“If Bangladesh come off with a win on Thursday, he would not just have levelled the series but also established his credentials as captain and trustable middle-order batsman”
It’s more than eight years since Mahmudullah slammed his last, and only Test hundred. Virat Kohli hadn’t made his Test debut yet and Daniel Vettori was still New Zealand’s skipper when a young Mahmudullah, off the back of an unbeaten 96 against India in Dhaka, made the World sit up and take notice with a ton in Hamilton against the Kiwis.
Leading the side, Mahmudullah was criticised for his lack of conviction, the decision to bat long in the first innings and not enforcing the follow-on. Experienced as he is, lack of big hundreds, lack of confidence in feet movement and indecision outside his off-stump had cost Mahmudullah big but this was meant to be his chance to make a statement.
In the first innings, Mahmudullah hung his bat out against a back of a length delivery jagging away from the immaculate Kyle Jarvis. It was a perfectly fine dismissal for an average batsman against a good fast bowler on a seaming deck. But at Dhaka, it just wasn’t. Mahmudullah’s tendency to go fishing outside the off-stump had been a major concern and when he let go of a good chance to make a mark, he was criticised.
He hadn’t come good in recent times but with Shakib absent and Rahim back in the hut early – Bangladesh were 25 for 4 when Mahmudullah walked in – the skipper had to justify his call to bat again when there was lead good enough to send Zimbabwe back in. At 25 for 4, Bangladesh and Mahmudullah the skipper appeared to be going downhill.
Six overs into his innings, Mahmudullah stepped out to Sean Williams and tonked the left-arm spinner straight down the ground for a maximum. He has had trouble reaching out to the pitch of the delivery against spinners. None of that showed as he showcased decisiveness against the spinners and seamers.
As Mohammad Mithun milked the bowlers, Mahmudullah set anchor and occupied the crease. His 50 came off 70 balls by when Mithun and Mahmudullah had stitched together a century stand and taken Bangladesh to a position of strength. From there on, it was about dispelling his notion that the decision to bat again wasn’t wrong.
As Mithun and Anamul Haque walked away soon, Mahmudullah changed gears. He knew he could trust Mehidy, a resilient and composed lower order batsman, and took the attack to the Zimbabweans. The lead swelled as Mahmudullah brought up just his second Test ton, off 122 balls. The declaration came with that which clearly showed that Bangladesh were not just waiting for Mahmudullah’s hundred but also looking to make a statement.
This was their skipper, possibly their future leader, showing that they might have lost the opening Test but weren’t allowing the visitors to go back home unscathed. A follow-on decision might have given Bangladesh an innings win, or a ten-wicket win but wouldn’t have weathered out the Zimbabweans. This innings was about making a statement of intent and at 25 for 4 it was going down south. This until Mahmudullah took centre stage and hammered down the game in Bangladesh’s direction.
Before the Test, he had called out for some sensible batting from his men. “The Mirpur wicket is mostly unpredictable,” Mahmudullah said. “You have to adapt if it is not up to your expectation. We will go into this game empty-headed. We have decided not to do certain things. We can do well if we can bat sensibly and stick to our strength as batsmen.”
In the second innings, he led from the front, pacing his innings superbly, a clear head and composed mindset evident in his approach. Mahmudullah had studied the wicket well and knew what was in store for them against a determined Zimbabwean outfit if they did manage to make Bangladesh bat again. Enforcing a follow-on is fancy, even intent-filled but this wicket demanded a different approach a d Mahmudullah was up to it. He could be frowned upon for the choice but if they do manage to pull it off, doesn’t he deserve the credit?
“Spinners will get a lot of help in the fourth innings on a slow pitch. It is a tough wicket, a bit slow. It makes run-making slightly harder. The ball doesn’t quite come to the bat. You have to bat sensibly. You have to stick to your strength and adjust according to the type of bowlers. We have to apply yourselves,” he had said.
He did just that, albeit in the third innings, thereby avoiding the need to even bat last and forcing the Zimbabweans into a one-on-one battle with his spinners on the final day. If Bangladesh come off with a win on Thursday, he would not just have levelled the series but also established his credentials as captain and trustable middle-order batsman.