Sabbir readies for the big stage
In a country where batsmen have been surprisingly shy of expressing themselves freely in Twenty20 cricket, Sabbir Rahman has stood out. However, it still took him nearly four years to convince everyone that his breakthrough innings - an 18-ball 33 against Afghanistan in the Asian Games final in 2010 - was going to give him a place in the Bangladesh side three years later, for a competition as important as the World T20.
During his innings in that match, Sabbir struck two sixes in the penultimate over when it looked like the gold was swinging Afghanistan's way. It was a low-profile game in terms of cricketing value but the encounter, Sabbir admitted, brought out the T20 player in him.
"That Afghanistan match gave birth to my T20 life," he said. "So since that day, I try to play according to the situation. Now whenever I get the opportunity, I will try to finish the game for Bangladesh in a similar fashion.
"Everyone thinks that I am only for T20s. I wish to climb from T20s to ODIs and then to Tests. I want to play in every format for Bangladesh. I don't have to change my basic game but I have to change my mindset a little."
He has not been consistent in T20s since that innings in November 2010, but last year he scored 710 runs for Bangladesh A, Barisal Burners, Prime Bank Cricket Club and Rajshahi Division, and was the second-highest run-getter in T20s in the country behind Anamul Haque.
During this time, he had a strike rate of 145.18 in eleven innings in the Bangladesh Premier League, the highest for an uncapped Bangladeshi batsman. When he made a 27-ball 40 against Chittagong Kings, it was after Brad Hodge had been dismissed, and in the space of the next seven overs, he took Barisal to a dominant position.
Late last year he scored three fifties in the Victory Day T20 Cup, helping Prime Bank clinch the trophy. Ahead of a World T20, and with the Bangladesh team short of anything remotely close to a specialist in the format, his skills were what the selectors and team management wanted.
He made his debut against Sri Lanka, walking in at 41 for 4 in the sixth over. He started off slowly and drew a bit of unwanted flak but the situation demanded him to bat at that pace. Sabbir said the criticism didn't affect him as he took his time at the start of the innings.
"Not many batsmen can just get to the middle and start finding boundaries," he said. "So I try to face a few balls, get my eye in and start playing my shots. If the situation demands quick runs, it is a different issue altogether.
"I am comfortable in the middle, especially in T20s, if I can get a boundary in the first four or five balls. I don't try too hard as that might put me on the backfoot. Later in the innings I try to cover the difference between run and balls, especially when I don't get fours and sixes early on."
Sabbir prefers hitting the ball in a straight arc between extra cover and wide midwicket, particularly against pace. He uses his feet a lot against spinners, also in a bid to clear the straight fielders but also swats at the ball whenever it is pitched short or flat.
"I think I can hit it clean. If it is in my zone, I try to take advantage of those deliveries. But if it isn't, I try to stay calm and wait for the right ball," he said.
He tried one slog against Nepal on Tuesday, but quickly ensured that Shakib Al Hasan, the better hitter in the middle, got more of the strike.
"Against Sri Lanka there was some pressure to make 120-130," he said. "The match yesterday was less pressure, the runs were scored so I didn't have to charge. But I will try to continue on my routine."
From an innings that could have been labelled a one-hit wonder, Sabbir has come a long way. He also has a few challenges to prepare himself for, particularly once Bangladesh make it to the second round of the World T20, where he will face strong bowling attacks. But a doughty spirit is Sabbir's trait, evident in the way he started playing cricket.
"Back home in Rajshahi, my coach Rashid bhai took me around everywhere as a fielder, in the neighbourhood matches," he said. "Once I took a great catch, and it caught everyone's eye.
"I was about 12-13 years old at the time when I went to being a spinner, from being a fielder. They took me to Dhaka where I played in the age-group Helvetia Cup for Brothers Union. I did well there so I was called up for U-13s where I struck 151, which turned me into a batsman. Now I want to be a good allrounder."
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here