On March 2nd, 2016 Mahmudullah Riyad overcame the demons of his past and took Bangladesh to the Asia Cup final. He played an exquisite cover drive for six off Mohammed Irfan, remained calm after the departure of Shakib Al Hasan, squeezed an almost yorker from Sami for a crucial boundary and then deservedly scored the winning runs two balls later. The joyous celebration followed and he slid in the green turf of Mirpur with open arms. He had conquered the demons of his past and redeemed himself in a sensational manner against the same opponent. After the game, he himself alluded to the fact and said the match reminded him of the heart breaking 2012 Asia cup final. It was an unbelievable scene but to the most observant fans it felt only inevitable. The dramatic finish of March 2nd 2016 and the transformation of the man began almost a year ago during another crucial match.
On March 5th, 2015 Bangladesh was playing their 3rd World Cup match. After a handsome win against Afghanistan, the Tigers took a step back against Sri Lanka. Scotland was their next opponent and Bangladesh were expected to win against the Associate and to keep their quarter finals hope alive. But Scotland posted a mammoth score of 318 and in reply Bangladesh lost Soumya Sarker early. Mahmudullah walked in the 2nd over with a target of 318 looming and the fate of the world campaign slowly fading away. He scored run a ball 62 runs but most importantly provided solid anchor to Tamim Iqbal on the other side. The partnership of 139 runs paved the platform for a successful chase. It was a commendable innings under pressure but it was only the beginning. The confidence from that game gave rise to his most significant back to back innings in the next two games.
In the next game against England, Mahmudullah erupted with confidence. Batting first, the side was stuttering at 99-4 and then Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim built a 141 run partnership. He took his time to consolidate during the middle overs but accelerated later on to score the maiden world cup century for Bangladesh. Bangladesh went on to win the game and Mahmudullah was adjudged Man of the Match. With the win, Bangladesh clinched a second round berth in the World Cup for the first time in their history.
The fans and critics back home were pleasantly surprised as how Mahmudullah Riyad was surpassing the likes of Tamim, Shakib, and Mushfiq to be the most prolific batsmen in the tournament. But Mahmudullah proved it was no anomaly when he scored a tremendous century against New Zealand in the next match. In the swinging conditions of New Zealand, when Boult and Southee toyed with Tamim and Kayes, Mahmudullah stood tall and scored 128 and remained not out. He was confident, elegant, and eccentric. It was Mahmudullah Riyad at his best.
It was a dramatic transformation of a man who had his inclusion in the world cup squad questioned by many. It was unbelievable to see a man who had no recent memorable knocks prior to the world cup, with his most significant recent achievement might have been winning the 1st place go-kart racing among his teammates during the team bonding exercise prior to world cup, to carve his name in the history of Bangladesh cricket.
Since then, he went through a short dip in form in the Pakistan series at home. He could not keep the same intensity in the South Africa and Zimbabwe series that followed. The critics once again circled around him but fortunately the team management did not share the critics’ short-sightedness. They persisted with him knowing a player that showed so much class and confidence in the world cup will again come good.
And Mahmudullah came good again in a grand style. He played a pivotal innings against UAE that ensured Bangladesh to post a respectable total on the board. While the rest of the players around him were struggling, he commanded great confidence and accelerated the innings at the end and also claimed two wickets. In the next match against Sri Lanka, he again played the finisher role and remained not out with a high strike rate. But it was yet to be seen if he can persevere in a run chase. Tonight he proved he can, against the same opponent and in the same tournament that scorned many fans four years ago.
Bangladesh will play India in the Asia cup final on March 6th, 2015. It is exactly one year after when Mahmudullah Riyad began his transformation against Scotland in March 5th, 2016. Bangladesh will hope their most improved batsmen will deliver once again and if it happens then it will be coming full circle of a magnificent year for Mahmudullah Riyad. For the fans and the Mahmudullah Riyad himself, it will be a sweet anniversary to remember by.
Key to Mahmudullah Riyad’s success:
Mahmudullah is playing conventional textbook cricket. He understands his roles and playing according to the situation. He stays back in the crease and opens his stance when necessary. He does not premediate his shots like his other countrymen. He rarely comes down the track like Tamim Iqbal. He does not play paddle or reverse sweeps like Mushfiqur Rahim or the scoop or shuffle like Shakib Al Hasan. While these players are trying too hard, Riyad is sticking to the fundamentals and waiting for the ball to come him and play it accordingly. That’s why he was able to squeeze a full delivery from Sami in the penultimate over for a boundary. A premeditated down the track shot or scoop would have not yielded a boundary off that ball. Sabbir Rahman is also replicating the conventional method and that’s why these two are reaping more success than Shakib and Mushfiq.