More than a mirage of promise
Mehedi Hasan Miraz ran in to bowl. It was a match that the Bangladesh U-19s were supposed to win -- the World Cup semifinal at home against West Indies, a team thought to be inept against spin. The target was a below par 227 and the Caribbean youngsters were going great guns at 56 for one in just the seventh over, with Gidron Pope hitting them all over the park.
Mehedi opened the bowling and had been taken for 36 in 3.5 overs, including a four and six in that seventh over. Pope tried to repeat the six he hit the previous ball, but the home captain fired it in full on off to evade the flashing blade and bowl him. He set off on a celebratory run full of the exuberance and unshakeable confidence of youth.
Those watching that match on February 11, 2016 would probably have thought of another cricketer wearing the red and green and celebrating in similar fashion a little over five years ago. Shakib Al Hasan went off on a similar celebratory run after bowling Nathan McCullum in the fifth ODI against New Zealand on October 17, 2010 on way to a 4-0 whitewash, chased by ecstatic teammates powered by the burning desire to not give a single inch when, for once, they were the boys doing the whipping.
Coincidentally, both had also top-scored in their respective sides' innings.
But of course, it is quite improper to compare a debutant with the best cricketer to don the Bangladesh cap. But on the evidence of the duo's bowling on the first day of the first Test against England yesterday, their fortunes in Test cricket may run on parallel paths from now on.
Shakib being a left-arm spinner of high class and Mehedi's right arm off-spin looking every bit the part as the two ran through the England top order, they may help do for Bangladesh's Test cricket what Shakib and Co started doing for their ODI cricket.
The two combined to pick all of England's wickets to fall yesterday with the protégé dominating with a debut five-for. The batsmen struggled to cope with near mirror images of spin bowling -- both can turn the off break and have wickedly deceiving arm-balls -- helped by a friendly pitch.
While Shakib is an internationally recognised batsman, Mehedi has five half-centuries in 14 innings and an average of 40 in first-class cricket and through the age groups has proven himself a reliable and cool customer with the bat. It is of course too early to say that we have a right-handed Shakib in Mehedi, but the prospect of two such cricketers in the same side is an enticing one for a fledgling Test nation.
The similarities do not end there. If there is one quality that describes Shakib it is that of calm but unshakeable self-belief.
In Mehedi's case, his calm is perhaps rooted in his background. Coming from a poor family in Khulna he has seen hardships that not many other cricketers his age would have experienced. It could have worked the other way; he may well have given up but he chose to fight, and that quality seems to have informed his efforts so far on the cricket field.
It will be difficult to recall another cricketer who was as calm as Mehedi was when he opened the bowling on debut in a match in which the debutant bowled 10 straight overs and through most of that spell, landed it in areas that compelled the batsmen to play.
His answer to which wicket gave him most joy was revealing. He chose Bairstow's wicket, not because that was his fifth, but because he did not know himself which way the ball would turn. It drew laughter from the media, but it also revealed that Mehedi knows even at a young age that the game, taken too seriously, will cease to be an enjoyment.
Again, by way of a disclaimer, only the future will tell how successful Mehedi will be and what kind of career he will enjoy. But for the moment, he seems to have the crucial elements between the ears to go a long way.
"We will manage it well next time," Mehedi had said in February after the end of the West Indies match which they lost, referring to the pressure a bunch of teenagers faced from home fans waiting on history.
By the evidence on display yesterday, that promise has been kept.