Rubel Hossain is known for blowing hot and cold in a career spanning over a decade. Prone to err in the death overs, the right-arm pacer with a slinging action perhaps bowled his best ten overs in the one-day international against India in the Asia Cup final on Friday. His figures of 10-2-26-2 was a demonstration of how well he bowled in Dubai. He had Ravindra Jadeja caught in the 48th over, which was his last over, to create that window for a late twist in a pulsating final that Bangladesh lost off the last ball of the game.
Mashrafe Bin Mortaza had boldly stated prior the Asia Cup final against India that he was not so cheap that he would judge himself by a trophy.
That trophy has eluded the Tigers once again following India's thrilling last-ball win on Friday in the Asia Cup final at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
Even with all the limitations and one setback after another, Mashrafe was so close to achieving the much-desired glory for the country but ultimately, he could not put his hands on the trophy. However, we must echo sentiments of Bangladesh's ODI skipper that there is no way we can judge the brave-hearted cricketer or his brigade by their failure to break the trophy jinx.
Sporting achievements are often measured by numbers and that is precisely why it will be difficult to analyse Mashrafe's true contribution in the region's biggest cricket competition.
"The boys should feel proud," responded the Bangladesh skipper after his team's three-wicket defeat in the final. "I think they did a good job without two key members. Missing Shakib [Al Hasan] and Tamim [Iqbal] was a big blow but I think boys have done a really good job," he continued.
Mashrafe had every reason to praise his charges. But we must thank the brave-hearted Tigers leader for the way he inspired his boys to overcome all the chaos. And it looked like he put the 'fear limits you and your vision' mantra to the ears of his charges.
If it all started by encouraging Tamim Iqbal to return to the crease at the fall of Bangladesh's ninth wicket in the 47th over against Sri Lanka in the opening match to accompany centurion Mushfiqur Rahim -- who almost single-handedly guided the side to a fighting 261 with his highest ODI score of 144 -- then it ended with the startling motion that saw him inspire opener Liton Das from the dressing room by thumping his chest.
Mashrafe effortlessly carried the burden of expectations throughout the tournament.
The young cricketers' failure to meet expectations has become the centre of discussion in recent times but this Asia Cup at least provided some hope thanks to this charismatic leader who tried his best to bring the best out of Liton, Mustafizur Rahman, Mehedi Hasan Miraz, Mohammad Mithun and even a proven performer like Mushfiqur Rahim didn't hesitate to praise the Mash-impact in their performance.
It was actually a bowling effort that Bangladesh can be proud of as they seemed out of the game on numerous occasions. However, the bowlers brought them back into the contention thanks to their never-say-die attitude. And it was no exception in the final battle against India.
There were not many who believed that Bangladesh could take the game to the last ball after they managed only 222 runs despite Liton and Miraz's brilliant 120-run opening stand. Mashrafe however once again proved that he was not a man who would give up on the job before showing any fight and he rightly credited his bowlers for putting up that fight.
"I hope we won a lot of hearts," Mashrafe said.
But a true champion could not stop here and that was why he said: "The positives depend on the individuals. I think losing to India twice was something that I didn't desire. When Shakib and Tamim are back, the team will do well in the future if we can hold on to this spirit."
Yes, it was the spirit that Mashrafe injected most among his charges to win the hearts and in future that spirit will help fulfil their ambitions. Still, when Mashrafe said that "we have lot of work to do" it means a lot for future success.
The Bangladesh innings of 239 all out against Pakistan yesterday, leaving overs unused for the fourth time in five matches of the ongoing Asia Cup, revealed much of what is ailing Bangladesh batting. Mushfiqur Rahim was once again brilliant and extremely unlucky to be the first Bangladesh batsman to be out on 99 in international cricket. While he responded to the terrible setback of losing Shakib Al Hasan before the match by absorbing all the pressure, the performance of the rest of the top order raised serious concerns about Bangladesh's bench strength and also the willingness of those outside the experienced batsmen to respond to a match situation.
