Method man finds his own way
Not many among Bangladesh's fans, or indeed the media, will have the name Mominul Haque on the tips of their tongues when talking about the country's best batsmen. At the same time, not many will be surprised that he became the first Bangladesh batsman to score centuries in both innings of the same Test yesterday, in the process doing the lion's share of the work of saving the first Test against Sri Lanka.
After all, even before the Test in question, he boasted Bangladesh's best Test average of 43.8 -- a number that stands at 48.2 now -- and during the first innings, his 47th, became the fastest Bangladesh batsman to get to 2,000 Test runs. Daylight is second and Tamim Iqbal (53 innings) third. In the averages, daylight is again second and Shakib Al Hasan (40.38) third.
His greatest accomplishment so far, however, may be that he is the only player in Bangladesh cricket to have not just maintained standards but lifted them even through long periods away from the rarefied air of the national set-up.
It is a damning indictment of the system, Bangladesh's cricketing culture and the regime under former coach Chandika Hathurusingha that for a while Mominul was in danger of slipping through the cracks. When he first came onto the scene in 2012 and for two years was part of the team in all three formats, Mominul was celebrated because of his consistency and high average. But once he was airbrushed out of the limited-overs picture by Hathurusingha in 2015, it became a case of out of sight, out of mind.
From mid-2015 to late 2016 Bangladesh played no Tests and Mominul was left in the wilderness. What followed after the long Test gap was a relatively lean patch, when in the five Tests starting from the first against England at home in October 2016 to the first in Sri Lanka in March 2017 he averaged 23.2 with two fifties. Hathurusingha seemed intent on playing a third opener in Imrul Kayes at number three, perhaps to give his favoured Soumya Sarkar a safety net, and Mominul was dropped for Bangladesh's next two Tests, the second of those being the first Test against Australia at home six months later.
Bangladesh Cricket Board president Nazmul Hassan nonetheless shoehorned the left-hander into the squad for the two Tests against Australia. A month later, he hit 77 in the first Test in South Africa -- the highest individual score from the tourists in two one-sided Tests. Although then picked in the limited-overs squad in an injury-hit tour, he was once again ignored.
Faced with a coaching setup that was not amenable, a cricketing culture that did not value Test specialists and domestic facilities that pale in comparison to those enjoyed by the national team, Mominul did what countless -- think Shahriar Nafees -- failed to do before. Just as he does in aspects of his life off the field, Mominul took personal responsibility for his success and spent the time off after the Bangladesh Premier League with his former BKSP coach and mentor Mohammad Salahuddin to work on his batting against spin, keeping Sri Lanka's varied spin attack spearheaded by Rangana Herath in mind.
If that resulted in a measure of decisiveness in footwork against the spinners in innings of 176 and 105 that was not there before, he did not need to retool much else to come up with a player-of-the-match performance. His method of scoring runs -- knowing his limitations and almost always putting a high price on his wicket -- has remained much the same. Apart from the added surety against spin, he trusted in the method that served him so well before his career came under sudden threat.
He is not perfect by any means -- he will surely want to improve his average of 29.47 in 10 Tests overseas, where he is yet to add a century to go with his six half-centuries. The churlish will also say that he scored his twin tons on a flat Chittagong wicket. However, his more celebrated and privileged colleagues could not manage even one hundred over the last five days, proving that when it comes to scoring Test runs you need not look beyond Bangladesh's Method Man.