Naeem's hard work pays dividends
In the recently concluded domestic league match between Rangpur and Barisal, Naeem Islam occupied the crease for more than seven hours for his century. He eventually carried his bat, recorded his highest first-class score and left the field only after his ten other Rangpur teammates were out.
It was the kind of batting display that Naeem, after his six sixes in an over in the Dhaka Premier League in 2009 and his three big hits that rescued the Tigers -- the same year -- from the grasps of defeat against Zimbabwe, was lesser known for.
Naeem's century at Mirpur yesterday, which majorly guided Bangladesh's reply, was a mere reflection of the 'other side'. Popularly known as 'sixer-Naeem' amongst his mates, the batsman displayed the more disciplined-side of his in his innings yesterday.
According to Naeem, the reason why he had to don the more aggressive approach was quite simple. "When you come to bat at number 8, there is very little a batsman can do. So I always tried to hit the ball towards the fence as hard as possible. I have always been a grafter in the longer version of the game. I try to be aggressive in the shorter version," he said at the post-day conference.
The Bangladesh batsman's 108 might not look as presentable on the scoreboard as the two hundreds and a double-century by the visitors, it however, displayed the result of an immense amount of hard work.
A glance at Naeem's first-class record this year reveals a lot. Right from Bangladesh A's tour to India to the ongoing National Cricket League, the middle-order batsman has been in the runs. In the four innings that he played in the NCL preceding the Test series, he scored two centuries and spent the highest amount of time at the crease.
While the Shakibs, Tamims and Mushfiqurs failed, Naeem got it right. It wasn't just about reaching that golden three-figure mark, rather it was the way he anchored both the partnerships that took the home side out of trouble. Shakib survived a caught behind due to a no-ball, Tamim skied a few before getting caught at mid-off, Naeem though, for the six and half hours that he spent at the crease, played an almost chanceless innings.
Naeem's game-plan, it seems, resembles the way he speaks, plain and simple. "My plan remains the same throughout. I play a very few shots. I play strokes only when the ball is within my zone, if it isn't I leave it," he said.
"Batting with Shakib also helped me. There was lesser pressure. The way Shakib and Tamim bat is always a delight to watch. I enjoy their batting but at the same time, I try to play my own game," added Naeem.
The 25-year-old batsman, who in fact belongs to a more senior batch as compared to most of the players in the current Bangladesh squad, claimed that his repeated attempts to return to the national side made him 'stronger mentally'.
"When you play bad, you naturally get dropped and you have to perform well to make a comeback. I feel it had helped me," said Naeem.
"Before the NCL began, [chief selector] Akram bhai asked me to play at number 4 position for the team. That's when I thought I had a realistic chance to get back into the team. I have been putting in a lot of efforts since then," he added.
There are obviously a number of factors that could perhaps dilute the value of his innings: the flat wicket, the slow strike-rate or even the tired poke outside the off stump that eventually cost his wicket. He in fact acknowledged the disappointing end to his innings on his own. "It was just a bad shot," said a disgusted Naeem with a shrug of the head.
However, his innings displayed a refreshing change from the traditional aggressive batting approach followed by most of the top-order batsmen. Yesterday was perhaps one of those rare days when majority of the Bangladesh fans found it more entertaining to see a batsman 'grit' it out at the wicket, instead of playing those boundary-strokes.