On a pitch that had a bit of grass, none of the Pakistan pacers bowled an unplayable ball except a Shaheen Shah Afridi delivery to Mohammad Mithun in the sixth over, when the left-arm pacer's delivery pitched outside leg and jagged away outside off, completely opening the batsmen up. Yet Bangladesh were three wickets down for 12 runs by the end of the fifth over. With Shakib out of the tournament one may have thought that the openers would try to preserve wickets to compensate for the hole in the middle order. However, Soumya Sarkar -- playing his first ODI in almost a year -- went for the hook the first opportunity he got when Junaid Khan bounced him in the third over, perishing because he was too late on the shot.
If Soumya's error revealed thoughtlessness, Mominul Haque's dismissal exposed the lack of bench strength. After hitting a boundary off Shaheen Shah, he was beaten by pace in the next ball by a bowler who, while nippy, is not the fastest going around. In the next over Liton was foiled by a tactic as elementary as Junaid coming around the wicket. To a straight ball that was homing in on off and middle, the opener tried to play towards mid on and had his stumps disturbed.
Like he did in the first match against Sri Lanka on September 15, Mushfiqur stitched together a face-saving 144-run partnership with Mohammad Mithun. With his team seriously hurt by the new absence of Shakib and the old one of opener Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur refrained from any of the brain fades that saw him get out reverse-sweeping against India and run out in suicidal fashion against Afghanistan. The same could not be said for Mithun, who repeated his error from the Sri Lanka match by playing a rash shot just when the bowling was at their mercy.
The remaining six wickets could add just 83 runs. As has been happening in every match that Bangladesh have not completely lost the plot in, one of the senior pros have stood up and made up for the rest.
When Bangladesh take on India in the Asia Cup final in Dubai today, it will be a battle between two sides who have come to the title clash through highly contrasting routes and with widely divergent levels of confidence.
The match will start at 5:30pm (Bangladesh time) at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
India had confirmed their place in the final by beating Pakistan by nine wickets on Sunday, the same day that Bangladesh had just managed to stay in contention with a three-run win over Afghanistan. India then rested their best players -- including captain Rohit Sharma and vice-captain Shikhar Dhawan -- for their last Super Four match against Afghanistan, who were inspired by leg-spinner Rashid Khan into forcing a thrilling tie against the world's top-ranked ODI team on Tuesday.
The following day, Bangladesh woke to the news that ace all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan would follow opener and highest run-scorer Tamim Iqbal out of the tournament, but still rallied to beat two-time champions Pakistan by 37 runs in Abu Dhabi.
While that meant that Bangladesh made the final for the third time in the last four editions, it also meant that they would have one less day than the more-fancied India to recuperate after toiling in heat that they had never played in as a team.
There is also a contrast between the respective strengths of the sides. Bangladesh have routinely lost two wickets inside the first 10 overs and have played out the 50 overs only once in five matches. Meanwhile India have only lost more than three wickets on the two occasions when they played at less than full strength -- against Hong Kong in their first match when they lost seven wickets for 285 and against Afghanistan, when they were bowled out for 252.
“It was difficult [winning against Pakistan] with performers like Shakib and Tamim not playing,” said Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza at the pre-final press conference yesterday. “The good thing that the boys have done is that they did not given up, although we lost to Afghanistan in the group stage and again against India [exactly a week before the final], but still they fought back.
“There are some concerns with our batting, but Mushfiqur [Rahim, the second-highest scorer in the tournament with 297 runs] is in great form. [Mohammad] Mithun is playing well, [Mahmudullah] Riyad also batted well. If our top order can click it will be fine. But again I think that India are a far better team -- number one in the world. They came here as favourites, but you never know, anything can happen on a good day. We have to be mentally strong and fight till the end.”
While India will have a settled team, Bangladesh have not played the same team for two matches in succession throughout the tournament. The injuries have forced them to get creative, such as batting left-handed opener Imrul Kayes at six to combat Rashid's leg-spin on Sunday. There may be a change today, with left-arm spinner Nazmul Islam coming into replace batsman Mominul Haque to try and contain India's vaunted batting order.
Imrul could also slot back into the opening position, pulling Soumya down to the lower middle order. With the way things have gone, it is a fool's errand to guess their plans. Mashrafe also has an injury to his right little from when he spectacularly caught Pakistan's Shoaib Malik on Wednesday. However, there is no danger of the captain not playing in the title clash.
