Many would've been surprised at seeing Najmul Hossain Shanto's name in the Bangladesh team sheet in Pallekele. He had averaged 11.14 in seven innings against West Indies after the coach and captain publicly backed him to be their No. 3. In fact, the insistence on Shanto over Shakib Al Hasan at No. 3 in the ODIs raised many eyebrows. Then he didn't perform against West Indies, and his only innings in New Zealand saw him bowled off a half-tracker. A team that has lost their last eight matches finds it hard to answer questions about an under-performing batter.
If not the whole answer, Shanto has given a sample of his ability with an unbeaten 126 on the first day against Sri Lanka. This maiden Test century couldn't have come at a better time for someone under pressure to perform regularly.
By batting seven-and-a-half hours, Shanto did what most No. 3s around the world do on a true pitch against an inconsistent bowling attack. He helped the team recover from an early wicket, supported an aggressive batter and then controlled the innings with the No. 4. He added 144 with Tamim Iqbal and 150 with Mominul Haque, neither dominating nor falling behind. Shanto called it an "organised" innings where he didn't want to rush into anything. But it was clear from his words that it took a lot of effort to reach this mindset after being so clumsy and wayward against West Indies couple of months ago.
"I don't think it was about proving myself," Shanto said. "I have worked hard in the last five or six months and although I didn't get the result, I believed in myself to score big runs. It was important for me not to rush anything. I think I played a much organised innings. Of course Tamim bhai batted very well. He was scoring quickly, which allowed me to take a bit of time. His innings was helpful for me. I tried to bat according to the merit of the ball."
"I think I was mentally relaxed today. I wasn't too worried about scoring runs. It was more about enjoying the innings. I just reacted to every ball. I didn't look at the scoreboard to check how much I made or how many balls I faced."
The fact that he understands the value of patience was readily apparent in how he didn't mind taking 38 balls to move from 90 to 100. When he finally reached the three-figure mark, he smiled and gave a bow towards his dressing room.
Shanto said that he didn't show a lot of emotion because he believes he isn't done in the innings. He also said that he tried to block out the outside noise during his run of poor form. "I believed I could make a big one so there wasn't much to be excited about. I want to bat long tomorrow and play more matches in the future.
"Honestly, I don't focus on what's being said about me. I heard some stuff from my family members. Maybe people believe I have the ability to do well which is why there is a lot of expectations from me," he said.
Shanto said that the pitch, with a tinge of green, was good for batting after they rode out the first hour. He is looking ahead to the second day, and particularly the first session, for a bigger score for himself and the team.
"When I reached the middle, Tamim bhai told me I should bat knowing that this is a good wicket. He told me that I shouldn't worry too much about the wicket. Here the new ball does a bit, as you saw even at the end of the day.
"It is a good wicket. I will try to bat as long as possible tomorrow by staying positive. We must bat well in the first session on the second day. Only after that, we will know what would be a good first innings total," he said.
Najmul Hossain Shanto
Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka
Bangladesh tour of Sri Lanka
ICC World Test Championship
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84