Mominul Haque quickly dropped to his back foot and scythed his hands down to a ball that was headed towards the base of the stumps. Mohammad Hafeez’s delivery in the 87th over had kept low, but one swift motion saw the ball heading towards the third-man boundary. Unwavering focus for much of the day built Mominul up to this shot where his hand-eye coordination found a pinnacle, reports cricinfo.com.
The result was similar off the next ball, only this time the ball was wider and Mominul freed his arms to guide the ball past point. He had moved to 79 with the two consecutive fours, and with three overs remaining in the day, a hundred didn’t quite beckon, but he looked in cruise mode. Pakistan had also taken the new ball at the start of the 85th over, so the harder ball was slightly easier to play on a pitch that offered minimal bounce and very little pace.
But even a bit of wavering in concentration on this pitch will result in trouble for an unsuspecting batsman, particularly to deliveries bowled straight. Earlier in the day, Imrul Kayes ticked a return catch to Mohammad Hafeez having just reached his fifty in almost three hours. Mahmudullah was dismissed on 49 when Wahab Riaz found his edge, and Tamim fell to a catch at short leg to a delivery that he inside-edged but could have also tucked around behind the wicket on the leg side. Such is the pitch at the Sheikh Abu Naser Stadium.
After Tamim and Imrul added 52 in the first 27 overs, Imrul and Mominul picked up the pace a bit more during a second-wicket partnership that lasted 13.2 overs. Another 95 runs were added by Mahmudullah and Mominul at a slightly lower run-rate before it was restored to some decency by the 49-run, fourth-wicket association between Mominul and Shakib Al Hasan. Apart from brief periods during the Mominul-Mahmudullah and the Mominul-Shakib stand, the Bangladesh batsmen were more interested in preserving wickets than adding runs.
After the second new ball was taken, Paksitan’s captain Misbah-ul-Haq rotated his bowlers quickly from both ends. He had seen five catches being dropped and bowlers sagging in their lengths, so this was a late throw of the dice, albeit haphazardly.
Zulfiqar Babar, who had bowled spells of seven, four, eight and two overs, was called up for a final go. Mominul had earlier been dropped by Babar off his own bowling in the second session, and had been generally quiet against the left-arm spinner. At times, Zulfiqar bowled from very close to the stumps to keep the left-handed Mominul playing mostly behind the wicket or tucking towards midwicket.
Zulfiqar kept bowling at the stumps to Mominul until the penultimate ball sneaked through the batsman’s defensive push. The umpire agreed with Pakistan’s appeal but Shakib ran down the wicket to ask Mominul to take the review. Replays showed that the ball was going to crash into Mominul’s middle stump.
Bangladesh lost a bit of edge with the fourth wicket falling at such a stage of the day, particularly when they had set out to bat long into the game. Mominul admitted that his dismissal was due to a lapse in concentration, and that it offered a way back into the game for the visitors. He, however, said the ball kept low and the pace of the pitch was generally quite slow.
“I played that ball quite poorly,” Mominul said. “Maybe I was a bit casual. Sometimes the mind wanders when you are out in the middle for a long time. I think I got out because I had a lapse in concentration. We would have been in a better position had I not been dismissed. But still I feel we are in a good position. A wicket at this late stage is a bonus to them.
“We didn’t set to bat slowly. It is quite hard to score in this wicket. It keeps low, comes to the bat late. You can survive in this wicket but scoring runs is difficult. Shakib bhai and Tamim bhai were attacking in ODIs but even they couldn’t force the pace. We would have lost more wickets had we forced the issue. It is better to stay at the wicket, which will be good for the team. One has to work hard to score runs here. I thought I would need 100 years to score 80 on this wicket.”
Still, his 80 was an innings of necessity for Bangladesh, who have been batting in high tempo for the last five months or so. This was their first Test innings since November and adjusting well to the intricacies of the format relied heavily on their best Test batsman of nearly two years. Mominul hasn’t been a regular in the ODI side, and there has been much talk about his batting position and strike-rate.
But he came into this game on the back of nine consecutive Test matches where he had a 50-plus score, with only Everton Weekes, Alec Stewart, Matthew Hayden, Jacques Kallis, Simon Katich and Kumar Sangakkara for company. He was also among four batsmen – alongside Weekes, Sunil Gavaskar and Mark Taylor – to score 50-plus eleven times in his first 12 Tests.
When Mominul crossed fifty against Pakistan in the 69th over, he entered two distinguished groups. He joined Sachin Tendulkar and John Edrich as the only batsmen to have had a 50-plus score in 10 consecutive Tests, while also being only the third batsman to have 12 or more 50-plus scores in their first 13 Tests. Mominul has 12, while Taylor and Gavaskar made 13 out of their first 13.
When asked how he keeps getting fifties despite long breaks in international cricket, he said it was a matter of keeping his routines intact.
“It is a hard to answer this question,” Mominul said with a smile. “I am playing a Test match after four months. I try to remember the routines of the previous game and follow it. If it goes haywire, it becomes difficult.
“I try to stay mentally positive. I don’t listen to what is being said. I will do what I have to do, and not worry about the consequences. The ODI place is not in my control. Maybe I will get an opportunity if I make regular runs in Test cricket.”
Runs have flowed easily from Mominul’s bat in Test cricket. But somehow, the question marks over his ODI place keep bothering him. As a result, he doesn’t quite react to big occasions the same way a Tamim Iqbal or an Anamul Haque does. When told that he has joined the 10 fifties in a row club, a rare feat even among greats, he patted it away as fast as he cut that Hafeez delivery past third-man for four in the 87th over.
“I didn’t know about this the feat, and I don’t even want to know.”