The presence of one fast bowler and the absence of another were the major talking points as everyone, mainly fans of the Bangladesh team, tried to figure out if their boys could put it past Pakistan and make the final of the 2016 Asia Cup.
Mohammad Amir is back and bowling as well as ever, making as much of an impact as four overs allow. He could might make the difference in the fixture at Sher-e-Bangla Stadium on Wednesday (March 2), while Mustafizur Rahman has been forced out with a side strain.
“The combination has already changed,” Mashrafe Mortaza, the Bangladesh captain, rued on the eve of the match. “Mustafiz’s absence has made our task tougher. There isn’t anyone, maybe even in the world, who can do the things he can. Whoever replaces him will have a big job to do, but we can’t keep thinking about it. We also can’t expect his replacement to perform as well. We have to look ahead and do what we can with the players we have.”
Among the replacement options Bangladesh have is Arafat Sunny, who seems likeliest to take Mustafizur’s place in the XI for the crunch match.
Azhar Mahmood, the Pakistan bowling coach, regretted missing the chance to watch Mustafizur from up close. “I am really sad about his injury. He is a great prospect for Bangladesh cricket, it would have been good to have him play against us.”
As for Amir, Mortaza was gushing, confirming that a big part of his team’s plans revolved around not losing wickets to the left-arm swinger. “Amir is their key player, and he has been picking up wickets at the start. He can bowl at any stage of the match and with his pace, he can make a big impact. It will be good for us if we can play him out without losing a wicket, but their other pacers are also good, so it won’t be easy for us.”
At the same time, Mortaza sounded gung-ho about his team’s chances, saying that for a side that hadn’t done too well in Twenty20 Internationals over the years, the prospect of getting in to the Asia Cup final was a big motivation. “Mustafiz is not there, but Tamim (Iqbal) is back, and that’s good for us. We have a good chance of reaching the final. If we can continue playing the way we have in the last two games, we should have a chance of winning tomorrow. We are still making some mistakes, but we have been able to win, which is the main thing.
“We all play to win, so beating Sri Lanka and UAE was good for us, it has boosted our morale. We are an improving side, but we can’t become champions overnight. Improvement can only happen step by step. Just because we have beaten Sri Lanka, people have started expecting a lot from us. But we fell short against India, because we made mistakes. The good thing against Sri Lanka was the way we kept our cool. Angelo Mathews has the ability to win a match from that sort of situation, but he failed that day. I think people shouldn’t expect too much from us.”
Tamim’s return has, meanwhile, buoyed the mood in the Bangladesh camp. “It’s huge, because over the last one year, he has scored more than 1000 international runs, he has been our best at the top,” said Chandika Hathurusingha, the Bangladesh coach. “Someone of that calibre always helps. He is batting really well, but he has to get a start; the first five balls are important for him.”
Sabbir Rahman’s brilliant 80 made the difference against Sri Lanka, but Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah also contributed to the win with responsible batting efforts and smart bowling. They all came in for praise for Mortaza, as did the bowlers: “Sabbir played an outstanding innings that day, one of the best I have ever seen. In most other teams, one or two bowlers are doing all the big work, but ours has been a collective effort, which is good.”
Hathurusingha added, “I am very happy with Sabbir. Other than that, (Mahmudullah) Riyad is doing a great job for us, and others are chipping in. In T20 cricket, it’s very hard for anyone to score consistently. You do make mistakes. But it’s important that, as a group, three-four batsmen are scoring every game.
“I think Shakib is doing really well too. Against Sri Lanka, his partnership with Sabbir was key and the wicket he took of Shehan Jayasuriya when he bowled wide cleverly and then took a brilliant catch to get Mathews out — those are key match-turning moments for me.”
The morale in the Pakistan camp has also improved with the win over UAE after losing to India, said Mahmood, and the unbeaten 114-run stand between Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik in the second match was the reason for it. “The way Malik and Umar finished the game was a great thing,” he stressed. “Our players are confident. In future matches, we hope to do as well with the bat as we are doing with the ball.”
The pitches, on which fast bowlers held sway for the first four matches, have remained a talking point, but the change to slightly less green pitches for the last two matches has turned the tide somewhat.
“Pitches do change, that’s natural. Runs are being scored now, which is good. We don’t know which of the seven pitches will be used, but we are making our plans assuming that it will be a balanced pitch,” said Mortaza, while Hathurusingha was quick to point out, “Whether it’s helping us or not, I don’t know, but the last time we played Pakistan on quick wickets, we won. We have to adjust no matter what. We can’t complain.”