Remembering a Lord's debut

It's a spring morning at Lord's and Bangladesh are playing their first Test in England. The top-order has already been blown away and in walks the tiny figure of a 16-year-old debutant. It didn't look a fair contest as Mushfiqur Rahim squared up the English bowlers, but it soon became clear that this kid was no ordinary player. This was a glimpse of Bangladesh's future.

Fast forward nine months and Rahim is leading his country at the Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka. Careers aren't meant to happen this way; the age-group tournaments are supposed to lead players into a Test career. Yet Rahim is one of two players in Sri Lanka with Test experience, the other being the Zimbabwean legspinner, Graeme Cremer. However, there is one key difference. While Cremer had his chance only because of the exodus of players from Zimbabwe, Rahim was handed his debut by right - the selectors thought he was ready regardless of his age.

It was certainly a baptism of fire, facing a powerful England attack. But with a smile as wide as the Ganges delta, he recalls that Thursday morning when he arrived in the middle, at the most famous ground in the world, with the team crumbling at 65 for 4. "All the players wanted to play at Lord's so it was special for us all, but for me to make my debut there was a very important day. Facing Flintoff and Harmison was a great experience for me."

On the face of it Rahim's 19 does not jump out as being particularly noteworthy, and could easily fade from the memory. However, the signs were there of something worth remembering. One stroke, an effortless back-foot square-drive, was of the highest class.

"I wanted to play the bowling with respect and also to play my normal game," explained Rahim. "But the wicket was very tough, and our batting had collapsed, so I wasn't able to play my strokes as much as I would have liked. I am a stroke-maker but sometimes you have to change your game when your side is in trouble."

Touring England is a vital part of a cricketer's education and Rahim was handed the opportunity when most people his age are still in school. By finishing the tour with a first-class average of 54, including an unbeaten 115 against Northamptonshire, he marked himself out as the major success. "I learnt from all the players on the tour, both our boys and the England team. Our captain, Habibul Bashar, was always encouraging me to do well and spent a lot of time helping me."

Rahim is now using all the knowledge he gained to bring the best of out of himself and his team at the under-19 level. "The tour showed me what it takes to prepare for international cricket, I watched how the top players did it. That made me decide that I wanted to play at that level and I brought what I learnt into the under-19 team. Hopefully that will help me play for the Test team again."

When he made his debut at Lord's, Rahim was selected purely as a batsman - a further sign of the belief in his talent - as Khaled Mashud was Bangladesh's first-choice keeper. Rahim's aim, though, is to eventually graduate into that position for the national side. "Of course I will play any role for Bangladesh although eventually I want to play as a keeper, but Khaled is very good and I have already learnt a lot from him and it is good for the team when he is playing."

Bangladesh are a very different prospect at under-19 level, with the full side still struggling to make an impression in Tests and one-day internationals. However, Rahim is convinced that the recent success enjoyed by the youth team, including a tri-nations success over England and Sri Lanka, will soon be replicated further up the ladder. "The boys are playing very well and the main thing is we are playing as a team," he says with the air of a contented captain. "It won't be long until the Test team starts to win more matches and perform like we are. There are a lot of players here who can play for the national team within five years and it will be a very good side in the future." With such a focused outlook, you sense Rahim will play a very large part in that future.