The crux of the battle may be in the top order because the two teams match up pretty evenly with the ball. Bangladesh have not conceded more than the 255 for seven Afghanistan scored against them last Thursday. As Mashrafe said, if it goes according to form, the top-ranked India should come out on top against the seventh-ranked Bangladesh. But if the Tigers can find the solution to the top order woes at the most opportune time, they will have performed above themselves and could conjure an unlikely result.
Bangladesh also have the invisible hand of momentum going in their favour, having won their last two matches with spirited performances.
However, it should also be remembered that they have never won a final, including a loss to India in the last Asia Cup final at home and in the Nidahas Trophy in March.
The target was just 223 for the vaunted Indian batting that has struck fear in the hearts of bowling line-ups the world over, but that it took them till the last ball of the 50th over to complete a three-wicket win in the Asia Cup final spoke volumes of the heart Bangladesh have shown throughout the tournament.
However, as the fireworks clouded the clear night sky at the Dubai International Stadium last night, Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza would possibly have been wondering what could have been had they batted out 50 overs for just the second time in the tournament, or if they had capitalised on the 120-run opening stand provided by centurion Liton Das and unlikely opener Mehedi Hasan Miraz.
They fought till the end, even when just 18 were needed off four overs with five wickets in hand and then 13 off 18 balls. Rubel Hossain, who bowled brilliantly throughout for figures of 26 for two from 10 overs, had Ravindra Jadeja caught behind in the 48th over which cost just four runs. Mustafizur Rahman bowled another brilliant penultimate over that saw the back of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and conceded just three. With six needed off the last over, part-timer Mahmudullah Riyad bowled intelligently -- bowling the penultimate ball from behind the crease to confuse tailender Kuldeep Yadav -- and brought the equation down to a single needed off the last ball. But Kedar Jadhav, who had to leave the field with cramps and came back to resume batting after Jadeja's exit, managed to get bad on a full delivery and it trickled down to fine leg for the all-important single to be completed.
Hampered by the absences of stalwarts Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh showed outstanding spirit in fighting against all odds. In that the final was an apt one because they had done that throughout the tournament, adapting to setbacks and still finding a way to go past a feisty Afghanistan and a more-fancied Pakistan to make it to the final clash, but the wear and tear of an emotionally and physically exhausting tournament eventually manifested in the form of a batting failure at the most inopportune moment. They were left to rue another heartbreak in the Asia Cup final after falling at the last hurdle against Pakistan in 2012 and India in 2016.
Despite the batting implosion after their brightest start of the tournament, it was a bowling effort that Bangladesh can be proud of as they seemed out of the game on numerous occasions but clawed their way back each time.
Openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had shot to 35 within five overs, but Nazmul Islam had the latter caught at mid off. Skipper Mashrafe then produced a beautiful away swinger to have Ambati Rayudu caught behind. Rubel hounded Sharma, giving him no room with balls that jagged back in till the Indian captain grew frustrated and hit him to square leg to be out for 47 and bring Bangladesh back into the match at 83 for three in the 17th over.
The Tigers kept a tight leash on Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik, ensuring their 53-run stand was a slow one, coming in 14 overs, before Karthik missed a straight one from Mahmudullah and was adjudged leg-before. Mustafizur Rahman had Dhoni caught in the 37th over for a 67-ball 36 and it was truly game on when Jadhav was forced to retire hurt in the following over. However, in the end, Bangladesh's wasted opportunities with the bat would come back to haunt them.
It had begun in ideal fashion for Bangladesh after Sharma asked them to bat first on a good wicket. If Mehedi -- a useful number eight batsman -- coming out to open disrupted India's expectations, the way Liton went after strike bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar upended their applecart.
When the elegant but mercurial right-hander jumped down the pitch and clipped Bumrah, bowling at good pace, to the square leg boundary it was a statement of intent that Mehedi received, showing his calibre with a square driven boundary in the same over. Two successive fours off Liton's bat followed in the next over from Kumar and a lofted boundary off a 140kmph-plus Bumrah delivery in the seventh over.
The leg spin of Yuzvendra Chahal was then clobbered for a six over square leg in the next over, which also saw the Bangladesh fifty coming up, without loss in a tournament that Bangladesh's openers had managed a best of 16.
Liton brought up his first ODI fifty off his 33rd ball, hitting the first ball of the 12th over from Jadeja for four. The time was right for the ill-advised shot and Liton did not disappoint, but Chahal did as he failed to latch on to Liton's skied slog sweep at mid on in the same over.
