“What’s Sinhalese Sports Club to Muralitharan could be Dhaka to Taijul and Windies will need to ensure they are more than prepared for the Taijul force”
Taijul Islam might forever be associated with his debut hat-trick in ODIs against Zimbabwe, but if he wishes to change the script atleast in the eyes of a few cricket fans, the recent Test series against Zimbabwe has achieved that. With Shakib-al-Hasan missing, the left-arm spinner, for once, came under the spotlight and has been an irresistible force.
It is perhaps unfortunate that Taijul isn’t hailed as a Test bowler with a special quality just yet. He does nothing extraordinary – thrives on a particular area in the wicket and mostly works on a stump to stump channel. Yet, at home in Bangladesh, there have been few as effective as the left-arm spinner.
Quite a few forget the fact that he is Bangladesh’s highest wicket-taker in the format since his Test debut – 85 in 21 matches at 32.32. If they needed a reminder, it came at Sylhet when he was even more uncompromising on his areas. With eleven wickets in the Test, the common notion was that Taijul had stepped up in Shakib’s absence.
That, though, is grossly misguided. Taijul has been well and truly Bangladesh’s hero in Test cricket back home. Forget the 8/39 in just his third Test, against the same opposition, but his overall numbers tell a story. At home, Taijul has 69 wickets in 15 matches at an average of 27.88 and strike rate of 54.0. Since his debut, not one Bangladesh bowler has over 50 wickets at home.
As he kept pushing the Zimbabwean batsmen into uncomfortable positions, Taijul was not only bowling himself into one of Bangladesh’s premier spinners in the format but also marking a boundary in the home territory – a trademark feature of premier spinners in the history of Test cricket. Muttiah Muralitharan had it; Bishan Singh Bedi, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh had it; so did Shane Warne in Australia.
To back up his brilliant haul at Sylhet, Taijul was once again at the Zimbabweans in Dhaka. On a flat surface with little in it for the bowlers, Taijul was unrelenting. Sunil Joshi, Bangladesh’s spin consultant, had only words of praise for Taijul before the series, entrusting him to be consistent enough to worry the visitors.
While he did his part at Sylhet, the others didn’t. Even as the batting stood up at Dhaka, Taijul continued to do what he was good at – being consistent. “Though he plays in only one format, he has been bowling consistently in one area. Test cricket requires consistency because it’s a test of character,” Joshi had said before the series.
Taijul stayed true to his reputation at Dhaka. The mode of dismissals of the Zimbabwean batsmen have a clear picture of what Taijul was attempting to do.
Two right-handers were caught in the cordon, one cleaned up and one caught at short leg. The sole left-hander he dismissed played for a non-existent turn. Skipper Hamilton Masakadza was found out by turn on the ball and edged one to the cordon late on day 2. The nightwatchman was undone in similar fashion early on day three and Sean Williams, the leftie, was cleaned up by one that skid through without turning. Sikander Raza was comprehensively beaten in flight and turn while wicket-keeper, Regis Chakabva was the last man out popping a catch to short leg off an inside edge.
Even with a plan as clear as daylight, Taijul managed to flummox the batsmen, a clear sign of his growing reputation as an irresistible force at home. He kept bowling in his preferred areas, generated turn on some deliveries, varied his pace and mixed up his length a touch with the odd one going through straight.
There is this notion that Bangladesh skippers tend to use their off-break bowlers against left-handers and left-arm spinners against right-handers for the mere fact that they turn the ball away. Dispelling all such notions, Taijul showed remarkable persistence and got rid of Sean Williams, perhaps Zimbabwe’s best player of spin, and the Man of the Match at Sylhet.
His 11-wicket haul was the third best by a Bangladesh bowler in Test cricket and if day three at Dhaka is anything to go by, there is more to come from the 26-year old left-arm spinner. “Let’s pay a huge compliment to Taijul for taking 11 wickets on a pitch that isn’t turning big, it is a great effort. He is really stepping up as an international bowler,” coach Steve Rhodes had commented after Sylhet.
What many, even his own mates and coach, probably don’t realise is how Taijul was always Bangladesh’s best spinner at home since his debut. In fact, among spinners in Test cricket since his debut in 2014, he is the ninth best in terms of number of wickets taken. A lesser number of matches have prevented him from going further in the list but in terms of strike-rate, Taijul is better than Moeen Ali, Dilruwan Perera and Nathan Lyon which puts him in the top six brackets in Tests.
At home, where Bangladesh are looking to build a fortress tough to penetrate, Taijul is weaving a battle arena where he, and he alone, rules. Talk all you want about his debut hat-trick but four more years later, Taijul’s Test credentials could speak volumes about the kind of bowler he is. What’s Sinhalese Sports Club to Muralitharan could be Dhaka to Taijul and Windies will need to ensure they are more than prepared for the Taijul force.