I don't mind batting anywhere - Mahmudullah
It's early days in Mahmudullah's career, but there is something about him that makes one sit up and take note. In fact, it's easier to define what he isn't. It's not quite the same feeling that Mohammad Ashraful evoked when he was new to international cricket. Ashraful was a dare, a spine-tingling excitement, a cry of joy and of course, an inevitable anguish. Mahmudullah doesn't quite offer the counterpoise to Ashraful; he isn't quite the serene monk yet, but still brings a touch of stability and steel.
During practice yesterday, when some photographers called out to him to pose for a picture, he smiled shyly before obliging. When someone told him the other day about an article that had a few nice things to say about him, he again smiled coyly and said he would look it up. It was a charming little moment and if he continues to play as he has done through the ODI and Test series, he better get used to all the attention.
The moment that captured his spirit of adventure and revealed a bit about his character came during the battle against Zaheer Khan. To understand the context one has to rewind to the second innings of the last Test when Zaheer bombarded him with bumpers. Back then, Mahmudullah counterattacked and though there were a couple of injudicious swipes, he created the impression that he didn't feel completely out of place. Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons was among those who sensed his will for a fight and had spoken about how that particular phase of cricket would have taught Mahmudullah a lot about the pressures of Test cricket.
Mahmudullah seems to have taken the right things from it as he showed today. It was almost a given that Zaheer would bounce at him and it was going to be interesting to watch Mahmudullah's reaction. "I just decided before that if he bowls bouncers this time, I would hit anything in my way [reach] and leave anything that was too high or wide", Mahmudullah said.
It was a sensible decision and Mahmudullah executed it well: he cut one really hard and even threw in a thrilling left-leg-in-the-air pull that would have pleased those photographers. There was a solitary moment of injudiciousness when he almost charged out at Zaheer, but the adrenalin attack passed quickly.
"It was a good experience [the battle with Zaheer]. I really enjoyed the challenge", Mahmudullah said with a hint of a smile. This was a flat track and there would be sterner tests ahead but what caught the attention was how he handled the pressure of the match situation.
Especially, when you consider it wasn't far back that he was considered a hitter and someone who used to bat at No. 8 or thereabouts in domestic cricket. "Two years back I started batting up the order," Mahmudullah said. "Sujon [Khaled Mahmud, the assistant coach] has been of great help. I turn to him for help. There wasn't any great difficulty in moving up; my whole point was that I should make a contribution to make the team win the match. That's the pleasure I get from it."
And, he put a smile on everybody's faces when he described how he missed out a maiden ton after finishing four runs short. "I didn't say anything to Rubel when he came in to bat; just told him to bat normally," Mahmudullah said. "I did plan for it as I got closer. In Pragyan Ojha's over I didn't take a single off the fourth ball [it nearly got his partner run out]. I thought the next ball, they would bring in the fielders and I can hit a four and get to a hundred!" There was laughter all around, led by Mahmudullah himself. MS Dhoni, however, didn't bring up the field and created some confusion in the young man's mind. "The last ball, I wanted to take a single but couldn't and that's where I made the mistake. I am not disappointed about missing out. I have got 96. And because in the end we have got a good total."
Later the inevitable question about his promotion in the batting line-up came up for discussion. "No problem, I don't mind batting anywhere. It depends on my team's need and I would like to contribute wherever I bat." That may be so, but one suspects it won't take long for Mahmudullah, the tailender who became a batsman, to be pushed up the order.
Mahmudullah must be feeling Test cricket is not all that bad, and shared a couple of joyous anecdotes. "Harbhajan Singh came up and said 'well played'," he said. "Yuvraj Singh told me, 'Although you didn't get the hundred, you played really, really well. Congrats.' It was the happiest moment for me." And as he said that he flashed a lovely, toothy smile. It wasn't a shy man's smile, it was that of a young man who has got his first paycheque.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo