Shamsur, Kayes and Bangladesh's evolving first-class structure
The centuries scored by Shamsur Rahman and Imrul Kayes in the second Test against Sri Lanka showed signs that Bangladesh's long-derided domestic first-class structure is finally yielding results. But as their dismissals showed, it still breeds a culture of instant gratification, negligence towards fitness, and competence only while batting on featherbeads, all dangerous aspects in international cricket.
The two batsmen's mindsets are a product of the cricket they have grown up playing. They are part of a culture where it is a norm for batsmen to break the shackles as soon as they reach milestones. The staple cricket in the country is of the one-day variety, where becoming more aggressive after reaching a hundred is quite normal.
Since 2006, there have been 266 centuries in domestic first-class cricket in Bangladesh. Only 55 of those innings produced 150-plus scores - including seven double-centuries and one triple - while 87 ended short of 110. These numbers indicate a lack of inclination among batsmen to stretch their innings. Shamsur's slog showed this fulfillment factor. Kayes pulling his hamstring was just another instance of a Bangladesh batsman running out of breath soon after reaching a major milestone.
Later, both batsmen regretted playing the shots that got them out. They had laid a solid foundation with their 232-run stand but fell when their team needed more solidity. Bangladesh were well short of the follow-on mark when Kayes followed Shamsur back to the dressing room.
"I shouldn't have played the shot," Kayes said. "It was a mistake. I tried to cut out the risks before that, but these things creep in. A lot of different things happen, which leads to such shots."
Shamsur spoke in the same tune: "I played a bad shot. There wasn't much turn in the wicket, so I tried to stay positive. I took a chance but it was a bad decision on my part. We both had thought of lengthening our time at the crease after reaching hundreds, but my dismissal happened suddenly."
Keeping the dismissals aside, recent improvements in domestic cricket can take some credit for the two batsmen's innings.
Till three years ago the National Cricket League, the first-class tournament played between divisional sides, was popularly known as "picnic cricket". The match fees were laughable to the players who took the lucrative Dhaka Premier League, the club-based one-day competition, more seriously. As the nickname suggests, most of the players would just turn up for their teams, without any intention to force the issue. The BCB took two steps last season that changed the perception considerably: they brought more than a hundred cricketers under their payroll, and they started the Bangladesh Cricket League, a second tournament, akin to the Duleep Trophy in India.
The longer version suddenly had more credence, and players took more interest in playing the format rather than just going through the motions. Still, drastic improvements remain to be made in the divisional sides' management and development, but it is a start, and it has helped two cricketers gain a footing.
Shamsur and Kayes have had to take winding paths, but both have scored heavily in the NCL, BCL and the DPL, to give the selectors enough reason to pick them in the Test team. Shamsur's 267 last month is seen as the catapult that shot him into the senior side, but he has never been out of contention since he got out of BKSP, the national sports institute, in 2007.
This was his second call-up to the Test team, after he had gone to England as a back-up for the injured Tamim Iqbal in 2010, and as it had been back then, this time too he was selected on the basis of his dominance over domestic bowling attacks. His desire to stay longer at the crease is an addition to his game, and it has helped him in domestic cricket over the last three years.
"In the past, I used to be happy with very little and play bad shots," Shamsur said. "I have reduced that to an extent. I could score today because of scoring runs in domestic cricket, as well as better mental ability.
"Test cricket is obviously much different to the domestic game. I have always wanted to bat in a manner that brings out the positive side in a team, not the negative ones. I hope to score more centuries at this level, play better than I did today."
Kayes partnered him in a 233-run second wicket stand, his third century stand for Bangladesh. He opened the batting from 2008 to 2011, when he was one half of Bangladesh's most successful opening partnership. But loss of form and lack of big scores after starting well took him out of the reckoning for the next two years. Being dumped out of the Bangladesh team is often the end of international careers, but his reappearance is a tribute to his perseverance amid limited facilities and the value of first-class runs.
"First-class cricket is very useful in Test cricket," Kayes said. "My confidence from BCL really helped me today, because I scored there and that carried over with me. I really needed this hundred, coming back to the side after two years.
"During the tea break yesterday, the coach told me that I might open, so I was prepared with that mindset. I had a very clear mindset, and I planned to play exactly as I did in the BCL. If the result is positive, then good, otherwise, so be it."
The final factor, the comfort of batting on too many featherbeds, will come into play in the second innings. Shamsur and Kayes will be asked to bat at a slower pace because the last two days will be all about survival for the home side. If they can control their strokes and emotions and remain the same batsmen out of their comfort zones, it will take them to a different level, and help them return to domestic cricket with a far more progressive outlook.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here