Cricket World Cup 2019: Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman, Bangladesh’s leaders for the tournament
Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman are Bangladesh's top performers. © AFP

LONDON: Perhaps, more than any other past Cricket World Cup, the 2019 edition has been about pairs.

For India, the batting has revolved around Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Rohit, with 544 runs, and Kohli, with 408. In that India’s squad, no other batsman has reached 250 runs. Rohit has four centuries in this World Cup, the joint most for any player in any edition. So consumed with trying to shield India’s brittle middle has Kohli been, that he has not even once hit top gear, and yet he has five fifties in seven innings. With the ball, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami have 14 wickets apiece while the other Indian bowlers have struggled.

For Australia, the reunited opening pair of David Warner and Aaron Finch have over 500 runs each. Both batsmen have scored two centuries and three fifties. The next best is Usman Khawaja’s 298 runs, and there are many wondering how he even got that many.

For England, the World Cup debutants Jofra Archer and Mark Wood have jostled for top billing as the tournament’s fastest bowlers. Archer, in the nascent stage of his international career, has 17 wickets. Wood, in his latest after another comeback from injury, has 16. They are a fiery pair, Archer and Wood, and could prove defining for England as they bid to make history.

For shaky and lucky New Zealand, Trent Boult (17 wickets) and Lockie Ferguson (15) have been a cut above their team-mates.

(READ: Malik exits, Imam and Afridi chart Pakistan cricket’s next chapter)

And then there’s Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman,  the pair who has carried Bangladesh all tournament. Shakib, with 606 runs at an average of 86.57, just the third batsman in World Cup history to score 600 runs in a single edition. Matthew Hayden and Sachin Tendulkar are the others, and they did it in 11 innings. Shakib has done it in nine.

The previous best for Bangladesh in one World Cup was Mahmudullah’s 365 runs in 2015.

Mustafizur has 20 wickets, only the second bowler in this World Cup with as many. Mitchell Starc is ahead of him, with 24. This is a big achievement by an under-rated pace bowler. The previous best for Bangladesh in a World Cup was 13 wickets, by Abdur Razzak in 2007.

Shakib Al Hasan World Cup 2019
Shakib Al Hasan is the World Cup’s leading alllrounder. © AFP

Subtract the contributions of Shakib, in particular, and Mustafizur, and Bangladesh would have been deflated. Mashrafe Mortaza, Bangladesh’s captain, praised Shakib after the loss to Pakistan at Lord’s on Friday and regretted that he, in particular, and the team could not support him regularly enough.

This has been Shakib’s World Cup. Two hundreds, five fifties and a lowest score of 40. He is the biggest cricketer in Bangladesh, of all time. He has overcome surgeries to be here in England. His imprint has been stamped on each match this World Cup.

(READ: Shaheen Afridi’s six wickets seal Pakistan’s thumping win over Bangladesh)

He scored 75 in the win over South Africa; against New Zealand he made 64 and took 2/47; against England he made 121; he dominated the win over West Indies with two wickets and an unbeaten 124*, arguably the best ODI century by a Bangladesh player; 41 versus Australia was followed by 51 and 5/29 to down Afghanistan, and then 1/41 in 10 overs and 64 against India.

Shakib went wicketless against Pakistan, and carried Bangladesh’s chase with 64 off 77 balls. As soon as Shakib edged Shaheenn Shah Afridi to Sarfaraz Ahmed, his batting partner Mahmudullah sank to his knees. The fight had been extinguished from Bangladesh’s chase with Shakib’s dismissal, just as it had on Tuesday against India at Edgbaston, when on 66 he was duped by a clever change of pace from Hardik Pandya and lobbed the ball to the fielder at cover.

If only he had more support, fans of Bangladesh cricket are rueing.

On Friday at Lord’s, Mustafizur took five wickets for the second match running. In this performance, he became the fourth-quickest bowler to the milestone of 100 ODI wickets. Before this match, Bangladesh coach Steve Rhodes wondered out loud why Mustafizur has not been spoken of more for his success in England.

Mustafizur Rahman World Cup 2019
At Lord’s, Mustafizur Rahman took his second consecutive five-wicket haul. © AFP

In the must-win match against India, Mustafizur took 5/59 to help pull Bangladesh’s opponents back from 180/1 in 29.2 overs to 314/9. He should have Rohit on nine, expect Tamim Iqbal dropped a catch at deep midwicket. When he was called back into the attack later, Mustafizur changed the complexion of India’s innings with a double-wicket maiden 39th over. He got the big wicket of Kohli for 26, pulling a short ball to the man stationed at deep midwicket. Then he got Hardik Pandya for zero, poking and nicking to Soumya Sarkar at slip. Two wickets for no runs.

Mustafizur then dismissed Dinesh Karthik in the 48th over and MS Dhoni and Jasprit Bumrah in the 50th, apart from effecting a run out to running out Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

At Lord’s, Mustafizur was the instigator of Pakistan’s collapse. He was lucky to get the centurion Imam-ul-Haq when the batsman trod on his stumps, but also removed Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz to finish with 5/75. Bruising figures, yes, but a deserved five-wicket haul for Bangladesh’s best pace bowler.

You can argue that 10 of his 20 wickets came in two matches, but that would be a disservice to Mustafizur. His three wickets against South Africa were a massive factor in Bangladesh defending 330. He dismissed David Miller, Chris Morris and JP Duminy between the 36th and 46th overs. In the win over West Indies in Taunton, Mustafizur dismissed Shimron Hetmyer for 50, Andre Russell for 0 and Jason Holder for 33 off 15 balls. He helped Shakib snuff out Afghanistan’s charge in Southampton with two lower-order wickets.

In a team that has struggled for consistency, Shakib and Mustafizur have been leaders. Bangladesh began so promisingly by beating South Africa. They should have defeated New Zealand. They pushed India. They ended up fighting against Pakistan and Australia. But overall, as Rhodes has been at pains to point out across the tournament, Bangladesh have not closed out the most vital of moments.

If Bangladesh leave the World Cup with any positives, it is the performances of Shakib and Mustafizur. A true what-could-have-been story.