Tigers fight back in Tamim-Imrul style
Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes turned a corner in Bangladesh's Test history on Friday at the Sheikh Abu Naser Stadium here where the two openers produced a never-seen-before 273 runs for the unbroken first wicket.
The Viking effort from the two left-handers in the second innings after Pakistan put up a first innings total of 628, their best against Bangladesh, was not only a testament to overcoming adversity but can also be termed as the best Test day for the Tigers.
It was a sight to behold when the other members of the team stood in line on the stairs leading to the dressing room as Tamim, who struck an unbeaten 138, and Imrul, who scored 132 not out, made the long walk to the hutch after the end of the day's play.
It was also a richly satisfying day for the full-house holiday crowd, for them Tamim and Imrul were not only the face of assurance but also the entertainers at their best.
The 273-run opening stand was not only the highest for Bangladesh in any wicket against any team surpassing 267 between a disgraced Mohammad Ashraful and skipper Mushfiqur Rahim, it also decimated Pakistan's otherwise impregnable 296-run lead to a mere 23.
But these stats hardly tell how well the Tigers reacted to return from a hopeless position to now realistically fancy the chance of a draw against a team they had lost all their previous eight Tests.
If the imperious Tamim-Imrul stand was something like an Odyssey, the fourth morning was a Taijul Islam show when the left-arm spinner ripped through the Pakistan lower half to finish with 6 for 163, his second best bowling figures.
Resuming the day on 537 for 5, Pakistan lost wickets at regular intervals and were eventually bowled out after adding 91 runs. Shakib Al Hasan took the third new ball in the 166th over and got his first wicket when he had Asad Shafiq caught and bowled for 83.
The dismissal of Pakistan's last wicket at the stroke of lunch in a bizarre fashion meant Tamim and Imrul would have to see off four overs before the lunch interval.
After surviving a close leg before appeal on the very first ball, a good length delivery from Junaid Khan that Tamim played across and eventually got a reprieve because of the on-field umpire's decision, the pair never looked back to take the Tigers to a position of safety.
Tamim raced to his 50 off 63 balls and celebrated it with a huge six off left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar. He scored his third successive Test ton in some style, smashing Junaid for a four to move to 97 and then charging down against the same bowler on the next delivery for a miscued boundary down to the third man. It was his seventh Test century and first against Pakistan, against whom his first innings 25 was the previous best. Tamim struck 13 fours and four sixes in his 183-ball undefeated knock. He was particularly attacking against Pakistan off-spinner Mohammad Hafeez, who had Tamim dismissed cheaply on four occasions during the last series of the two teams.
If Tamim's innings was oozing class, Imrul's was even better for someone who had to keep the wicket for about 120 odd overs and then coming out to bat in such trying conditions. His 281-minute vigil at the wicket stretched him physically to the limit, which was clearly evident on the field as he was limping. But the left-hander defied the cramp and the pain so resolutely that he deserved a medal if not cash rewards from the highest office of the country.
Imrul moved on to 97 with a down-the-track six off leg-spinner Yasir Shah and then collected two singles to reach within the magical three-figure mark, which came off with a quick single down to the square-leg. Imrul struck 15 fours and three sixes in his 185-ball undefeated knock.
It was toil for Pakistani bowlers on a wicket which was as flat as the previous day. Still, it was a very good battle where Pakistan lost their plot of scaring the opponents out. Whenever their bowlers tried to attack they were thrown out of the park by Tamim and Imrul, who had hardly missed anything that were flighted or pitched up. Pakistan certainly did not expect such counter-attack from Bangladesh and Wahab Riaz, who bowled his heart out, did not like it most.
He bowled perhaps the best delivery of the day, a peach of a snorter at Imrul, which the batsman somehow managed to avoid. But had there been a review left for Pakistan, it could have been interesting because TV replays showed the ball might have brushed Imrul's gloves.
With an exciting fifth day in store on Saturday, the first session will be crucial and another resolute approach may give the Tigers to taste the victory in a draw.