<
>

Has Mehidy got his groove back?

Mehidy took his first five-for since 2016 against West Indies in July CWI Media/Randy Brooks

At the end of the third T20I against West Indies in Florida last month, Bangladesh were about to set off to acknowledge their expat fans around the ground when Mehidy Hasan broke into a dance routine. It was so captivating that the broadcasters kept their cameras on him, rather than cut to a scheduled ad break. Mehidy's team-mates spurred him on, clapping around him.

His fancy footwork was the latest in Bangladesh's slideshow of notable celebrations after wins. Mahmudullah had brought out the Gangnam dance a few years ago, and more recently there was the controversial "snake" routine, fashioned by Nazmul Islam.

Mehidy's enthusiasm was especially striking, given he hadn't played the match that evening. "I was excited," he says, beaming, a month later in Dhaka. "I really enjoyed winning my first series for the senior team. I felt really happy from the inside."

While Mehidy, 20, hasn't really established himself in T20s for Bangladesh, he has become Shakib Al Hasan's spin twin in less than two years in Tests, and an attacking option with the new ball in ODIs, having done well in both formats on the West Indies tour. His assurance has been noticed by many within the team.

It was Mehidy's can-do attitude with the bat that made an impression on Mashrafe Mortaza last year, during his first ODI series. Bangladesh were chasing 281 against Sri Lanka and had slipped to 127 for 7 in the 26th over when the two came together at the crease. The story goes that after the pair had played out an over or two, Mehidy said to his senior team-mate that winning the game - they needed more than 150 runs with three wickets in hand - was possible. "Bhai, listen, we can do this," a panting, excited Mehidy said to his captain, and walked back to be on strike.

Slightly amused, Mashrafe was also impressed by Mehidy's positivity at a desperate time. And although Bangladesh went on to lose the game, Mehidy, with his maiden ODI fifty, ensured the margin of defeat wasn't greater than 70 runs.

But a Bangladeshi cricketer narrowing the margin of defeat is a story from the 1990s. Young Bangladeshi players making a sterling international debut have also been regulars occurrences over the last ten years. Mehidy leads these bright starters with his 19-wicket haul (at 15.63) against England in 2016 - a record for any debutant in a two-Test series.

Like for any cricketer, following up on such a brilliant start wasn't easy. After picking up only six wickets in his next three Tests, in New Zealand and India, though, he took ten wickets against Sri Lanka to help Bangladesh draw the Test series there last year. He bowled well against Australia at home too, taking eight wickets at 29.37, but went wicketless in 67 overs in South Africa. He took five wickets at an exorbitant average of 53 in Bangladesh's first Test series this year, against Sri Lanka at home.

He was also ineffective in T20Is afterwards, taking just a single wicket in six games during the Nidahas Trophy and against Afghanistan in Dehradun in June.

"It was a special moment in my life but these occasions don't come often. You can get close to such a performance, and sometimes you can bring the team a key breakthrough, but it is hard to replicate such an exceptional thing" Mehidy on his debut, against England

There have been lots of Bangladeshi youngsters who fizzled away soon after starting well - Nasir Hossain, Sohag Gazi, Elias Sunny and Arafat Sunny, to name a few. If someone in Bangladesh cricket administration wanted to make the case that Mehidy would also join the scrap heap, the facts were already there: he had started too well and the follow-up wasn't good enough.

Then came another spark.

On the first day of the Antigua Test, Mehidy went wicketless for 16 overs after West Indies had skittled Bangladesh out for just 43 runs. That changed on day two, when he took three wickets.

"I had planned to bowl a certain way in the Test series in the West Indies, mainly focusing on tight lengths at all times," he says. "I used to bowl from a certain angle, but our coaches, Sunil Joshi Sir and Sohel Islam Sir told me it is better to bowl more perpendicular in those conditions.

"[Joshi sir] told me that I should try to overspin the ball. I tried it during the warm-up, and instantly applied it in the middle. By Allah's grace I bowled well."

Mehidy followed that performance up with seven wickets in the second Test, including his first five-for since the breakthrough series against England in 2016. He was Bangladesh's highest wicket-taker in the series - in which the West Indies fast bowlers had complete domination.

"[England 2016] was a special moment in my life but these occasions don't come often," Mehidy says. "You can get close to such a performance, and sometimes you can bring the team a key breakthrough, but it is hard to replicate such an exceptional thing."

In the ODI series that followed in the West Indies, Mehidy's economy gave Bangladesh control with the new ball. He only took three wickets but also only conceded 4.06 each in his 30 overs in the three matches. "I have worked on my limited-overs bowling," he says. "Ever since my ODI debut in Sri Lanka last year, I have wanted to survive in the shorter versions. I want to be an all-format bowler."

"Mashrafe bhai had told me beforehand that I was likely to open the bowling with him. I knew that I'd have to attack from the start against both their left-handed openers, [Chris] Gayle and [Evin] Lewis. I was mentally prepared for it. I have bowled with the new ball since my age-group days," he says.

In the first match, after Gayle had hammered him really high for a six, it would have been understandable if Mehidy had fired them in to avoid getting hit again. Instead, he floated the ball up first and then struck Gayle on his pads, only to be denied a leg-before. Replays showed Mehidy should have taken the review, as the straightening delivery was projected to hit the stumps.

"Gayle has been around for two decades, and he has so many batting records. He'd be on top of me if I am not concentrating hard," Mehidy says. "So I tried a lot to be as tight as possible with my line and length, to stop him from hitting a lot of boundaries.

"The senior players said in team meetings that I have to stick to one spot, whether I get hit for one or two sixes. There's always the risk of [the batsman] getting out if [he] is trying to hit me for a six."

In search of a spin-bowling partner for Shakib, particularly in home games, Bangladesh have handed debuts to six specialist spinners in the last eight years. Taijul Islam is still considered a front-line option on spin-friendly tracks in Tests. Elias Sunny and Arafat Sunny were other left-arm spinners who started well but faded away. Hopes were pinned on offspinner Gazi when he tackled Gayle in 2012, only for his career to fizzle out when he had a problem with his bowling action less than two years later. The legspinner Jubair Hossain's decline from being a front-line option in 2015 is well documented, and he too is now an illustration of talent gone to waste.

Mehidy says that he understands the requirements of bowling in an era when increasingly every bowler and batsman has their strengths and weaknesses exposed by opponents. "You can't get stuck in one place in international cricket. You have to improve almost daily. Every batsman is aware of every bowler through video footages and YouTube.

"In a way cricket has become easier because it is now easier to read opponents. One has to keep developing skills and work harder in training," he said.

Mehidy has never been a mystery spinner. His plentiful confidence rests on a foundation of orthodox offspin. His enthusiasm is a major strength, and some see him as a future leader in the Bangladesh side.

At the moment, though, Mehidy has to keep his shoulders fresh, ahead of a long international season that starts in moderate batting conditions in the UAE. He has the confidence to deliver good spells of offspin with a big smile on his face.