Imrul, Saifuddin prove winning double-act for Bangladesh

Mohammad Saifuddin plays a shot AFP

It has been a good month for comeback men in cricket. After Mohammad Hafeez cemented his place as Pakistan's ultimate comeback hero, Imrul Kayes is slowly getting there for Bangladesh.

Some of Imrul's spells in the wilderness have stretched for far too long, but he's somehow managed to find himself around the selection periphery. At the Asia Cup, he was summoned midway through the tournament and he sparkled immediately. On Sunday, his 144 rescued Bangladesh and set them up for an emphatic win. Along the way, he also made a statement, one that will give the team management confidence to persist with him for longer. But hey, Imrul has been in this situation previously.

First for some appreciation. He single-handedly rescued a floundering innings, and then later found support from the No. 9 with whom he shared a 127-run stand, the authority and his premeditation in the death overs being the standout. Mohammad Saifuddin's confidence grew along the way, and he eked out a maiden ODI fifty, one that is sure to have given him oodles of self-belief.

Prior to this game, Saifuddin had made just 30 runs in three ODI innings, the last of which was against Sri Lanka in January. He debuted in South Africa without much luck, and his billing as a robust bowling allrounder was rocked as David Miller took him for 31 runs in an over during a T20I.

Between Sunday and his previous ODI, Saifuddin didn't have a particularly great time in domestic and club cricket. He averaged 22 with the bat and 34.14 in ten List-A games. He played both T20Is against Sri Lanka in February but was so woeful with the ball that he was dropped subsequently for the Nidahas Trophy.

He went back to domestic cricket and struck an unbeaten century. His only notable bowling show was a four-wicket haul for Bangladesh A in Ireland in August. When he was picked, coach Steve Rhodes felt he was going to be Mashrafe Mortaza's like-for-like replacement.

Ever since his Under-19 days, he's carried potential and talks of how he could be a world-beating allrounder if he nurtured his early promise. Bangladesh has seen many such cricketers fade away after the early hype. But the difference between those and Saifuddin lies in his bowling and the ability to move the ball in helpful conditions. As such, his big hitting was hard to ignore for the team management.

What Saifuddin will now want to ensure is his ODI career doesn't go down Imrul's route, even though you'd think much of his experience has a lot to do with making comebacks. After his first three ODIs in 2008, Imrul missed the following year before becoming the team's leading scorer in the format in 2010. But he was sidelined throughout 2012 and 2013, before making his way through performance in Tests in 2014 and 2015.

After missing 44 ODIs in four years, then coach Chandika Hathurusingha handed him another ODI lifeline in 2016. He made a mark with a fine hundred against England, but lost his ODI place again after rough patch that forced him out for 20 games, with Bangladesh trying different opening combinations with Tamim Iqbal.

Saifuddin certainly wouldn't want similar fate. While he still has some distance before nailing down a spot, he's shown why he's worth investing in.