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Sabbir all the way as Sri Lanka succumb

Wisden India logo Wisden India 28-02-2016

Sabbir Rahman, standing head and shoulders above everyone on either side, powered Bangladesh to a famous win against Sri Lanka at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur. Rahman pummelled 80 in 54 balls to take Bangladesh to 147 for 7, and Sri Lanka were kept down to 124 for 8, sealing a 23-run win.

For a change, it was a pitch without as much green as in the previous games, and that made the Bangladesh v Sri Lanka contest at Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur on Sunday (February 28) less of a bowling unit v bowling unit affair. The conditions also made fast bowlers, with the exception of Mustafizur Rahman, a lesser threat than they were in the first four matches, and the spinners came into play in a big way as well.

In their chase, Sri Lanka lost Tillakaratne Dilshan to a fantastic Soumya Sarkar catch in the fourth over, but then, a long and fruitful stand between Dinesh Chandimal and Shehan Jayasuriya, which lasted just under seven overs and realised 56 runs helped things along. Sri Lanka were well on track at that stage. But the pitch was playing tricks by then, not all balls coming on to the bat, and Shakib Al Hasan was bowling as well as he has in a long time, ending with 2 for 21.

Chandimal fell reverse sweeping Mahmudullah, Bangladesh’s other spinner, to deep square-leg after a run-a-ball 37. And Jayasuriya followed for 26 in 21 balls, stepping out too early to Shakib, who sent it wide for Nurul Hasan to pull off the stumping.

Such enterprise might have been a tad unnecessary at that stage, and the effects showed over the next few overs, as Thisara Perera and Milinda Siriwardena came and went, the big hits dried up, the Bangladesh fielders threw themselves at everything and ripped across their throws, and Mustafizur found the perfect lines and lengths to finish with 1 for 19.

The required rate had crept up into double digits by then and none of the remaining batsmen had any answers, falling one by one to the absolute delight of the packed house.

The first half of the match was all about Sabbir. He walked in at No. 3 on the third ball of the innings after Mohammad Mithun had missed the inward movement of a Mathews delivery. He lost Sarkar and Mushfiqur Rahim soon, but had gotten into his groove by then, pulling, lifting, cover-driving and cutting Nuwan Kulasekara for 18 runs in an over.

Shakib got in, and focussed on taking singles to give Sabbir the strike, and what a sensible call that was. So dominant was Sabbir – the pull his best shot but a cover drive for four off Perera, the shot of the innings – that, when he got out, having hit ten fours and three sixes along the way, he had scored 74.07% of the team’s total at the time: 108.

The world record for a completed innings is Kane Williamson’s 40 out of his team’s 60 against Sri Lanka in Chittagong at the last World Twenty20. That was safe. As was Tamim Iqbal’s record for the highest T20 International score for Bangladesh – 88 not out. Sabbir probably deserved to go past both those marks. That he didn’t, however, took nothing away from his contribution.

While he was around, Sabbir batted on a different plane from the others altogether, playing hardly a single loose stroke. But then he went for a hoick off a Dushmantha Chameera slower one, a ball after having swung a six over midwicket, to hole out in the deep. Rangana Herath was the only one he couldn’t quite boss, while Kulasekara, Perera and Jayasuriya bore most of the brunt of his hitting.

Shakib’s 32 in 34 balls was a good supporting hand, as was Mahmudullah’s unbeaten 12-ball 23 towards the end, his two fours and a six helping Bangladesh to a decent total.

Lasith Malinga, who could not play because of a knee niggle, was certainly missed, at least by the Sri Lankans, whose chase could have gone all awry had Sarkar managed to hold on to a regulation chance at second slip from Chandimal second ball of the innings. He grassed it, but Sarkar must be given all the credit for Bangladesh’s breakthrough, when he ran back a good 25 yards following a Dilshan miscue off Shakib, got both hands to it as he fell forward and slid a long way before stopping.

Chandimal and Jayasuriya made sure that Dilshan’s early loss wasn’t felt too keenly, but their departure so close to one another changed the flow decisively in Bangladesh’s favour.

The win was Bangladesh’s second in three games, taking them to No. 2 on the points table and in with a good shot at making the final. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have it all to do, and would desperately want Malinga back at the earliest.

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