The Bangladesh team management made a tactical change against Afghanistan in what was a dress rehearsal for the tri-nation T20I series final at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chattogram yesterday.
Many expected the Tigers to tinker with their playing eleven to test their bench strength in the dead rubber with the likes of pacer Rubel Hossain and young opener Naeem Sheikh in the ranks.
Instead, Bangladesh made just one change with batsman Sabbir Rahman replacing injured leg-spinner Aminul Islam, who needed three stitches to his left hand after injuring it during an impressive T20I debut against Zimbabwe in the previous game.
Obviously, the mantra of holding onto winning momentum was the reason behind not making drastic changes, but it came as a surprise as Bangladesh went for four specialist bowlers -- pacers Mustafizur Rahman, Shafiul Islam, Mohammad Saifuddin and skipper Shakib Al Hasan -- with Mahmudullah Riyad, Mosaddek Hossain and Afif Hossain other bowling options.
Bangladesh made a good start after electing to field as seamers Shafiul and Saifuddin maintained a tight line and length initially, keeping Afghanistan openers Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Hazratullah Zazai quiet.
The hosts were almost rewarded for that in the second over when Gurbaz, on just three runs, top-edged a short delivery from Shafiul and popped a regulation catch to Mahmudullah, who incredibly dropped the dolly.
Shakib introduced Mahmudullah and his off-spin in the last over of the batting Powerplay and Zazai cut loose.
He smashed two fours and a six as the over yielded 16 runs, easing the pressure on Afghanistan.
Mustafizur also leaked nine runs in his first over and Shakib, suddenly in a dilemma before even the halfway stage, introduced his sixth bowler, Mosaddek, in the ninth over.
With Afghanistan at 75 without loss after nine overs, it seemed the play to play four specialist bowlers was going to be a failure. That is, until Shakib injected Afif into the attack.
Interestingly, Afif, who burst onto the scene with a five-wicket haul for the Rajshahi Kings on his T20 debut in the Bangladesh Premier League in 2016, was handed the ball for the first time since making a comeback to the national side in the ongoing tri-nation series.
The move paid off as Afif provided the first breakthrough for the Tigers, dismissing Zazai on 47. He went on to scalp another in the same over, sending Asghar Afghan back for a duck.
That swung the pendulum Bangladesh’s way and Mustafizur removed Gurbaz for 29. Shakib went for the kill, trapping the dangerous Mohammad Nabi leg before on four, and Afghanistan’s middle-order collapsed. They were unable to recover and posted a modest 138 for 7 in 20 overs.
Although many may raise questions about the team having a specialist bowler short in the line-up, it was the perfect platform for head coach Russell Domingo to try something different in terms of tactics and could create options for him in the coming days.