Gazi makes the grade
In only his first season of international cricket, Sohag Gazi has leapt ahead of any other specialist offspinner in Bangladesh history. His 26 Test wickets put him in a fair position to possibly kickstart an offspin revival in the country.
He is two wickets short of Mahmudullah, primarily a batsman, who was used a fair bit before Gazi came along. Naimur Rahman and Fahim Muntasir are the only other frontline offspinners who have played for Bangladesh. They appeared in 11 Tests between them, the last of them in 2002. The near-complete dependence on left-arm spin since has descended all the way down to age-group cricket and to the lowest tiers of Dhaka's league structure.
It meant that Gazi was an anomaly as he rose through the ranks. First picked after a good showing for Bangladesh A and in domestic cricket, he was called upon to do duty against West Indies' many top-order left-handers last November. As the wicket columns show, he was up to the task.
Gazi has faced many challenges during these six months. The successes, big and small, and failures haven't changed him too much, as those who have known him since his days as a first-class cricketer will attest. His knowledge of international batsmen, however, has come on in leaps and bounds, and he has developed a keen sense of what his captain wants from him in different situations.
"I will say that the last six months have been a huge surprise for me," Gazi said. "Nobody [in the media or BCB] talked about me. I was not groomed to play for Bangladesh, but here I am.
Gazi is probably the least-coached cricketer in the team, given that he came out of Barisal Division and never actually come across specialised coaching until he met Saqlain Mushtaq, who is now Bangladesh's bowling consultant on a tour-by-tour basis. In keeping with that, Gazi has also been something of a refreshing change of pace in the Bangladesh dressing room, temperament-wise. A few players have remarked on his phlegmatic attitude in tough situations and his tendency to be quietly confident at most times.
"I have really enjoyed this surprising turn of events," he said. "I can tell you that those who are built up as Bangladesh prospects have some more pressure on them. They have to do well. I didn't have that baggage."
His temperament has been on trial from his first ball in Test cricket, which Chris Gayle smacked for six. Gazi went on to dismiss Gayle soon after that first over, and immersed himself in bowling long spells, eking out wickets, and enjoying the odd stint with the bat. In that series against West Indies, Gazi was asked to bowl at every juncture, and it continued against Sri Lanka, where he bowled from one end almost constantly., leading the attack in Shakib Al Hasan's absence.
A few weeks later in Zimbabwe, he was used differently, as captain Mushfiqur Rahim's shock option. There were times he felt frustrated, often sending down the odd full toss when he was called on to bowl a few overs towards the end of a session.
"I am trying to make the best of the opportunities in different conditions," Gazi said. "The pace bowlers have been in the thick of things on these wickets, and as a spinner, you have to bide your time.
"I just wanted to give my best shot in whatever capacity I was asked to bowl in."
He thinks there has been a genuine improvement in his bowling, having measured up to some good batsmen in his six Tests.
"I can turn the ball a lot," he said. "I think that shock of facing the biggest hitter in the game [Gayle] has helped me. I have bowled to Sangakkara and now [Brendan] Taylor, so it has helped me understand where my bowling stands."
He has the Bangladesh records for best bowling on debut in Tests and ODIs under his belt. Given how he has progressed, he will be keen to work on developing greater accuracy and the ability to cope with tough situations. It will be up to him to master these challenges, ones that have brought down many a talented cricketer in Bangladesh.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here