The Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, situated at the dead end of Chattogram's western industrial belt, should now be called Fort Mominul Haque. On Thursday, the opening day of the first Test against West Indies, Mominul struck 120, after Bangladesh had elected to bat. It was Mominul's sixth century at this venue in eight Tests. It isn't quite in the league of Mahela Jayawardene at the SSC yet. But Mominul became only the 10th batsman to score six or more hundreds in a single venue.
Going by Bangladesh's standards, this is definitely "name-the-stadium-after-him" good. No other batsman from the country has scored more than two hundreds in one venue, and those who have scored more than 1,000 runs in a single venue, have done so at 44.03 (Shakib in Dhaka), 37.50 (Tamim in Dhaka) and 43.84 (Mushfiqur in Chattogram). Mominul, by comparison, averages 89.90 in Chattogram, after 14 innings, including this one.
But is this his favourite venue? Does he have a connection with the ground or the city? Does he care if the city is now called Chattogram? Does he feel comfortable coming to this dead end of the industrial area in Sagarika? Because not many would.
"I don't really turn up at the stadium and say, 'yeah, I am going to score a century here'," Mominul said while walking across to the dressing room. "I don't really think about these things. I really don't have an answer to this question."
Mominul usually doesn't have an answer to many questions, particularly when his batting is taken into context with something else. He is of the see-the-ball-play-the-ball kind. The quiet guy who does the job.
There is some connection, of course. Mominul plays his first-class cricket for Chittagong (curiously the name of the team hasn't switched to Chattogram yet). But he averages 11.00 here in four first-class matches. He plays for Chattogram because he is from Cox's Bazar, which is under the Chattogram Division. Mominul isn't known to have played a lot of club cricket in Chattogram either, having learned his game at BKSP, the famous sports institute in Savar, 46km to the north of Dhaka. And, like every Bangladeshi cricketer, he has played most of his cricket in the capital city.
So his only connection to Chattogram is his Test hundreds, and on the first day against West Indies, he made a fond return.
The quality of the innings was admirable too. Mominul's 120 evoked memories of Tamim's 104 against England in Dhaka two years ago. Tamim's knock then turned out to be the highest score of the match, as he took full advantage of the first two sessions, when the Dhaka pitch was at its best. In Chattogram, Mominul, too, struck his hundred within the first two sessions, playing with more ease than the batsman at the other end.
Soumya Sarkar lasted just two balls, while Imrul Kayes, given two lives during his 87-ball stay, looked the most haggard. Mohammad Mithun hardly played like a Test No. 4, while Shakib Al Hasan batted with discipline until the tea break.
West Indies perhaps didn't have as good a bowling attack as England did in 2016, but Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel featured heavily in Bangladesh's nightmarish Test series in the West Indies this July. Mominul tackled Gabriel well early on, and was mainly conservative against Roach.
What he did best was cash in any time the West Indies spinners gave him room or dropped short. He had the better of Roston Chase and rotated the strike quite regularly off Devendra Bishoo. He didn't attack left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican, but looked mostly in control.
When he brought up his century with a four past point in the post-lunch session, Mominul equaled Tamim for the most Test hundreds (eight) by a Bangladesh batsman. It was also his fourth hundred in 2018, as many as Virat Kohli. Now, he also has the most hundreds by a Bangladesh batsman in a calendar year, bettering Tamim's three hundreds from 2010.
Bangladesh should also be encouraged by the effect that a Mominul century has in Chattogram. They have never lost when he has scored a hundred here.
His 181 against New Zealand in 2013 was his first Test innings at home, arriving on the back of plenty of lessons learned on the road in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe that year. Mominul's unbeaten 100 against Sri Lanka, three months after his maiden Test ton, was a final-day, back-to-the-wall effort that ensured a face-saving draw.
His unbeaten 131 against Zimbabwe later that year not only put Bangladesh on the winning course, but also gave him some confidence after a rough time in ODIs and T20Is that year.
He then broke his four-year century drought at this ground, when he made 176 and 105 against Sri Lanka in January this year. The first innings ton was typically Mominul - full of shots, and plenty of mental control against the good deliveries. His unusually excited celebration at reaching the hundred was also memorable. He punched the air, and banged his bat against his pad. It was not a lot, but Mominul wouldn't even raise his bat if it weren't the tradition.
It was believed to be pointed towards the Sri Lankan dressing room, where Chandika Hathurusingha sat. Many believe that it wasn't a coincidence that Mominul's stagnation between 2014 and 2018 came during Hathurusingha's reign as Bangladesh coach. The only time Mominul was dropped from the Test team, in September last year was, according to several sources within the BCB, Hathurusingha's decision. BCB chief Nazmul Hassan brought back Mominul 24 hours later.
Since that career-changing experience, Mominul has batted well in South Africa and has scored four Test hundreds at home, in between a bad West Indies tour. One of those was a 161 against Zimbabwe last week, when Bangladesh had slipped to 26 for 3 in the first morning. He put together 266 runs for the fourth wicket, and paved the way for a big win.
Whether the 120 against West Indies leads to a Bangladesh win is unknown, but the hundred was that of an opportunist. Previously, pitches in Chattogram have improved as the Test has progressed, but that cannot be predicted by a batsman trying to build something on the first day. But when Bangladesh is in trouble in Chattogram, count on Mominul to step up and guard his fort.