Under-19 World Cup 2016 February 4, 2016

Saif Hassan, the patient run monger

Saif Hassan has received some flak from the crowd for his defensive approach, but he is simply fulfilling a role he is excellently suited for to give Bangladesh Under-19s a chance to win a World Cup at home

Saif Hassan (right) has taken some flak from the general public for batting too slowly, but he is only performing the role the Bangladesh Under-19 team has set out for him © BCB

Two years ago, Saif Hassan was worried about the future of Bangladesh playing in Test cricket. The Big Three proposal had just come out and one of the stipulations was to make teams ranked Nos. 9 and 10 play in the Intercontinental Cup from 2015, which would have left Bangladesh, ranked No. 10 at the time, with very little room to play any more Tests against the top eight countries.

"Will Test cricket be safe bhai?" Saif had asked me on Facebook a few hours after Mushfiqur Rahim, Bangladesh's Test captain, had blasted the proposal.

"Yeah, don't worry," I replied quickly, still filing that Mushfiqur report.

"Thank you for the info. I was quite fearful since the morning," he wrote back.

Saif was fearful of Test cricket going away from Bangladesh. His inquiry was remarkable given he was only 16 at the time and had been raised on a diet of one-day matches in age-group competitions and the Dhaka League system. None of his peers had asked about it.

Saif had spent a few years training among the under-11s at the Dhanmondi Cricket Academy. He used to grip the bat quite low on the handle, but on the advice of his coaches, raised it higher to counter the bounce of the rubber balls. He liked to drive, but at that tender age he wasn't able to handle the weight of a cricket bat. The helmets always seemed too big for him, but he had no trouble seeing the ball. He had a ready smile, but was mostly shy.

Saif took a couple of years to transition from playing with a rubber ball to the cricket ball and when he was 12, the Dhanmondi club decided to give him two games in the Dhaka Third Division Qualifying tournament, the lowest rung in the league structure.

His parents were consulted and at the Residential Model High School ground, Saif, all of 12, held his own against bowlers twice his age and size though he didn't get many with the bat. He didn't bowl his medium-pace because it was deemed too slow, but he took to fielding gleefully and was quite tanned by the end of the game.

Saif now opens the batting for the Bangladesh Under-19 team. There are no vestiges of his old grip but he still raises the bat up quite high just before the bowler gets into his stride. His role is to play as much of the 50 overs as possible, while the others go after the bowling. Nazmul Hossain Shanto is the team's highest scorer, Pinak Ghosh, Joyraz Sheik and Mehedi Hasan Miraz have made crucial contributions but Saif has only got flak for his defense-first mindset.

He bats out maiden overs with forward presses and backfoot blocks, while his opening partner Pinak and No. 3 Joyraz hunt for fours and sixes. In between scores of six (off 31 balls) and eight against South Africa and Namibia, Saif made 49 off 108 against Scotland. The small crowd in Cox's Bazar would not stop goading him and social media burst with comments that he batted too slowly.

And yet Saif's patience was necessary because Scotland had taken two early wickets and Mohammad Ghaffar was generating movement at high pace. Bangladesh needed someone to stand firm. Saif added 101 for the third wicket with Shanto to lead the recovery which eventually culminated in victory.

When asked of Saif's approach, Bangladesh coach Mizanur Rahman, captain Miraz and batsman Shanto have repeatedly said that it was what the team wanted from him. The other batsmen were given the license to hit out and Saif would essentially bat for time.

It's not like Saif cannot find the boundary. He is one of the hardest hitters of the ball, according to Miraz, and his performance for Cricket Coaching School in the Dhaka First Division Cricket League in the 2014-15 season can vouch for that. In a match against Surjo Tarun, Saif struck eight sixes and eight fours in a 130-ball 136. He likes the cover drive, the flick off the pads, which he keeps grounded, and targets the straight boundaries for his sixes.

He was roped in by Barisal Division to play first-class cricket and began building a reputation as an accumulator of runs. He has become a regular in the Bangladesh Under-19 team over the past year, making two centuries in 31 matches. In the 2015-16 first-class season, he scored three fifties and averaged 44.85 in five matches for Dhaka Division.

The Bangladesh Under-19 team management is quite happy to let Saif bat in his way and take advantage of his patience. But if he indulges in a few cover drives or some delightful flicks in the quarter-final against Nepal on Friday, don't be too surprised.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

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