If we can’t win, then it’s not an issue, but we should play as a team and try our best, says Mortaza. © AFP

If we can’t win, then it’s not an issue, but we should play as a team and try our best, says Mortaza. © AFP

Soon after a beaming Mashrafe Mortaza walked into the press conference room after his team’s excellent win against Pakistan in Mirpur on Wednesday (March 2) that put them in the final of the Asia Cup T20 2016, a local journalist asked him, “How are you feeling?”

Mortaza thought for a moment before replying, “I am normal right now.”

“Not us, not us,” exclaimed the journalist, eliciting a laugh from everyone, including Mortaza.

The passion of the Bangladeshi cricket fan has to be seen to be believed. And that passion, the partisan attitude, extends to the press. Therefore, when Mortaza met journalists after the match, it was less of a question-answer session and more of a celebration.

In the event, Mortaza ended up describing the whole match, almost step by step; a win he described as “One of our biggest T20 wins, a win that will come as a big boost as we try to qualify for the World Cup”.

The most interesting bit was when Mortaza talked about the decision to promote himself above Mohammad Mithun following Shakib Al Hasan’s dismissal off the second ball of the 18th over, with the target of 130 still 26 runs away. “The ball was reversing, so the coach (Chandika Hathurusinghe) told me that if Shakib gets out before the last ball, I should go in. If he gets out off the last ball, let Mithun go, because I had a better chance of hitting the big shots immediately.”

Shakib fell; Mortaza found the first ball off Mohammad Amir in his range and smashed it down the ground for four, while the second one was fended for four past short fine-leg. “Second one I was a bit lucky, the ball hit the bat, I didn’t hit the ball. We were a bit lucky today on the whole.”

The man in charge was at the other end, Mahmudullah. The low-profile batsman has been one of the unsung heroes of Bangladesh’s recent rise up the ranks, his back-to-back centuries at the 2015 World Cup one of the great feats of Bangladesh cricket.

Interestingly, Mahmudullah was at the crease, at the wrong end unfortunately, when the team failed to score four runs off two balls in the final of the 2012 Asia Cup, then a 50-over event, at the same venue against the same opposition.

“Riyad (Mahmudullah) was asking me what he should do after I hit those two fours. I just told him to do what he thought was right. A bad ball is a bad ball. I was sure we could win if we go to the last over. I wanted him to hit the winning shot, because of how we lost that Asia Cup final. Maybe he was thinking about that match, because later, in the dressing room, he told me that hitting the winning boundary meant a lot to him.”

Mustafizur was ruled out of the tournament, but Taskin rose to the occasion against Pakistan. © AFP

Mustafizur was ruled out of the tournament, but Taskin rose to the occasion against Pakistan. © AFP

One of the aspects of the win that excited Mortaza was that on a pitch where 150 was thought of as the par score, Bangladesh restricted Pakistan to 129 for 7 – that too, without Mustafizur Rahman. “I was missing Mustafizur. If he was here, they would have scored 15 runs fewer,” said Mortaza. “Our entire team is missing him. We are hopeful that he will come back before the World T20.

“But what Mustafizur generally does, that job was done by Taskin (Ahmed). He did well throughout the game. Taskin set it up and then Al-Amin (Hossain) finished the game in the end. It was challenging but I am happy that the players managed to take the pressure. This is a sign of a grown-up team that we don’t wait for someone else to do their job.”

The other highlight was Soumya Sarkar’s innings. In the three matches before this one, Sarkar, who is usually a classy strokeplayer, had been scratchy. But against Pakistan, he took control of the chase from the start, and his run-a-ball 48 went a long way in making the win a reality. “In the next match he may get out without scoring runs, T20 is like that,” said Mortaza as he tried to keep the emotions in the press conference room in check. “As long as he is on the right track, that’s what matters. The way he is working, actually it’s all about preparation. I believe that he can fix himself again and score runs for us regularly.”

And then, led on by questions that asked him to explain practically every minute of the team’s campaign in the tournament so far, Mortaza summed it all up, the smile never quite leaving his face.

“The India match was a big one. We knew that if we won it, it would be a big thing, but it wouldn’t be so bad even if we lost. If we did well, we would carry a lot of confidence. The batting didn’t work, but the bowling did. Later, after beating Sri Lanka, we had the confidence that we could beat Pakistan,” he explained.

“I keep telling the players that we haven’t come here as the champion team, so whatever we achieve will be important. If we can’t win, then it’s not an issue, but we should play as a team and try our best. We should have the confidence at all times. The graph should be good. When we lost the first match, I still thought that we could play the final. I had the belief.

“Now, only the final is left and the boys are confident. But I will tell everyone to keep their feet on the ground. Thanks to the boys, but they shouldn’t take on extra pressure. We will try to do as well as we can. I don’t know if we will be at our best. But if we are, it will be good.”