Steady Naeem shows Bangladesh top order the way
Naeem Islam, who scored 84 off 115 balls in the first ODI against New Zealand, admitted that he was frustrated and uncomfortable during the initial part of his innings, as he struggled to get off the mark. Naeem walked in to bat at No. 5, with the score at 25 for 3, and scored his first run after 17 balls. He faced another 13 before scoring the next run.
"You can't plan from outside," Naeem said. "I never think [about] anything before going out to bat. I just wanted to play my own game. But honestly, I was getting frustrated and feeling uncomfortable in the middle. Getting back into the side and not being able to open the account till the 16th ball, it's always frustrating."
Naeem added 154 runs for the fourth wicket with Mushfiqur Rahim, and the partnership showed their contrasting styles at the crease. The Bangladesh captain played his shots, crunching anything that was pitched short outside off-stump, or nudging and flicking off his legs. Naeem, on the other hand, kept stalling. The batsman, however, credited Mushfiqur's support in helping him overcome a slow start.
"Mushfiqur helped me a lot when I was not getting the runs. He told me that I don't need to worry as the runs were coming easily at the other end. He told me to wait for the bad ball, which was quite a relief for me."
His slow settling-in period was a worry. There was a fear that if Naeem fell early, the dot balls he consumed would come back to hurt Bangladesh. However, the batsman got out of the rut and brought up his 50 off 75 balls, en route to his highest ODI score.
"I wanted to bat as long as I could with Mushfiqur, as we were thinking about posting 280-290 runs," Naeem said. "But unfortunately Mushfiqur fell, and I kept looking for runs. I was not looking for my hundred as it was more important to score runs quickly for the team.
"You can't say how you can bat as each game is new and the situations are different. I always try to play for my team and, whenever my team demands, I try to play according to the demand of the situation."
Naeem, however, wasn't even supposed to play the game. Shakib Al Hasan's illness made way for his comeback, after he missed two Bangladesh tours this year due to injury.
The batsman will have to try and remain unaffected by talk of getting bogged down, as he likes to make a slow start when given the opportunity. In a way, those 30 balls off which he got just five runs helped Bangladesh get past a tricky period, and with someone like Mushfiqur at the other end, the run flow didn't stop.
The partnership also highlighted one of the biggest concerns for Bangladesh - the failure of their top order. The last time the Bangladesh openers shared a century stand in ODI cricket was three years ago, and the side still does not have a settled No. 3 batsman.
Tamim Iqbal hasn't had a stable opening partner in a long while, too. Anamul Haque began his ODI career on the right note last year, but he was in patchy form during the Test series and that has carried over to the ODIs. While Tamim too fell early on Tuesday, Anamul failed to take his reasonable start towards a big innings. Mominul Haque couldn't do much about his dismissal, but his wicket put the side under more pressure.
This failure has been adding pressure on the middle-order batsmen, because almost every time, they are faced with a crisis instead of a settled position. When Naeem walked in to bat at No. 5, he was walking into a situation that many in his position have faced in the past. Last year, Bangladesh slipped to 13 for 5 against West Indies, having lost their first three wickets for four runs.
Bangladesh would hope to see a similar batting performance in the second ODI on Thursday, but the side would also hope that the top three come good.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here