Welcome to the series where we present you a moment, a game in history that has shaped the way the sport has been played, in our weekly segment ‘Throwback Thursday.' This week, we revisit arguably the greatest night in Bangladesh history, where the Tigers marched into the semi-finals of CT 2017.
It’s June 9, 2017, and we are at the Sophie Gardens on an extremely cold evening in Cardiff. New Zealand have the ball in hand and Bangladesh are five wickets down, with Ross Taylor at first slip eagerly lurking to gobble anything and everything that would come his way, but, remarkably, under pressure are not the batting side. All of the 15,000 fans at the venue have, by now, lost their voice having incessantly cheered for 97.1 overs, and yet even that looks unlikely to stop the atmosphere from hitting its crescendo in precisely a ball’s time. “2 runs needed from 17 balls to win” reads the graphic on screen, but a 100 million people back home in Bangladesh know that a couple of more runs here from the bat of young Mosaddek Hossain will mean far, far more than just a victory.
Before we see whether Mosaddek managed to knock off those runs, though, it is important to go back and understand how Bangladesh put themselves in a position to be two runs off possibly the greatest moment in the country’s cricketing history.
Now prior to Champions Trophy 2017, Bangladesh had participated in ICC tournaments for close to two decades, but they were nothing more than mere pushovers who could cause a rare upset. That was until the 2015 World Cup arrived. There, the Tigers made the transition from ‘not bad’ to ‘very good’ and for the first time reached the knockout stages of an ICC competition. Thus CT 2017 was of paramount importance to the side, for it was this young bunch’s opportunity to prove that WC 2015 was not a one off, and that they’d actually come leaps and bounds as a cricketing nation.
And in the very first game of the tournament, against hosts and favorites England, the Tigers sent a strong message that they were there to not participate, but win. Having been put into bat, Bangladesh, led by onslaughts from Tamim and Mushfiqur, posted a mammoth 305 on the board, making it clear that England had to ‘beat’ them. Eventually the Three Lions did, with relative ease, but it was evident that this was a Bangladesh side like no other.
Unfortunately, a ‘vintage’ batting performance followed in their second game of the tournament against Australia - getting bowled out for 182 - but rain gods coming to their rescue just in time and washing out the match meant that heading into their final group game against New Zealand, the Tigers were still well and truly alive in the competition.
Now New Zealand were a team that a lot of countries did not fancy facing, but that simply wasn’t the case with Bangladesh. In fact, Bangladesh loved playing against New Zealand. Prior to the Champions Trophy clash, they’d beaten the Kiwis a week ago in the final of a Tri-Series that also involved Ireland, and, on top of that, they’d also won three of their four previous ODI games versus the Black Caps, dating back to December 2016. So they entered the clash in Cardiff very well knowing that they stood a chance to not just knock out New Zealand, but to potentially qualify for the semi-finals.
Why it was only a ‘potential’ chance was because Bangladesh, even if they beat New Zealand, needed England to down Australia at Edgbaston the next day to dream of making it to the next round. But if there was one thing that stood out about this bunch, it was that they were a pack that dared to dream.
And come the day in Cardiff, they were out there to realize that dream. Losing the toss meant that the Kiwis got the opportunity to make use of the best batting conditions in the day, but that didn’t deter this young side’s march and spirit. Despite being exposed to an early onslaught by both Martin Guptill and Luke Ronchi, the bowlers kept their heads up, and, soon enough, sent both the dangermen back to the pavilion in quick succession.
Then came a merciless pummeling from Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, who put on a grinding 83-run stand, but Bangladesh got through that phase, too, through unwavering belief and relentlessly persistent bowling. Though he had nothing to show for in the wickets column, skipper Mashrafe Mortaza marshalled his troops to perfection, and eventually, led by young Mosaddek Hossain’s three-fer, the Tigers had managed to restrict the Kiwis to 265, a total significantly lower than what everyone expected and predicted at the half-way stage.
So heading into the dressing room for the innings break, this free-spirited side brimmed with confidence, knowing that they were potentially 50 overs away from scripting history.
Back after the restart, however, 70 balls was all that was required to crush all hopes; the hopes of a 100 million people. Tamim Iqbal, the tournament’s highest run-getter then, who’d smashed a ton versus England and a ninety versus Australia, fell for a duck in just the second ball of the innings. Sabbir Rahman showed promise but fell soon, so did Rahim and Soumya Sarkar, and in the blink of an eye the Tigers were reduced to 33/4. Still 233 adrift of the target with, really, two specialist batsmen left, the dream seemed far, far away and the evening, already, felt like the same old story of Bangladesh: so close, yet so far; winning hearts, but not matches.
Luckily for the Tigers, though, at the crease were two batsmen who were there not just to win hearts. Both Shakib and Mahmudullah were non-existent up until then in the tournament, but with over a decade of experience under their belt, they knew this was their opportunity to shine; to not just make a name for themselves, but to potentially start a new chapter in their country’s cricketing history.
At 33/4, Bangladesh teams of the yesteryear would have folded under a 150 and accepted defeat, but not this one. Not the two players who were out in the middle, at least. Shakib and Mahmudullah took no prisoners.
Four balls after the dismissal of Rahim, Shakib blasted Tim Southee, the man who’d taken three of the first four wickets to fall, through cover for a boundary, and that turned out to be a sign of things to come. Mahmudullah followed suit three balls later and swatted Southee over mid-wicket, and in just six balls together, the duo made their intentions known - explicitly.
Turning a blind eye to the scorecard, forgetting the enormity of the occasion, the two veterans batted and batted and batted. That’s literally all they did: bat with freedom. 33/4 soon became 100/4 and though it wasn’t panic stations, the tension in the Kiwi faces was evident; desperation started to kick in. From Neesham to Milne to Santner to Anderson to even bringing himself on for a couple of overs, Williamson tried it all, yet nothing seemed to work.
The pitch that looked like a minefield 10 overs into Bangladesh’ chase now behaved like Holkar, and in no time Bangladesh went to 158/4 in 32 overs, with Shakib and Mahmudullah adding 125 of those at almost run-a-ball.
A period of slight pressure would follow, but no wickets falling meant that it instead turned out to be the calm before the storm. After milking the bowlers for ones and twos for a seven-over period, Shakib and Mahmudullah cut loose after the 40th over, taking 44 runs off the next 5 to bring the score to 240/4, 26 runs shy of victory. Both men got their centuries in the following two overs, and though Shakib perished attempting an ugly hoick, the match, by then, was all but sealed. He sure would have loved to finish the job himself, but perhaps as destiny had it, the legendary all-rounder left it to the hands of Mosaddek Hossain to finish the job.
So that brings us to the moment.
264/5, 2 runs needed, 17 balls remaining. Even forgetting the fact that they were at one stage 33/4, a victory here would go down in Bangladesh’s history books, but should Mosaddek knock these two runs off, it could stake a claim to be the country’s best ever performance. This is a team that has been written off, mocked, belittled and humiliated for decades, and yet with one hit, this 21-year-old who is playing only his 17th ODI could make not just the harshest of critics and trolls rise up and applaud, but potentially seal a place for his country in the semi-finals of an ICC competition for the first time in its history. This is it. This is the most important delivery in the history of Bangladesh cricket.
Welcome to a moment in history