The day before the first ODI against West Indies, Sohag Gazi spent close to an hour bowling at Saqlain Mushtaq. The former Pakistan offspinner stood behind one stump, baseball mitt in one hand, on the wicket next to the one where the Bangladesh offspinner would make his ODI debut.
Apart from the bowling, the only other activity during the whole exercise was when Saqlain moved the markers. It happened only a few times, to indicate what lines and length to bowl when the bowler switched to around the wicket, but there was very little exchange of words. It was clear that the plans were set and had been spelled out to the youngster, who devotedly carried them out the next day.
Gazi's 4 for 29 were the best bowling figures for a Bangladesh bowler on debut in one-day cricket, beating Rubel Hossain's 4 for 33. The first plan was to keep bowling full to Chris Gayle because Saqlain had told him of the Jamaican's strength off the back foot. That sounds like a ploy to keep Gazi from bowling short and the offspinner obliged. Gayle got out early, off his second delivery, and though the ball was fuller than where a conventional offbreak would land, the trajectory pulled Gayle out of his crease. Tamim Iqbal completed the dismissal with a superb catch at long-on, giving Bangladesh some breathing space.
That success brought another, in the next over. Gazi was confident enough to try a similar length to Marlon Samuels, and the in-form batsman's drive was not a committed attempt as he edged to slip that had been in place for that over. Devon Thomas holed out to long-on after a clever little move from captain, Mushfiqur Rahim, and Gazi completed his four-for with the crucial dismissal of Sunil Narine in the 47th over, just as the West Indies tail threatened to take the game away from Bangladesh.
Apart from the wickets, Gazi's build-up of pressure on the West Indies batsman, in his three spells, was central to Bangladesh's dominance with the ball. It helped free up one end for Mushfiqur, who rotated his bowlers, and gave the captain enough room to manoeuvre the more experienced Abdur Razzak's overs. It was all Saqlain and Gazi had talked about. Saqlain discussed the need to create pressure through dot balls, a different way to see the new fielding restrictions that leave five fielders inside the circle for 35 overs in the game.
Gazi has so far carried out whatever he has been asked to do. He should have been flustered when Gayle banged him for two sixes in his first over of international cricket - as happened in the Dhaka Test - but Mushfiqur calmed him down with the assurance of another over. He could have grown impatient when long periods of bowling drew little results in the Test but he didn't and was rewarded.
He is slowly changing from the offspinner who bowls unchanged from one end for Barisal, to a well-rounded spinner. But he has had to quickly change his nature. Now a keener personality, Gazi has opened up, which is significant for a young man from a small town as far away as Patuakhali, which is way down on the southwestern coast of the country.
Three months before Gazi had gone anywhere near Gayle, he was desperately seeking some time with Saqlain, then the newly appointed spin bowling consultant of the Bangladesh team. He wanted to improve on his action, the lengths to bowl and have a clearer idea about bowling plans. He wanted to take all these back to Barisal Division to get more wickets in first-class cricket.
But at that time he was hesitant to approach such a big name in spin bowling. Now that he has met, spoken and planned so many wickets with Saqlain, it is time he asks more questions and finds out a lot more about offspin than he would ever learn on his own.