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An interview with Mahmudullah - The World T20 loss to India hurt us badly

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Mahmudullah_Bangladesh_CricketOne of the most experienced batsmen in the Bangladesh Cricket Team and the deputy to Shakib Al Hasan in twenty-overs cricket (T20Is), Mahmudullah can rightly be called a hero of his side.

From his contributions in England’s loss to Bangladesh in the group stage of 2011 World Cup, or Pakistan’s loss to them in the 2016 Asia Cup. Or his century that knocked England out of World Cup 2015.

Three centuries in ICC events. The 32-year-old has been a rock for The Tigers in big events, but has often been overshadowed by the more ‘headline-making’ players. Mahmudullah to Bangladesh’s limited-overs cricket is what Rahul Dravid was to India’s ODI landscape. Two batsmen who deserved more glory than they got.

Like several cricketing stalwarts, Mahmudullah started his career as a bowler and then converted himself into a batsman.

He made his Test debut on 9th July, 2009 against the West Indies and had a dream start to his career in white. Not with the bat, but with the ball. The batting all-rounder produced the best bowling figures for a Bangladeshi on debut with 8 wickets in the match, including a 5-wicket haul in the second innings to help his team seal their first ever win overseas. These figures are yet to be surpassed. He soon got going with the bat too; his maiden Test ton came against New Zealand at Hamilton while batting at number 8 and he has 2,065 runs in 37 Tests.

His ODI debut in 2007 against Sri Lanka was as impactful. The right-arm off-break bowler picked up 2 wickets and scored 36 runs against the Lankans.

Mahmudullah was the best Bangladesh batsman in the 2015 World Cup. He scored 365 in seven innings, helping his team secure a berth in the quarters where they were beaten by India.

In the shortest format, he has 1,104 runs and 26 wickets from 70 games.

A regular in all three formats for Bangladesh, Mahmudullah recently captained his side in the Nidahas Trophy tri-series, which they lost to India in the finals. HoldingWilley caught up with the him for a quick chat after the recent Afghanistan vs Bangladesh T20I series in Dehradun, which the Tigers lost 0-3.

Q: Which of the two was your first inclination? Right-hand batsman or off-spinner? What made you convert into a batsman?

Pace bowling! Not off-spin, but pace bowling was what I was inclined to as a child. But I was quite small back then and the seniors with who my brothers played cricket, would not let me play with them. One fine day they fell short of a player in their team and I got the chance and bowled off spin. I got a few wickets in that game and then got regular chances to play with them. I started taking batting seriously only when I was picked for the Bangladesh Under-19 team for the 2004 World Cup.   

Q: Does the loss against India in the World T20 still hurt?

It did hurt, very much! And also the loss in the Nidahas Trophy final. We should have won both games. But what I have learnt in cricket is that you cannot dwell on disappointments and the sooner you let go of the hurt, the better. Thankfully, we as a team have moved on from those losses.

Q: You were the best batsman for Bangladesh in the 2015 World Cup. How did your career change after that? What areas do you think Bangladesh need to work on before the 2019 World Cup?

It was important to score the two hundreds, especially the one against England. I was scoring but not converting innings into three figures. So the centuries gave me a lot of confidence and I was particularly pleased to have scored in Australian and New Zealand conditions against top quality bowling.

As for the upcoming World Cup, I guess our focus should be to attain a level of consistency. All the areas are important but I feel bowling will win matches in that tournament, as the pitches in England are good. To restrict the opposition on a batting-friendly wicket will not be easy and the bowlers will play a massive role.

Q: How difficult was it to face Rashid Khan in the 3-match T20I series against Afghanistan? Do you think Afghanistan lack power in their batting department?

I have played Rashid in the past but have noticed remarkable improvement over the last few months. Rashid is now smarter in executing his variations and he is always a handful in the limited overs game, because his length, line and delivery speed is close to perfect.

Afghanistan’s strength lies in their bowling. The batting will also improve eventually because they will now play different versions of the game regularly against quality oppositions.

Q: How was the experience of captaining the team in the Nidahas Trophy? Can you tell us what exactly happened in the game against Sri Lanka? Did the media blow the matter out of proportion?

It was an enjoyable tournament. Very competitive and tense. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, certain ugly things happen on the field and everyone passionately gets involved.

I believe you are referring to our second match against Sri Lanka. Well, I was there in the middle when things got a little heated. But players of both sides know each other so well and share a good rapport. We even play together for the same teams in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), Dhaka Premier Division and other franchise cricket leagues.

There was no animosity between us and we just laughed it off the next day. I guess it was more difficult for the local fans to accept the fact that the home side was out of the tournament.  

Q: Did you ever think you would score a Test century batting at no. 8? Was that the turning point of your career?

Those were early days in my Test career. All I wanted to do was contribute wherever I could. It turned out to be a nice innings as New Zealand bowlers can make life very difficult in their conditions. Besides, Shakib [Al Hasan] was at the other end most of the time when I was batting and that helped because we have a good understanding and he is someone who is very positive.

Q: Do you think India v Bangladesh rivalry is slowly becoming as intense as India v Pakistan? (From the social media it certainly seems so.)

We have had some tense, exciting games in the recent years. However, the so-called rivalry is something that the fans and social media is more interested in discussing. We just enjoy playing against any good opposition and India have been the best team in the region for a number of years.

 

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