“His new-found consistency is something Bangladesh have been seeking from their top-order for quite a long time. The answers were apparently not too far away”
After years of inconsistency, Imrul Kayes finally seems to be fulfilling the kind of inherent talent that keeps him within sights of the selectors in an on-off International career. Since his debut in 2008, Kayes has possibly missed more matches than he has played. As Bangladesh looked to build a power-packed top-order, Kayes seemed surplus to requirements until a massive collapse every now and then ensued in his recall.
The unexpected return to the fold during the Asia Cup, though, seems to be going in a different direction with Kayes grabbing his chances whenever and wherever they come. His recall wasn’t particularly well received by fans due to his dwindling fortunes, but Bangladesh sorely needed experience and Kayes was sought after to do just that. In a middle-order role he sucked up the pressure and fought diligently by settling down and then increasing the ante in a half-century against Afghanistan on his comeback.
That kind of tempo seems to be his new go-to game. Make no mistake, Bangladesh have abundant options at the top when all are available. Tamim Iqbal, Liton Das, Nazmul Hossain Shanto and Soumya Sarkar aside from the cameo-man Mehidy Hasan adorn options for openers but a slight conundrum might be the kind of game play each of these players have. All of them, except Mehidy, are in the Tamim-mould and look to take the attack onto the opposition early on.
Kayes, though, is different as was evident at Dhaka in the opening ODI against Zimbabwe when he cracked a career-best 144 to take Bangladesh to a comfortable win. With the top-order floundering after Bangladesh lost two wickets within six overs, Kayes was required to play a sheet anchor role, one which has always thrived in.
This time, though, Kayes ensured he would go the extra mile. Even as wickets kept tumbling at one end, the southpaw kept his end assured and piled on the runs. His half-century came in 64 balls but once he buckled down and got a hang of the wicket, there was no stopping him.
The next half-century came in 50 balls while his final 44 runs took a mere 22 balls. Crucially, he showcased the kind of game that Bangladesh have so sorely lacked at the top since the last World Cup. While the opening partnership averages a pretty decent 38.06 in 49 ODIs, consistency was missed. It was either Tamim or the other batsmen that flourished and inspite of what six century stands suggest, the frequency of early collapses was a road block.
In the company of Mohammad Saifuddin, who slammed a half-century of his own, Kayes showed the kind of calming influence he can be wherever he bats. That is the perhaps the biggest postive from Kayes’ latest comeback. He isn’t hurried, there is a clear game plan to his batting and he has learned the art of stepping up when the time arises.
In the 127-run stand with Saifuddin, Kayes scored 77 of the runs, using the presence of a reliable lower-order batsman to stabilize the Bangladesh innings that had tapered to a low after Kyle Jarvis accounted for Mohammad Mithun, Mahmudullah and Mehidy Hasan in the space of 2 runs, reducing them to 139/6 from 137/3.
Kayes, though, was unperturbed. He was steady, kept the run-rate moving and ensured the innings never lost momentum. Roll back to the Asia Cup, where Bangladesh’s sorry opening partnerships were erased by a terrific hundred run stand in the finals and you might well recollect the role Mehidy Hasan played.
He was pushed up the order to free up Liton Das, who did the bulk of the scoring. Mehidy was a mere wingman. With his path-breaking hundred, Kayes has offered to take up that very role. He might easily be sidelined once Tamim returns to the top, but knowing that the attacking batsmen in the side could flourish in his company, while he himself keeps the scoreboard moving is too enticing an option.
There is the added benefit of his resolve and tenacity in situations of strife which Bangladesh might have to counter at the World Cup. This could mean Shakib moving back to no.4 or 5 but it isn’t all that bad, is it?
Liton and Tamim could still open if that is the plan with Kayes offering a stabilising influence at 3. With Rahim, Shakib, Mithun and Mahmudullah, the middle-order would be lip-smackingly good. While in England, the stage is set for massive scores, the odd green surface with extravagant swing and seam lurks in the background and Kayes could be an invaluable addition then. His new-found consistency is something Bangladesh have been seeking from their top-order for quite a long time. The answers were apparently not too far away.