Mahmudullah was counting through the runs in a tense chase, trying to get back the strike from stumbling tail-enders. When he did, he was hitting fours from unthinkable body positions. He was having to reason with umpires, decipher his captain’s gestures from the boundary, and at one point nearly walked off the field. He was still arguing with Sri Lanka’s fielders when he walked back to the crease.
From the edge of the boundary, he walked back, took guard again, and crouched slightly as he eyed up the bowler.
By this time, he was just operating on what gamers call Beast Mode (or what in sports lingo is referred to as the zone), hitting everything with the middle of his bat whichever way his bat went. The drama didn’t let up but you could sense that Mahmudullah was seeing everything happening a split second before anyone else. So when Isuru Udana dished out a pie on his legs, with Bangladesh needing six runs off two balls, Mahmudullah’s hands and feet kicked in. He just swung it out of the ground.
Like an action hero who was fighting the bad guys and trying to save his best friend in the climax, Mahmudullah had to mind both ends. Someone who has just hit a late six to win a thriller shouldn’t be expected to break off fights, but he had to do that as well.
It was silly and then, as the two sets of players were walking off, the ill-feeling grew further as brawls broke out. Mahmudullah hung back to have a go at Nurul Hasan, the substitute fielder who got into a needless argument with a Sri Lankan player. Emotions ran high but that man Mahmudullah stood firm. Ice through his veins? Beast mode?
Shakib Al Hasan said it was the sort of batting, especially in the crunch moments of a T20 game, that isn’t usually associated with a Bangladeshi batsman.
“What he did today was unbelievable,” Shakib said. “You will get 50 off 30 balls eight out of 10 times in a T20 game unless you are batting against Rashid Khan, Sunil Narine or Lasith Malinga. But it is always hard for us to hit towards the end. We have never been able to hit cleanly in the last five overs so to do it in such a pressure game was incredible.
“He was terrific. Tamim [Iqbal] was brilliant too but you cannot take anything away from Mahmudullah in this game. I have never seen a Bangladesh batsman hitting the ball so well in limited-overs cricket.”
So what has Mahmudullah done to earn so much praise? Among innings lasting 15 or more balls by Bangladesh batsmen in T20Is, Mahmudullah’s unbeaten 18-ball 43 was the quickest, his runs coming at a strike rate of 238.88. He has been the lone Bangladeshi batsman able to hit sixes at every opportunity, willing to keep going aerial despite his place in the team not always being set in stone unlike other senior players.
In fact, in early 2016, Chandika Hathurusingha put him through strenuous training sessions in Khulna to transform his T20 approach. Since the start of 2016, Mahmudullah has scored at a 100-plus strike-rate in all but one of 16 innings in which he has faced at least 10 balls. During this same period, he has struck 20 of his 35 career sixes. He has enjoyed remarkable BPL campaigns for Barisal Bulls and Khulna Titans too.
Mahmudullah, of course, was famously involved in the most unbelievable final-over meltdown in Bengaluru in 2016. He and Mushfiqur Rahim were responsible for that trauma, which many Bangladesh players believed affected them on-field for at least the next 12 months. Hathurusingha said on a few occasions that the players must take lessons from it but forget the pain.
Mushfiqur’s final-over heroics against Sri Lanka earlier in the tournament, and now Mahmudullah’s superb batting in a crunch moment, may have finally purged Bangladesh of the shame of Bengaluru.
Shakib certainly felt the lessons have been learned and that the team is more aware of how to tackle such situations.”Everyone learns from their mistakes,” he said. “Bangalore was a lesson on how to win. I think we are now alert of [what to do in] these situations.”
Cricketers will tell you that there’s no last word in this game. Things come back in circles, and when it did in this tournament, in two vital moments, Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah used their experience to turn things around. Mahmudullah would certainly be prepared to play another blinder if the need arises but as his face said by the end of the Friday firecracker, please, let there only be cricket.