“What he does have is an innate tendency to grit it out. That he does in plenty making him an orthodox spinner in unorthodox times with a thinking process way ahead in the future”
367 runs ahead, eight wickets to take and one day left in the Test match. It was always Bangladesh’s game to lose despite Mahmudullah pushing the Test to the last day by batting again instead of enforcing the follow-on. This, though, was a Zimbabwean batting line-up on the back of a Test win at Sylhet and boasting of an in-form Brendan Taylor.
Mahmudullah began with Mustafizur Rahman and Taijul Islam and never bothered to go to Mehidy Hasan until after 20 overs in the day. Bangladesh had picked up just one wicket in the time, that of Sikander Raza, and Taylor was settling into his groove.
As though to put Mehidy off his channel of attack, Taylor brought out the reverse sweep off the very first ball Mehidy bowled at him. The 21-year old off-spinner wasn’t scared to toss the ball up and stuck to his guns as Taijul kept angling the ball in and turning it away from the two right-handers. Taylor, though, was determined to not let Mehidy settle down on a pitch where fourth innings batting against spin was a challenge and used another reverse sweep to score a boundary.
Mahmudullah had revealed as much before the Test and knew he was trusting his spinners to do a job when he pushed the game to day five. At 161/4, the partnership had crossed fifty and was threatening to ruin Bangladesh’s Test domination at home. But the plan was in place and Mehidy targeted Peter Moor with a short leg in place for he tends to play with a closed bat face. The skidder brought the breakthrough as Moor inside edged Mehidy to the short leg fielder.
With Taylor running himself out, Bangladesh were right on top, and Mehidy shortened the day by scything through the tail and picking up three of the last four wickets in the space of six overs. The off-break bowler had a fifer to his name, his fourth in Test cricket.
There is this lease of fresh air that Mehidy adds to this Bangladesh attack. He is an old-school off-spinner who relies on traditional methods to find success in the longest format and has had a fabulous career so far in this format.
While Taijul has been effective at home, Mehidy adds the all-round tinge that they so sorely lack. He isn’t his captain’s first-choice in either department but when the ship is sinking, trust Mehidy to be the last guy standing. He is a quick learner too and after a brilliant start against England at home, expectations on him were sky high.
“It was a special moment in my life but these occasions don’t come often. You can get close to such a performance, and sometimes you can bring the team a key breakthrough, but it is hard to replicate such an exceptional thing,” Mehidy had said.
He had a tougher time against India and New Zealand away and picked up just six wickets in his next three Tests. Against Sri Lanka away from home, he bowled Bangladesh to a series-levelling win with ten wickets. At home against Australia, Mehidy was once again a force and picked up eight wickets but the tour of South Africa saw him go wicketless the entire series, a total of 67 overs. His 2018 hasn’t begun too well either but if there is one quality to admire in Mehidy, it is his ability to step up when it matters.
One prime example is his performance in Antigua, when he came back from picking zilch wickets in his first few overs on day one to three in the next day, immediately changing his approach after Sunil Joshi instructed to him
“I had planned to bowl a certain way in the Test series in the West Indies, mainly focusing on tight lengths at all times,” he says. “I used to bowl from a certain angle, but our coaches, Sunil Joshi Sir and Sohel Islam Sir told me it is better to bowl more perpendicular in those conditions. Joshi sir told me that I should try to overspin the ball. I tried it during the warm-up, and instantly applied it in the middle.”
It is this learning curve that most bowlers tend to downplay or ignore. Mehidy is open to changes and immediately adjusts. Take for instance his role as opener in the Asia Cup finals and you realise his flexibility in terms of team requirements. Mehidy is a born fighter and knows what his role is in the side each game. That the role isn’t the same is what makes him a unique entity in the side.
“You can’t get stuck in one place in international cricket. You have to improve almost daily. Every batsman is aware of every bowler through video footages and YouTube. In a way, cricket has become easier because it is now easier to read opponents. One has to keep developing skills and work harder in training,” Mehidy says.
His skills aren’t one-dimensional. He takes the new ball with ease, bowls with the old ball, varies his flight and pace, hits the rough or skids it through and is always prepared to do the hard yards. He isn’t a mystery spinner and doesn’t have the variations or unique skills to stand out.
What he does have is an innate tendency to grit it out. That he does in plenty making him an orthodox spinner in unorthodox times with a thinking process way ahead in the future. His unmatchable resilience with bat and bowl make him a modern day asset and Bangladesh have given him the space to grow. In these times, he is a throwback to the 80s in terms of bowling but if underestimated, Mehidy is more than smart enough to show the opposition that his relentlessness is a virtue worth dying for.