Isam: Five dropped catches don't bode well for Pakistan
Pakistan had been reinforced with the addition of seniors like Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, and this was a format the team has had considerable success over the last few months, in conditions not dissimilar to the ones they were to face in Bangladesh. Yet, half-centuries from Mominul Haque and Imrul Kayes on the opening day of the Test series extended Bangladesh's advantage over Pakistan on the current tour by another day.
Bangladesh had opted to bat on a typical first-day subcontinent pitch that did not offer any help to the seamers and only limited turn to the spinners, but the slow and tentative approach Tamim Iqbal and Imrul took in the first session lacked the confidence that has hardly left the team since the start of the World Cup. By the end of the day though, with their batsmen putting a series of good partnerships and the Pakistan fielders erring, Bangladesh had shed some of that tentativeness.
At the heart of it was Mominul, who added a fifty-plus score in a Test for the 10th consecutive time. In fact, in his 13-match career, only once he was not able to reach a half-century. Although slow from the start of his innings, Mominul was his usual solid self. He was hit on the helmet by Junaid Khan early in his innings, but guided the next ball through gully with composure. It remained his favourite area, as six off his eight boundaries came through the region.
After arriving at the stroke of lunch, Mominul added 40, 95 and 49 for the second, third and fourth wickets, to ensure Bangladesh did not let the opening stand of 52 not go to waste. However, his dismissal off the penultimate delivery - he was trapped plumb in front by Zulfiqar Babar - meant yet again he had failed to reach the three-figure mark. Of the 12 times he has crossed fifty, only four times he has gone on to make a century.
Similar was the fate of Mahmudullah, who fell one short of his half-century. He showed glimpses of the same form that has raised his reputation over the last few months, playing attractive strokes off the front foot or back, but, yet again, he failed to convert a start into a substantial score.
The highlight of Mahmudullah's 123-ball stay was his first boundary, an elegant hit through cover off Zulfiqar after he had stepped out of the crease. Not all his boundaries were convincing though; a couple slid through the cordon off the outside edge off the pacers. Another outside edge, when he was on 49, was snapped up by the diving Sarfraz Ahmed behind the stumps, the 74-over ball from Wahab Riaz reversing just enough to square him up.
Pakistan, though, were left to rue the missed opportunities. Five chances were wasted in the first two sessions. In the morning Tamim, who scored two centuries in the recent ODI series, could have been out in the 20th over had Mohammad Hafeez held a low chance at leg slip when the batsman was on 16. Yasir Shah misjudged a lofted shot from Imrul in the 18th over, and Azhar Ali did not take a sharp chance at short leg from the same batsman in the 29th over.
In the second session, left-arm spinner Babar dropped a return chance, letting Mominul off on 17. Then Younis and Hafeez allowed an outside edge from Mahmudullah's bat fly between them in the slip cordon.
The one time Pakistan were lucky was when Yasir broke the monotony of a slow morning by picking up the wicket of Tamim 11 minutes before the end of the first session, ending an obdurate opening stand. Tamim had scored 25, his best against Pakistan, when an inside edge was smartly taken by Azhar at short leg. But Pakistan were fortunate because third umpire Paul Reiffel ruled a no-ball-check from the on-field official in favour of Yasir, when the margin was so slim that the decision could have easily been made in Tamim's favour as well.
The rate of scoring that crawled at 1.53 an over in the first hour, only marginally improved to 2 in the second, as none of the batsmen showed intent consistently. Singles remained rare and the boundaries, rarer. A couple of reverse-sweeps, one each from Tamim and Imrul, made appearance in the second hour after only two fours had been hit in the first. At lunch, Imrul was on 35 off 104 deliveries.
Playing with more assurance after lunch, Imrul hit two more fours - a cover drive off Yasir and a powerful sweep off Hafeez - and reached his second Test half-century in the 41st over, off the 129th ball he faced. But he was dismissed off the next one as he popped a leading edge back at Hafeez, ending his 38-run stand with Mominul. For Hafeez, who tested the batsmen with drift and flight, it was his first wicket with his remodelled action.