'A couple of wins in India will bring the smiles back' - Mushfiqur Rahim after his finishing act
Even as off-field issues troubled Bangladesh cricket in the days leading up to their tour of India, one thought would likely have always come up in conversations among the players: beating India. Whether it was seeing them line up to announce the players' strike against the BCB on October 21 or when Shakib Al Hasan was banned by the ICC a week later, they knew they would have to regroup quickly for a difficult tour, where every team struggles these days.
The tour comprises T20Is and Tests, formats Bangladesh often struggle in, especially against India. This is their biggest bilateral tour in one of the Big Three countries in many years. And yet, so much was going wrong for the team. Apart from the strike and the ban, senior batsman Tamim Iqbal had pulled out of the tour, to stay back home with his pregnant wife.
Even after the strike ended, the three-day preparatory camp was chaotic. Shakib's absence even before the ban was announced was a mystery, and then, to add to the mess, the BCB pulled out nine players from ongoing first-class matches to join the camp. Then came the Shakib bombshell that really sunk the morale of the team as they had very little time to react before boarding the flight to Delhi last Wednesday.
However, on Sunday evening, Bangladesh overcame the odds to topple India, sealing their first win against them in T20Is. Mushfiqur Rahim, who was at the forefront of the players' strike, was the architect of the win, taking on left-arm seamer Khaleel Ahmed to tilt the scales Bangladesh's way.
"The last two-three weeks has been the toughest situation that I have faced in my 15-year cricketing career," Mushfiqur said at the post-match press conference. "I said to the journalists before leaving Bangladesh that the only way to return to the right track would be with a couple of wins in India. It will bring back smiles and calmness to the team and the nation."
Mushfiqur also praised new coach Russell Domingo for keeping his cool, despite off-field troubles, and also explained the value the youngsters added to the side.
"We came here as underdogs. I thank our head coach because of the situation we have faced in the last three weeks. To come back from that, especially giving the youngsters the freedom and giving them confidence; whether you give 20 runs in an over or get out first ball, you are still a member of this team," he said. "We have been giving this message to the rest of the team. I want them to take eight or ten years to reach what I have reached in 15 years."
Mushfiqur then turned philosophical when asked repeatedly about the heart-breaking loss against India in the 2016 T20 World Cup in Bengaluru. Both Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur were dismissed in the final over of that match with their team two runs away from victory, but three years later, the same batsmen successfully finished the game and put them 1-0 up.
"The biggest thing is people don't remember winning from these situations for too long," he said. "But if we lost this game, they would remember it for a long time. We were in a better position two overs before the end in that [Bengaluru] game. This was a tougher proposition on this wicket where scoring so much in the last two overs was going to be tough. I didn't find it easy to find boundaries on this wicket."
Mushfiqur said Bangladesh had learnt their lessons from the Bengaluru loss and that they were better equipped to deal with pressure now.
"We have had a lot of close games against India, so we promised ourselves that the next time we go into such a phase of the game, we don't want to lose," he said. "We have learned a lot from those last two games against India that went into the last over, so we discussed on how we can overcome those moments. I was telling Riyad bhai that let's win in singles and doubles rather than going for big hits."
Two years after that loss in the T20 World Cup came the Nidahas Trophy final, in which Bangladesh were denied the title thanks to Dinesh Karthik's late-match heroics. And finally, last year, there was the Asia Cup final, where India beat Bangladesh off the final ball.
The big question was whether Mushfiqur had finally exorcised his ghosts against India.
"Not really," he told Star Sports at the post-match presentation before elaborating that it was simply the game situation that had spurred him on. "When you are playing in front of a huge crowd, and when the team needs it the most, then nothing more feels special (than helping the team cross the line). I feel really good. It's a great honour to play India in India."
As for what Mushfiqur's plans are with T20 cricket, given he is one of the few Bangladesh players to play all three formats, the wicketkeeper-batsman said: "I am trying my level best to improve as a cricketer. T20 cricket belongs inside me. I am trying to learn each and every day, and want to do more for Bangladesh."