There is perhaps no easy way to say this: India choked in New Delhi on Sunday against Bangladesh in the first of three Twenty20 Internationals.
Sure, the scoreboard tells you that it was a comfortable seven-wicket win but towards the second of the run-chase, India were dictating terms and had Bangladesh where they would have wanted them to be, given the impressive powerplay the visitors had.
However, Yuzvendra Chahal brought India back into the match with his guile and control. But a few crucial lapses on the field combined with Mushfiqur Rahim riding his luck saw the match slip away from India.
Luck: that intangible factor was the deciding factor in Bangladesh’s win, without taking any credit away from how polished their overall game was.
Coming back to international cricket after a break, Chahal looked like a man on a mission: one to reinstate himself back in the Indian XI as the go-to white-ball spinner. He struck in his first over... a typical googly, floated wide for a left-hander. Mohammad Naim looked good on debut but Chahal’s guile was a bridge too far for him. Just one came from that over and the brakes were applied on the run-chase.
Then came the 10th over of the innings. Off the first delivery, Rahim is beaten by a peach of a leg-spinner. Off the second and third deliveries, Rahim is beaten (now on the inside edge) again: on both occasions, the ball hit the pads, on both occasions there was a brief appeal from the bowler and ‘keeper Rishabh Pant, on both occasions Rohit Sharma opted to not go for the review. In fact, there was barely any discussion over a review despite Chahal throwing glances at his captain and wicket-keeper.
As it turned out, on both occasions Rahim would have been given out.
It did not help matters when Pant asked Rohit to go for a review in that same over for a caught behind against Soumya Sarkar when there was no edge.
If that passage of poor decision-making was not harsh enough on Chahal (who had conceded just 11 runs in his first three overs), the worst was yet to come. Once again, he had the batsman where he wanted: required run-rate rising, Rahim had to play the big shot. The slog sweep is his go-to shot in these situations and Chahal’s flight and turn had ensured Rahim hit one straight to the fielder at deep mid-wicket. Much to the bowler’s bemusement, Krunal Pandya put down a straightforward chance (poor visibility, anyone?) and the ball went for four.
The night that started with Chahal bringing out his Brett Lee impression while celebrating (the downward fist-pumps), ended with hands on his face.
And through this all, Rahim held steady. He was not going to anything silly on this night — his early celebrations against India in Bengaluru at the World T20 in 2016 perhaps still haunt him. But as a long-time workhorse, no one in Bangladesh cricket deserved to be part of a winning moment in a T20I against India more than Rahim.
He rode his luck, for sure, to finally end the jinx. But it is one thing to be lucky, and a completely different matter what you do with said luck. After that dropped catch by Pandya at deep mid-wicket, Rahim reset and steadied himself for one final push.
He was aware that Rohit Sharma had to turn to one of his two inexperienced pacers for the 19th over. There was no Jasprit Bumrah this time, to fire in yorker after yorker. Instead, there was an opportunity. So when the required rate went up to nearly 12, he did not panic.
He saw how Soumya Sarkar was dismissed by Khaleel Ahmed: an off-cutter that stuck on the pitch. He anticipated what Ahmed was going to do in the 19th over. He was ready for it, deep in his crease. He waited. There was nothing premature about his shot over fine leg for four. The next, there was pre-meditation. Again, an attempted faster ball anticipated. Scooped over fine leg to bring up his fifty. And as the icing on the cake, two boundaries behind point as Ahmed over-corrected his angle.
With four needed off the final over, even Mahmudullah and Rahim could not lose the match from there. When the two celebrated this time, it was after the winning runs were hit. It was after the ball had sailed over the rope for a six. It was after Bangladesh’s wait for a T20I win against India finally came to an end.
On a hazy night, when in an ideal world no cricket should have been played, Bangladesh put their off-field worries aside. We can debate whether it was logical for cricketers and fans to breathe in that toxic hour for hours, but the smile on the face of the Bangladeshi fan (body covered in paint, face screaming with obvious joy) would have made it worth it for Mahmudullah’s men.