Mahmudul Hasan Joy was the glue that held the Bangladesh innings together. (ICC)
In Bangladesh's domestic youth circuit, Mahmudul Hasan Joy is renowned for pulling off the big games. For, he could go anonymous in those games his team is comfortably winning, but the slightest hint of a crisis, Joy emphatically announces his presence. Like he did against New Zealand in the U-19 World Cup semifinal, where his 100 off 127 balls guided Bangladesh to their maiden final appearance in any ICC tournament.
Typically, he was enduring a lean patch in the tournament. In five innings before the semifinal, he tallied only 76 runs, including two ducks. But coach Naweed Nawad knew his ward quite well. So in the pre-match press conference, he defended him: “He's a class player. We need to back him. I'm sure he will get the runs when it matters the most for us.”
His conviction was based on strong evidence. Last year, he scored a second-innings hundred on a wearing fourth-day surface against England U19 to fashion a series-sealing win. Bangladesh were chasing 333 and kept losing wickets in a heap, but Joy kept his cool as Bangladesh sneaked in by three wickets. A few months before that, Krira Shikkha Protishtan (the equivalent of National Cricket Academy) product racked up 126 in a deciding youth ODI against New Zealand U19s.
Thanks to the Tiger fans for your endless support today. Hope to see you all in the final 👏 https://t.co/2KMnmCJe65
— Bangladesh Cricket (@BCBtigers) February 6, 2020
The context, this time around, was bigger. Bangladesh had never gone beyond the semifinals of the Youth World Cup. Besides, all Bangladesh sides travelled the world with their blinking-in-big-moments reputation. Time and time again, they've lost high-pressure games because they couldn't handle the accompanying pressure, not for want of skills. His senior counterparts Mushfiqur Rahim himself would testify. But Joy ensured that the enormity of the situation didn't overwhelm him. He went about the chase, as if he's playing a club game in Dhaka. It seemed history repeating when Bangladesh lost two quick wickets in their chase of 212. But Joy soaked the pressure. He kept his aggressive streak on hold and staved off the new-ball threat.
He meticulously left anything outside the off-stump, and waited for the full balls. An instinctive cutter off the ball, he didn't attempt the stroke until he progressed into his 30s. A firm straight-driven four and a flurry of singles kept him going initially. Only when New Zealand resorted to leg-spinner Aditya Ashok that he started searching for the boundaries. Even then, he was looking to execute risk-free shots, like the sweeps, flicks and glides, perfectly placed with lots of power and precision.
The combination of power and precision was the standout feature of his game. It's a rare mix for Bangladesh batsmen, who are either power-players or touch players. Seldom both.
Joy blended both the worlds. He would unfurl silken drives—there was a gorgeous cover-drive off medium-pacer David Hankock later in the innings—as well as the powerful cuts, a bit like Mushfiqur in his penchant cut in front of square.
Like most Bangladesh batsmen, he was ruthless on spinners. Ashok and Jesse Tashkoff fully bore on the brunt (they conceded 102 off their 20 overs). Whenever they erred on the shorter or fuller side, he would latch onto it. But at point he seemed in a tearing hurry—often Bangladesh batsmen convey the impression that they want to wrap up the innings as early as possible. He would calmly ride the storm, pile on the dot balls (he didn't score off 63 deliveries) without feeling the pressure, and when a loose ball beckoned, he knew the gap and which stroke to play. Invariably, he completed his hundred with a thunderous sweep off Tashkoff.
Mahmudul Hasan Joy named the player the of the match for his match-winning 💯 in the semi-final clash against New Zealand U-19.
— Bangladesh Cricket (@BCBtigers) February 6, 2020
Around his assurance blossomed stroke-makers Towhid Hriday (40 off 47) and Shahadat Hossain (40 off 51), who kept the run-rate within their grasp. "The way they (Joy and Hridoy) batted was exceptional. They work really hard, and it's commendable. But it was our three spinners who put us in that situation," observed captain Akbar Ali.
Their left-arm spin pair of Rakibul Hasan and Hasan Murad conceded only 69 runs for three wickets in 20 overs. Both, unsurprisingly, have leaked 3.10 and 3.15 runs an over in this campaign. New Zealand batsmen simply didn't have the skill to manoeuvre them, and the pressure just kept mounting on them. Throw off-spinner Shamim Hossain (who is comparatively more expensive at 3.75) into the mix, and Bangladesh have perhaps the thriftiest bowling unit in the World Cup. On them would hinge their dreams of landing the first-ever U-19 World Cup in the frenzied streets of Dhaka.
For that, though, they have to beat India, easily the strongest side in the tournament. But Ali asserts his team is not frazzled by the situation. "We will play it as a normal game. We can't take the pressure of thinking that this is our first final. India is a very good side, and we have to play our 'A' game. We have to do the best in all three departments," he says.
And an even bigger stage awaits Hasan Joy.
Brief scores: New Zealand Under-19: 211 for 8 (Wheeler-Greenall 75, Lidstone 44, Islam 3-45, Shamim 2-31) lost to Bangladesh Under-19: 215 for 4 (Joy 100, Shahadat 40*) by six wickets