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Mehedi's magic turns the corner for Bangladesh

Mehedi Hasan has an appetite to improve and a natural skill to cultivate Associated Press

There's a story from Mehedi Hasan's fledgling first-class career that sums up his enthusiasm to learn. In one of his early matches for Khulna Division, he endured a wicketless session and, after some of the seniors had told him to bowl better, he had disappeared from the dressing room.

Moments later, Abdur Razzak who had also left the dressing room to get ready for the next session of play, saw Mehedi bowling in the nets nearby. Before Razzak could say anything, Mehedi asked him: "Bhai, can you have a look this way? Am I bowling fine now?"

The eagerness to absorb every bit of experience around him has remained with Mehedi in his early days in the senior team. Coach Chandika Hathurusingha said that his passion had made him stand out.

"He is an exceptional talent," said Hathurusingha. "He is keen to do well, which is big for me. He has enthusiasm in the game. He is always sitting next to me or the other coaches in the dressing room, listening to every word that we are saying. He is very keen to learn."

There was never any doubt in the team management's mind that they had found themselves an exceptional talent - in fact, in an echo of Australia's unveiling of Shane Warne on the 1993 Ashes tour, Bangladesh's captain Mushfiqur Rahim admitted that they had deliberately omitted Mehedi for the Afghanistan ODIs last month to keep him as a secret from England.

"We knew what type of player he is," said Mushfiqur. "We wanted him to play against England rather than Afghanistan so that they don't know anything about him.

"It is all his credit that he did so well. There's a lot to learn from him, and I know he has the calibre to do well in the future," he said.

Mehedi was certainly the surprise package that England couldn't deal with. He picked up 19 wickets in his maiden Test series, beating Enamul Haque jnr's 11-year old record of 18 wickets in two Tests against Zimbabwe in 2004-05 which resulted in Bangladesh's first Test series win.

Mehedi was phenomenal in both Tests, starting off with a six-wicket haul at Chittagong on his first day of Test cricket.

His maiden Test wicket said big things about Mehedi's ability to absorb the information around him. When Mushfiqur told his bowlers to bowl at the stumps on the turning Chittagong pitch, Mehedi did exactly that, drawing Ben Duckett into a stroke but getting the ball to turn past him sharply.

He took six more wickets in that game, while in Dhaka, he ran through England in the first innings by doing a similar job of pitching his offbreaks right up to the batsman at decent pace. He bowled with loop to the left-handers, in particular, but accuracy was his main weapon, especially when armed with the new ball. His arm ball was a constant menace, even though he himself admitted he doesn't know how it came out.

His rise to national stardom has been dizzyingly quick, but Mehedi said that after the Under-19 World Cup ended in February this year, he was ready for the call.

"I always wanted to do well whenever I got the opportunity. I didn't really think it would be this series. It could have been any time in the next year or two. I wanted to come into the national team with a strong mentality so that I could perform well," he said.

But it is easy to forget that, even three weeks ago, he was just a first-class cricketer who had graduated from the age-group scene. Almost overnight he seems established alongside the big names of the Bangladesh team, but Mehedi has not stopped learning either.

"I watch Shakib bhai closely, he is such a brilliant bowler. I try to adopt what he is doing," said Mehedi.

It is easy to compare him with offspinners like Sohag Gazi and Naimur Rahman, who also started their Test careers very well. Both faded away fast not only because of their own lack of performance, but also due to Bangladesh's immense dependence on left-arm spin.

Mehedi doesn't have trouble with his bowling action, and seems to have a mature approach to his game. It is still early days for him but, even from this point, he shouldn't be judged on his first Test series forever - neither should anyone expect him to be this effective on New Zealand's pitches in January.

He should be treated more like Mustafizur Rahman than a normal Bangladeshi offspinner. If he is so keen to learn his art, give him a bigger classroom and let him learn his way to the top.