got the ball to nip around, had beaten the edge consistently and looked good for another wicket. The second ball was short and gave Shakib some room outside off and he immediately latched on to cut it to the cover fence. The last ball was picked up on a length by Mahmudullah and sent over wide mid-on to the fence. When James Neesham came on later, Mahmudullah deposited him over the fence and to it off successive balls in the bowler’s third over. The still precarious situation didn’t matter. All that counted was that Neesham was a weaker link in the attack, had bowled in Mahmudullah’s area, and he was thus going to be attacked.
“Yes, the ball was doing a bit. I thought they bowled really well in the first 10 overs,” explained Shakib. “Their quick bowlers bowled in good areas and that created lots of chances for them. Once the ball stopped swinging, it was getting easier for us to bat. And because we had spent some time already by then, it was good to bat at that time.”
Once they had spent some time and the partnership began growing, New Zealand’s control began to slip. Both men were not just finding the runs, they were finding the fence. The asking rate was never allowed to go beyond seven an over for the entire chase – incredible given how deep a hole Bangladesh were in. Almost imperceptibly, control was seized back. Shakib found the cut and slap productive shots, Mahmudullah latched on to the slightest room and drove with the confidence of someone coming in at 150 for 1.
It was, without a doubt, Bangladesh’s finest ODI partnership. It could yet turn their most significant too, if England beat Australia on Saturday. That will put Bangladesh in a first-ever ICC event semifinal. “Obviously we will be cheering England all the way! Not just the squad, but the whole of Bangladesh will be cheering for England tomorrow,” smiled Shakib, before sound a note at once pragmatic and revealing of how much the win meant as a standalone event too. “But you know, it’s not in our hands. I think the achievement we had today was terrific for the team. It doesn’t matter if we qualify or not, this was a great tournament for us.”
Asked to rate the innings, all Shakib said was, “One of the best innings I’ve ever played. When I went in, the situation wasn’t great, so it was important for me to stay at the wicket. I feel very good to have contributed to a win.”
Shakib, it turns out, doesn’t like talk too much outside of the 22 yards either. But why should he, when the bat spoke so eloquently for him?