Hungry Abu Jayed guns for swing-bowling glory

Abu Jayed jumps in celebration Getty Images

Abu Jayed doesn't quite think that he belongs to international cricket. He's been in the senior set up for over a year, but has featured in just eight internationals.It has taken him a decade of first-class cricket to finally get noticed.

Since his debut in July 2018, Jayed has played only one out of four Tests at home, and even though he has been picked for their last four overseas Tests, that's hardly a sign of continuity in Bangladesh cricket.

Yet, Bangladesh have an impressive swing bowler who invests a lot of thought in his bowling and has become, almost quietly, the highest wicket-taker in the country's first-class competitions since his debut in 2010.

These are early days for Jayed the international cricketer, but in this brief period, he has shown he can be a potent swing bowler in Bangladesh's attack. It is, however, spin that overrides swing in the Bangladesh attack's mindset.

Spin wins them a lot of home Tests these days, which has also meant far less focus on trying to find ways to win abroad. In the lead-up to the ongoing New Zealand tour, there hadn't been any tour-specific preparations (unlike their last two tours to this region), so newcomers like Jayed had to simply rely on their existing skillset.

Yet Jayed has, for the major part, been accurate, been willing to bowl long spells, upped his pace over the past nine months and looked to have every weapon available in a swing bowler's arsenal that Bangladesh have missed in the past six years.

"While I was reviewing videos from West Indies," Jayed said, "I saw that my pace on that tour was between 122 and 125kph. Now I am bowling between 129 to 134kph on this tour. I have got some belief in myself that I can swing the ball. I can see that batsmen have to work hard to face my bowling. If I can keep improving, I can become an international level pace bowler."

During commentary in the Hamilton Test, former New Zealand fast bowler Simon Doull compared Jayed's bowling action to James Anderson. For most of his teenage years, Jayed spent time trying to emulate Anderson's action. A chance encounter with Mizanur Rahman, a senior coach in the BCB, put Jayed on the path from transitioning from a dreamy kid to a serious swing bowler. It helped that Rahman took an interest in Jayed's progress.

"I started off as a fast bowler, but my brother told me that pace bowling won't work in Bangladesh," Jayed said. "After his suggestion, I started to bowl off-spin. I played U-13s as an offspinner, but I would bowl them quite quickly. I switched back to pace bowling soon. In the U-16s, someone told me that I was quite a quick bowler for my age, so I kept going."

"In one of the age-group games, Babul sir [Mizanur Rahman] noticed me. My bowling action was totally like Anderson's in those days. But I was falling over on the left side, so he corrected my action. From that point, I started to get the outswing going."

As he evolved through Under-19 and first-class cricket, Jayed got a boost from one of the foremost names in fast-bowling coaching in Bangladesh. "[Sarwar] Imran sir inspired me by saying that I can play for Bangladesh," Jayed said. "He said that Bangladesh doesn't have many swing bowlers, so I can keep trying."

Jayed quietly made himself indispensable in Sylhet division's NCL campaigns from 2010, taking 135 wickets at an average of 25.62 with eight five-wicket hauls. He was an easy pick for the East Zone side in the Bangladesh Cricket League, the higher-level first-class competition, in which he has so far been the standout pace bowler with 76 wickets in 24 matches.

Predominantly, Jayed bowls long spells, and preys on the batsmen's patience. "For example, when I play under Sourav bhai [Mominul Haque] in the BCL, I stick to his plan. I am usually able to bowl 10-12 overs, so I work on the batsmen's patience," Jayed said.

Jayed developed the inswing and has honed his ability to reverse the ball, too. He is known to be an energetic bowler, who doesn't just trundle through a mid-innings spell. He gives it his all. Among his team-mates, he is also known as someone who has great knowledge of the ball.

Some also feel that Jayed, one of the few Sylhet-born cricketers from his generation, has also inspired others to take up fast bowling. Ebadot Hossain and Khaled Ahmed, who are also in the Bangladesh Test squad for the tour of New Zealand, are also from Sylhet.

"There was a time [when I felt bad], but I started to focus more on first-class cricket... I wanted to be the highest wicket-taker every year..."

However, given he was overlooked for so many years, despite being the top pace bowler on the wickets-chart, the exclusion had been becoming demanding for Jayed. But like a true professional, he respected the domestic game, which earned him his keep, and he set his new goals to move up the ladder.

"There was a time [when I felt bad], but I started to focus more on first-class cricket," Jayed said. "I wanted to be the highest wicket-taker every year, and slowly eclipse bowlers like Tapash Baisya, Hasibul Hossain, Tarek Aziz and Talha Jubair. I stopped thinking about the national team at one point.

"I told Talha [Jubair] bhai recently that I am close to catching up with his tally of first-class wickets. One day, I want to catch up with Mohammad Sharif, or at least get close to it."

But Jayed wouldn't want to emulate the fate of Sharif, Tapash, Hasibul, Tarek or Talha, neither of whom had a long career despite the promise they exuded. Among them only Tapash was more of a regular but only when Mashrafe Mortaza was injured in the early to mid-2000s. But injuries, a drop in the pacers' form and, most pertinently, the impatience of selection committees over the last two decades, have made pace bowling in Bangladesh cricket a sideshow.

Jayed doesn't obviously plan to change any of that. He simply wants to learn better the complex art of swing bowling. He wants to meet his hero Anderson one day, but for now he is keen to play more Tests, and keep picking up vital life lessons along the way.

By the end of the tour, he hopes to have a chat with Tim Southee, from whom he wants to learn a new kind of delivery: one that is delivered cross-seamed and while appears to be an outswinger originally, comes back into the right-hander.

Nobody in Bangladesh cricket, mad about ODIs and the upcoming World Cup in particular, can be bothered. Jayed is, and wants to get better. Swing bowling is a tough art, and Jayed perhaps is learning it in the toughest setting in world cricket.