Mushfiqur sets new benchmarks
By becoming Bangladesh's first double centurion, Mushfiqur Rahim achieved a major landmark for a country that has struggled to be competitive during its 13-year existence as a Test nation. Historical importance aside, the innings was also a greater boost to his captaincy than any of his other weighty performances over the last two years.
Mushfiqur's unflagging concentration for more than seven hours was not surprising for a gritty batsman who is technically sound. The situation required the ability to assess potential trouble that was just around the corner, when he walked in to bat at 177 for 4 on the third morning in Galle.
He had to ensure the senior batsman at the other end, the perplexing Mohammad Ashraful, also remained steadfast as Bangladesh sought to avoid the follow-on. Mushfiqur had to be mindful of the usual frailties as session breaks approached, and when the mind and body tired towards the end of the day. When Nasir Hossain came to the crease, Mushfiqur let the youngster lead the partnership, just as he had led the 267-run stand with Ashraful. Mushfiqur had given Ashraful the time and space to bat in a new way, and with Nasir at the other end he needed to focus on reaching the 200-run milestone.
The change in roles was smart thinking on Mushfiqur's part and he reached the double just after lunch on the fourth day, but his astuteness is no surprise. He is a batsman who has not had a dip in form in the last two years, a claim only Shakib Al Hasan can make in the team.
Bangladesh were without two of their most important players - Shakib and Tamim Iqbal - and have been dealing with several off-field issues. The captain, especially of a young and struggling side like Bangladesh have been for a long time, needed to lead by example in such a situation. Mushfiqur will complete two years as captain in a few months, and this innings came at the right time: in his first Test in charge away from home.
"You would want to lead with runs and wickets, as a captain," Mushfiqur said. "I am happy but the happiness is just not for myself. Nasir, Ashraful and Mominul did very well, so credit goes to them too.
"Sri Lanka have a very good record in Galle, and some of our best players didn't come. There were expectations on me, as well as a lot of pressure. It is a very positive sign that we can overcome these challenges."
Mushfiqur survived the axe following Bangladesh's exit from the 2011 World Cup, in which he failed to contribute significantly, and has not looked back. After he was handed the captaincy in controversial circumstances in mid-2011, he has grown into the role, taking lessons from phases of his career that weren't pleasant.
Mushfiqur was the wicketkeeper who displaced Khaled Mashud, the crisis man during Bangladesh's early days as a Test nation and a popular figure in the country. How he transformed from accidental villain to exemplary figure in six years is worth a closer look.
It wasn't just hard work, but also how he carried himself that made a world of difference. Though a strict disciplinarian in his personal life, Mushfiqur never tried to impose his personal traits on his team-mates. But as leaders hope, the younger players are, unwittingly or otherwise, adopting their way of thinking - that the only path to runs, wickets and wins is hard work and focus.
Mushfiqur said after the fourth day's play that he had discussed the probability of a double-century with Ashraful, but not just for himself. "We had dinner together. I told him that, 'I want you to score the 200 first. Go for the 250-mark too, so that I can make a double-hundred too.' That's how we were planning yesterday: we will get to milestones together. I am seriously feeling very bad for him because he deserved the double thoroughly."
His immediate challenge is to guide his team through this Test match, this series and perhaps win a series away from home in the next two months.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent