Mominul shows a glimpse of Bangladesh's future
It is tempting to put Mominul Haque in the category of seasoned Bangladeshi players who have been tasked to handle the most pressure in their respective times. His unbeaten century against Sri Lanka, his third in his first seven Tests, emphasized the inevitability of his ascent as the catalyst to the country's cricketing future.
During his three-hour stay at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, Mominul's building-up of numbers was hardly given due importance. The mental barriers he went past, through numerous turns and curves, became far more noticeable.
An hour into the day's play, he had to take over a battle for survival that should have been extended by Tamim Iqbal and Shamsur Rahman. Kaushal Silva dropped a sharp chance at silly mid-off when he was on four, and once play resumed after lunch, he batted with a retouched tempo. He dabbed Ajantha Mendis for four through third-man, thus getting ahead of the game. He reached 50 off 89 balls, but amid the pressure of survival, his mental ability to cut through the tension came into full view.
The session between lunch and tea has been Bangladesh's black hole, and having considered the necessity of being extra careful, Mominul batted at the right rhythm for those two hours.
Mominul has batted with a lot more vigour during this series, in the second innings in Dhaka. He had been aggressive during the first half of his 181 against New Zealand, but he had otherwise tended to curb his flair to drop anchor. Here he batted at a different pace, picking up the singles that were available and striking the occasional boundary.
The Sri Lankan bowlers were firmly kept out of the picture, and this pushed Angelo Mathews into trying newer options, most of which were attacking, but in a hopeful sort of way, like using Dimuth Karunaratne's medium-pace or Kithuruwan Vithanage's leg spin. Mominul remained positive, hogging more of the strike during his 120-run unbroken fourth-wicket stand with Shakib Al Hasan.
Mominul also had to tackle what other Bangladeshi batsmen usually fail to do while building an innings. Big appeals, wickets at the other end, and breaks in play have all brought wickets to the opposition team, and that happened in this Test match too; Shamsur, Imrul Kayes and Shakib got out soon after reaching milestones in the first innings. It hardly mattered whether the batsman was playing his second, 17th or 34th Test match.
The difference in Mominul's innings was his recognition of these difficult twists and turns, and the manner in which he made them look commonplace.
As Mominul ran through what turned out to be the last hour of play, Shakib tried his best to get him on strike, particularly as he neared the nineties. The senior pro's discernible appreciation of the new pressure-handler came when Mominul was batting on 99. Shakib's inside-edged hoick produced a single, but the shot looked out of place, very risky. He was perhaps too keen on seeing Mominul get to the three-figure mark.
In a way, the baton of handling pressure and taking his team to the next level seemed to pass from Shakib to Mominul. He has already played crucial hands in helping Bangladesh save three Test matches. His 181 against New Zealand was a first-innings effort, which helped Bangladesh gain the lead. In the following Test match, he made an unbeaten 126 to ensure his team entered the final day with momentum on their side, but rain scuppered the last day's play. With this innings, Mominul has built an interesting record; none of his three centuries have come in defeat. Already, he is Bangladesh's highest run-getter at number four.
Shakib, since 2007, has played a key role in helping Bangladesh win the big moments, mostly in one-day cricket and at times in Test cricket. Mominul seems to have imbibed some of this from Shakib.
He has also learned something from Tamim Iqbal, who has been handling the pressure of fast bowling and the hard new ball, a long-time scourge of Bangladesh's openers. He has done it well, dominating attacks, a product of a bullish attitude.
Before them, it was Mohammad Ashraful who had to handle a different type of pressure, in a slightly less demanding time for the team. They used to lose quite regularly, but Ashraful had ridiculous expectations to try and meet. Not surprisingly, he couldn't.
And before Ashraful there was Habibul Bashar, who developed as a cricketer with very little top-level exposure, and had to make a quick jump into international cricket. Bashar was Bangladesh's most prolific scorer between 2000 and 2007, a time during which Test matches were lost quickly. He had to be in charge of avoiding embarrassment, and he was successful on many occasions, through his phlegmatic technique and courage. He has remained Bangladesh's highest run-getter in Tests.
Over the last few weeks, Bangladesh cricket's future has swung from being on the precipice to possibly playing more Test matches in the next few years. To remain relevant and gather more importance, the Test side has to make rapid progress. Mominul will have to play a major role in that.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here