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Match Analysis

Taijul vs Williamson takes centrestage in Shakib's absence

Williamson scored his fourth hundred in as many Tests but Taijul's guile and perseverance kept the contest on an even keel

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Taijul Islam have been Bangladesh's workhorses in the absence of Shakib Al Hasan  •  AFP/Getty Images

Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Taijul Islam have been Bangladesh's workhorses in the absence of Shakib Al Hasan  •  AFP/Getty Images

The first New Zealander to score centuries in four consecutive Tests. Level with Sir Don Bradman and Virat Kohli with 29 centuries. Kane Williamson is a modern-day giant, and arguably the greatest batter from his country. Into his thirteenth year in international cricket, Williamson continues to be his side's batting linchpin, and it is often his battle with the opposition's best bowler that decides the contest.
On Wednesday, Bangladesh's greatest cricketer, Shakib Al Hasan, got through his first day on the campaign trail in his hometown Magura. Shakib is contesting parliamentary elections, which are set to be held on January 7.
Shakib is nursing a finger injury that has put him out of contention for the Test series, and so, in Sylhet, Taijul Islam is Bangladesh's best bowler: on paper and in the field too. He certainly bowled like the top dog on day two, which he lit up with his 12th four-wicket haul in Test cricket.
Taijul has, for years, played second fiddle to Shakib. Quite naturally. But whenever Shakib has been absent or unable to bowl, which has happened quite a lot in Tests, Taijul has been both Bangladesh's workhorse and their biggest wicket-taking threat. New Zealand discovered the potency of Taijul and his spin colleagues on Wednesday, which they ended 44 runs behind Bangladesh's first-innings total, with two wickets in hand.
Williamson's main contest was with Taijul. He scored 38 runs off the 91 balls he faced from the left-arm spinner. After Taijul conceded a four through midwicket off a full-toss, he tightened up his lines and lengths considerably. At times it was a slow grind with Williamson hitting a couple of classical off-drives and a square-cut. Nayeem Hasan also posed some difficulty for Williamson, and just when it looked like the New Zealand great was going to get his side close to the Bangladesh total, Taijul came up with the ball of the day.
It was the fifth ball after Bangladesh had taken the second new ball. Taijul tossed it up, drawing Williamson onto the forward press. The trajectory, however, undid Williamson, who was beaten for line, the ball drifting in and continuing along that path after pitching, sneaking between his bat and pad. Williamson looked back in surprise as the ball dislodged his off bail. He had seemed to have it covered, but Taijul had found that tiny gap. He had been trying to get Williamson to come forward all day and leave that space for him, or at least beat his inside edge and hit his front pad, below the flap. It had finally worked, bringing a wide smile to Taijul's face.
Williamson later said New Zealand had faced tough questions from the Bangladesh spinners. "They are very familiar with these conditions. They are very accurate. They all ask different questions," he said. "They were all outstanding today. They asked us a lot of questions. They taught a lot of lessons as well to play in this part of this world."
Bangladesh's spin bowling coach Rangana Herath reiterated that Taijul has grown into a bowling leader in Shakib's absence. "Taijul is always helping the attack. He is our leading spinner," Herath said. "He created a lot of pressure [on New Zealand]. He created a lot of angles.
"He has great experience, knowledge and understanding. I am so happy that he took four wickets today. Taijul plays a big role for us regardless of Shakib playing or not. He plays both attacking and defensive role. He is always relying on his line and length."
Williamson's century was an important contribution, and he felt his partnerships with Henry Nicholls, Daryl Mitchell and Glenn Philips were crucial to New Zealand's reply to Bangladesh's 310 all out.
"It is humbling [to get the consecutive centuries record for New Zealand] but at the same time the focus is about the team," he said. "Trying to get it to the best possible position, and be a part of as many partnerships. That's the goal. It was the pleasing thing today, but it would have been to still be out there."
Williamson's wicket late in the day evened up the contest, perhaps turning it slightly in favour of the home side. That's only if they can take the two remaining New Zealand wickets quickly on the third morning, of course.
"It was a tough day," Williamson said. "I thought the batters really tried to apply themselves. Put together some good partnerships. We have a couple of wickets left. It will be nice to get a few more, and then we will have our chance to bowl. The surface is showing signs of deteriorating quite a lot. It looks like a bit of a scrap in the next few days."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84