The life seemed to have chastened Liton, as he focused on playing balls along the ground from then, bringing up Bangladesh's first century opening partnership in 27 matches with an edged four in the 18th over.
However, in the 21st over with the score on 120, Mehedi departed when he cut Kuldeep Jadhav straight to cover point and that opened the floodgates. Imrul Kayes was adjudged leg-before for two in the 24th over off Chahal, a decision that stayed with the umpire's call upon review.
Mushfiqur Rahim, in supreme form, was expected to guide Liton to his century, but instead he hit a Jadhav long hop straight down deep midwicket's throat. The collapse that had so far happened at the top shifted to the middle order through a brilliant piece of fielding from Jadeja in the 28th over, when he dived to stop a well-hit cover drive from Liton and then threw at the non-striker's end, which was vacant as Mohammad Mithun was looking at Liton at hand-shaking distance at the other end.
Liton, then on 95 off 84 balls, rushed to his first international century off 87 balls in the next over with a single after hitting a swept four off Jadhav. Mahmudullah succeeded only in accompanying Liton to his century and little else as he followed fellow senior batsman Mushfiqur's example and holed out off Yadav in the 33rd over, meaning that Bangladesh had lost five wickets for 30 runs.
With the seniors having failed them, Liton and Soumya Sarkar then added 58 runs for the sixth wicket before Liton was stumped off Yadav by the finest of margins in the 41st over. The third umpire took ages to make his decision as a magnifier had to be used to determine that the part of Liton's foot that looked to be behind the line was actually not grounded, and he had to walk back for a splendid 121 off 117 balls with 12 fours and two sixes.
Mashrafe then continued the trend of seniors throwing it away as he needlessly tried to repeat a six hit off Yadav and was stumped in the 43rd over, leaving Soumya with the tail. The panic had fully set in by then as evidenced by Nazmul's run out in the 47th over. Two overs later, Soumya followed suit, failing to complete a second run and walking back with a 45-ball 33. Rubel Hossain lasted just one ball and was bowled by a Kumar yorker in the next as Bangladesh were all out with nine balls still to be played.
World Cup-winning teams may have their names written in the annals of history, but World Cup-winning captains have a special place in those books. Clive Lloyd will forever be remembered for leading the West Indies to back-to-back World Cup in the first two editions of the tournament and Kapil Dev will be equally remembered for leading an unfancied India to unprecedented glory four years later.
Each of those names -- the others being Allan Border, Imran Khan, Arjuna Ranatunga, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Michael Clarke -- are all remembered as among the best talents that their countries have ever produced.
Cricket is perhaps the only team sport where such esteem is attached to the captain, who has to pick, choose and employ bowlers, set fields and play a large part in deciding the strategy and playing elevens of a team.
The 2019 World Cup presents an opportunity for another to cement their place among the greatest names in cricket, and there are many deserving candidates. India’s Virat Kohli, Bangladesh’s Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, New Zealand’s Kane Williamson are perhaps the most befitting of such ‘icon status’, but there are seven others who will be desperate to lift the cup and write their names in the pages of history, regardless the strength of their team.
At the only World Cup where Test-playing nations have missed out, nobody is around just to make up the numbers.
Mashrafe Bin Mortaza has already made a solid case as Bangladesh’s best-ever captain. Not only have the Tigers seen their meteoric rise in ODI cricket under his leadership, the Narail Express has become so popular that he will represent his country in an altogether different sense in the United Kingdom: as a member of parliament.
His humble nature, quirks and mannerisms and even the way he has overcome injuries throughout his career have made him one of the most beloved personalities in Bangladesh sport, and he has continued that by leading a side not through performances -- although there have been many -- but through his approach. The 35-year-old, playing in his last World Cup, has been the source of all inspiration for his teammates, young and old. And that attitude has reflected on his teammates and the positivity with which they approach each game.
At the other end of the spectrum is Kane Williamson. His approach to the game has always been stoic, almost robotic. He knows what to do and exactly when to do it and his team’s approach is a far-cry from the all-guns-blazing mentality that had been instilled and perfected four years ago by Brendon McCullum. Williamson’s teams are not lacking in firepower, far from it, but their demeanour on the field is always a portrait of calm. He has been captain for over three years now and has got to grips with the job, something that he seems to be able to do regardless of circumstance.
