An evolution is brewing
It's on days like this that you are unsure about Bangladesh. Was the talking point the brave fightback from 98 for 6 or why they slipped into the hole in the first place? And, again, how did they lose out on a great chance to seize the game at 206 for 6? It's the area where the new and the old Bangladesh are still co-habiting. While talking about the positives from the day, the congratulatory tone may mask a feeling of condescension. On the other hand, the criticism may well be unfair for a nation which is still in it first decade of Test cricket.
To make it more clear, if it were India who batted the way Bangladesh did today, there wouldn't have been any confusion in slamming them for their batting failures. But has Bangladesh's cricket matured to that level? That one is still asking the question means it hasn't, but you hope they aren't far away.
Shakib Al Hasan said something very interesting the other evening. "Losing hurts, but there is no use hanging on to it [emotion]. We want to keep improving and learning from our mistakes. Look, the first generation of cricketers had an average of 15 to 20, the next had 25 to 30, this lot is pushing 35 and the next generation will go over 40." It wasn't a wish, nor an ideal vision statement, just a sensible and matured appraisal.
If today's play was viewed in that context, it's easy to know what to do. You congratulate the partnership between Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim, and learn from the mistakes of what happened before and what transpired later.
In turn, that could also be seen as the difference between Mahmudullah and Mohammad Ashraful. It's where the new and old Bangladesh overlap. That Ashraful has played an incredible 51 Tests with an average of just 23 surely tells a story. Some one commented the other day, "Ashraful is like Id, lots of fun twice a year." The same thing could be said about Bangladesh cricket till recently, but it's something they want to break away from.
Mahmudullah offers a glimpse of the future. Today, like he did in the tri-series, he batted with a sense of responsibility and a willingness to look ugly, something that Ashraful seemingly lacks. It wasn't an exciting knock, there were no 'on-the-up' shots like an Ashraful innings but it was well-composed, sensible and one crafted with great care.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly, but there is something of Hansie Cronje in the way Mahmudullah bats. It does not mean that he is as good as Cronje, not yet at least, but Cronje's imprint is there in his style - the forward defense, the off drive and the general movements. The shot of his innings was an inside-out drive against Amit Mishra. It brought to your mind an even better shot that he played against the same bowler in the ODI. He moved down the track, got to the pitch of the ball on the leg and middle line and drove it through covers with the turn.
Today, like back then, he didn't get ahead of himself after such a shot. There was no extravagance and he played according to the situation. "I have discussed with Shakib a lot about my batting; we just want to bat positively and a good frame of mind," he said. "When I went in to bat, I told Rahim, just bat positively."
It was a very fine innings but something of Bangladesh's past lurked in the way it ended. It was the penultimate ball of the over and he was batting with a freshly-in No. 9 batsman. He cleared mid-off and should have settled for a single and stayed in the other end, but he came back for the second. The clarity of thought was missing and under pressure to retain the strike, he tried to run down the last ball to third man for a single but got an edge. Mushfiqur Rahim too, fell to a rash shot. It was the beginning of the collapse and Mahmudullah's exit was the termination.
In two brief instances from the past, in two brain explosions, in two moments of madness, Bangladesh lost a great opportunity to swing the pressure back on India. "If we can bowl well and if we can restrict them to 270-280, we can get a positive result," Mahmudullah said. "I am 100% hopeful." It's a brave thought but perhaps the moment has already passed. India, it appears, are out of the jail.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo