It is a matter of switching off from a version [limited-overs cricket] and switching on to another one [Tests]. It seems that maybe he should take a bit more time to settle down in Tests and play fewer risky shots. After you settle down and get your eye in, you can start taking more risks.
Jalal Ahmed Chowdhury
The alarming size of the elephant in the room is a reflection of the esteem with which Mahmudullah Riyad is held by the Bangladesh team, the media and the fans. The elephant has a name and a number -- Hamilton 2010. One of Bangladesh cricket's best batsmen, and perhaps its most elegant, has not hit a Test century since his maiden ton in the Hamilton Test against New Zealand in February 2010.
Bangladesh's current stand-in captain has had just one innings of more than 80 -- an unbeaten 83 against Sri Lanka in January -- since then. It is this track record that shrinks Bangladesh cricket's Big Five in ODI cricket to the Mid-sized Three in Tests. Mashrafe Bin Mortaza does not play the longest format and Mahmudullah does not hit Test tons, so it is just the trio of Mushfiqur Rahim, skipper Shakib Al Hasan and opener Tamim Iqbal -- with Mominul Haque assuming the 'lion at home' role with some success -- who can be expected to perform on a consistent basis.
There is however no clear reason for the presence of this elephant. Although a vulnerable, leaden-footed starter, there are few batsmen in the country who look more assured than a settled Mahmudullah. There are no glaring technical flaws like Soumya Sarkar or Mosaddek Hossain's lack of feet movement and weakness against pace respectively. Nearly nine years ago, his century in his fifth match -- he was tragically stranded on 96 against India in his third -- was against a very good attack after coming in with the team on 196 for six, which does not happen if a batsman does not have longer-version pedigree.
It seems even more confounding when one considers how his batting has come on in leaps and bounds in limited-overs cricket where, while remaining the man to look to in crises, he has transformed himself into a complete limited-overs batsman who can mount rearguards and offensives with equal ease.
Any such transformation has not been in evidence in Tests, nor is the feeling that all is okay as long as Mahmudullah is yet to bat, which has become an enduring feature of Bangladesh's limited-overs cricket. As it seemed from skipper Mashrafe batting Mahmudullah lower down the order when Shakib and Tamim were laid low in the recent Asia Cup, that feeling of assurance extends to the dressing room.
"It is a matter of switching off from a version [limited-overs cricket] and switching on to another one [Tests]," said experienced cricket coach Jalal Ahmed Chowdhury, who plucked Mahmudullah out of second division cricket and blooded him in the Dhaka Premier League more than a decade ago, told The Daily Star yesterday.
"I have not talked to him or analysed his batting, so it won't be right to say too much about it. But as an outsider watching on TV, it seems that maybe he should take a bit more time to settle down in Tests and play fewer risky shots. After you settle down and get your eye in, you can start taking more risks."
Mahmudullah has been a proponent of letting batsmen play their natural games, and even after defeat to Zimbabwe in the Sylhet Test on November 6, he said that the players need to play strokes to score runs. Jalal however disagreed when asked if a lack of full comprehension of Tests was the culprit, saying that the players know better but it just was not happening in the middle. He also defended Mahmudullah, saying that it also creates additional pressure on the captain when other players are not performing their roles.
He also received a wake-up call in March 2017 when he was dropped from the Test side for Bangladesh's 100th Test in Colombo and the ensuing home series against Australia. Replacements Sabbir Rahman and Mosaddek Hossain however proved that they were not up to the task and that, coupled with the value of his presence in the dressing room, have paved a way back more than any lift in his performance.
Mahmudullah's problems are Bangladesh's problems -- a failure to 'switch on' to the demands of Test cricket is not solely his but has long been the norm among Bangladesh's batsmen. The problem arises because of Mahmudullah's stature in Bangladesh cricket, which will be well served by the elephant being guided out of the room, leaving behind the player the team desperately needs.