Then there is Virat Kohli. One of the finest players in the world and almost always ranked as the best in ODI cricket, the Indian still finds himself under fire for his captaincy. There are murmurs that he does not put the team before himself, whispers that his ‘egotistical nature’ are detrimental to team spirit and all but confirmed rumours that coach Anil Kumble was let go after a row with Kohli. His horrid stint as captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore in this season’s Indian Premier League has only added fuel to the fire.
Although there are many, perhaps valid, question about Kohli’s tactical nous -- there are bound to be when you following up Dhoni -- the 30-year-old can, and has, led from the front like nobody else. He is the world’s best when it comes to chasing down targets and, as he said at the captain’s media day ahead of the World Cup, his marriage has turned him into “a more responsible person” who has “started understanding things much better and started putting things into perspective a lot more”. Whether that perspective can help him on the pitch will be the main factor standing between India and the World Cup.
However, Kohli is not the only captain that is under so much pressure. There is another, often maligned in his country for his roots: Eoin Morgan. The Ireland-born England captain has been a key component alongside coach Trevor Bayliss in revolutionising the way cricket is played by the national side; from a meek, defensive approach to an attacking brand with such ruthlessness that they are talking about hitting the 500-run mark in 50-over cricket.
That does not mean Morgan’s entire plan revolves around going out and trying to blast teams out of the ground, something many feel McCullum was guilty of -- especially after the 2015 World Cup final. Morgan has an amazing grasp of the tactics of the game, and that will certainly come into play at some point as the team chase their maiden World Cup glory.
Another captain who leads from the front is Faf du Plessis. The South African took over from AB de Villiers and although those are big shoes to fill, his close friendship with Mr 360 saw him inherit a wealth of that experience. Du Plessis’ calm demeanour under pressure, consistency, and wealth of experience will be key to the South African cause and perhaps, under his captaincy, they can finally shed the ‘chokers’ tag.
The team that are quite opposite of ‘chokers’ will also feature a new captain. Aaron Finch will be leading Australia at the World Cup, a short while after successfully, in tandem with coach Justin Langer, leading the team out of the dredges of ‘sandpaper-gate’. He has not had much time to prove his abilities as skipper, but a 3-2 series win against India in India -- that too without Steve Smith and David Warner -- has certainly shown that he has been doing things right. He will hope to continue with the softer, toned-down approach when the pressure mounts, but also hope that results go in favour of the perennial favourites.
Even among the unfancied teams, there are tenured, winning captains in the form of Sarfraz Ahmed and Jason Holder.
Sarfraz played only two of Pakistan’s six matches at the last World Cup but his performances solidified his place in the team. He scored 49 off 49 and took 6 catches as wicketkeeper to equal the ODI record for most dismissals with six before hitting an unbeaten 101 against Ireland. In February 2017, he assumed captaincy of the ODI side and he would prove his credentials months later, leading Pakistan to glory in the ICC Champions Trophy.
On the other hand, Holder was the one who stuck by his nation’s side when at a time when franchise cricket had pulled out almost all of its international stars. He found himself thrust into captaincy a year after his international debut and the 27-year-old remained steadfast despite being the youngest captain in West Indies’ history. He also led his side to the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup, an achievement rarely anyone had expected.
There are also two among the unknowns.
Asghar Afghan was replaced at the last moment by the Afghanistan Cricket Board and Gulbadin Naib was installed as captain, a decision that drew nationwide furore and even led to players expressing their displeasure publicly. Rashid Khan expressed his disappointment on Twitter while Mohammad Nabi also aired his grievances. Even Naib admitted: “Asghar Afghan is still my captain. We played our last few games against Ireland and Scotland, and he helped me a lot. He guided me. He’s not just another player for me, he’s still my captain right now.”
Finally, there are Sri Lanka and their captain Dimuth Karunaratne. It was a shock decision when he was appointed since he had not played an ODI since 2015. However, selectors were impressed by him leading The Islanders to a Test series win against South Africa. His qualities in the ODI game may not translate as well, but his ability to handle himself under pressure will surely prove a valuable commodity.
These are the 10 that will be expected to lead from the front, with 10 others behind each of them. However, only one will have the chance to not only cement their names as a bonafide legend of their country, but also write their name in the pages of history.