'Courageous' Taijul Islam delivers for Bangladesh, again, when most needed

The left-arm spinner's contest with Abid Ali made for wonderful viewing; it was even, and only after 110 balls did the Pakistan batter falter

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Taijul Islam appeals successfully against Azhar Ali, Bangladesh vs Pakistan, 1st Test, Chattogram, 3rd day, November 28, 2021

Taijul Islam returned 7 for 116, his ninth Test five-for  •  AFP/Getty Images

As Taijul Islam walked to his bowling mark, there was a big cheer, some clapping of hands and some chatter, and a lot of buzz among the Bangladesh players. And why not? He had picked up four wickets, including that of century-maker Abid Ali, and the Bangladesh players were expecting more from him. He didn't disappoint, finishing with 7 for 116, his ninth five-wicket haul in Tests.
Taijul picked up almost all of the big wickets. And the pressure he created on the second day of the Chattogram Test played its part in Mehidy Hasan Miraz nailing Babar Azam cheaply. Taijul himself was rampant in the first two sessions of the day, and his contest with Abid made for gripping viewing: Abid scored slowest against Taijul when compared to the other bowlers, and though he did hit the left-arm spinner for three fours and a six and the lbw decision was a marginal one too, it was a testament to Taijul's patience. He had bowled 110 deliveries to Abid before getting rid of him.
"The wicket wasn't all that friendly for spinners. Taijul was successful because of his consistency, patience, accuracy and discipline," Bangladesh's spin-bowling coach Sohel Islam said afterwards. "We didn't take any wickets yesterday but we were still in the game. We bowled similarly today. We wanted to be accurate, create a bowling partnership and prey on the batsman's patience. We stuck to our plans."
Partly because of his quiet and unflashy exterior, Taijul has always flown under the radar somewhat. He has always been tagged a Test specialist, and finds himself in and out of the white-ball squads. He hardly plays Tests abroad. But in Test matches at home, the plan is usually to hand him the ball as soon as possible. And he rarely fails to deliver: he has an average of 26.39 at home.
When he does, though, he cops a fair bit of blame. Like after the losses to Afghanistan and West Indies. He wasn't too effective in Sri Lanka earlier this year either. He was then passed over for the one-off Test in Zimbabwe in July, keeping him out of international cricket for six months.
"I have one role when Shakib bhai is playing, and another when he is not playing. Since he isn't playing, I have to manage the wicket-taker's role as well as maintaining economy"
Taijul Islam
At one stage in between, he tried to tweak his bowling action, making it similar to that of Daniel Vettori, who was Bangladesh's spin-bowling coach at the time. But he reverted to his own action soon enough. What didn't change was his attitude.
"I like courageous guys like Taijul," Sohel said. "He thought that he needed to take a bit of a risk to get to the next stage of his career. He showed guts by trying something like that [change of action] at this stage of his career. I think it is a sign of a big player. His new action would never have caused him a big problem in any case. His old action was stored in his muscle memory."
Taijul, among the top-flight players who regularly plays domestic first-class cricket, came into this game on the back of a ten-wicket haul in the National Cricket League. A quiet contributor, sometimes with the bat too, and at least on one occasion on the field, Taijul will probably find himself playing a more central role in the bowling line-up as Shakib Al Hasan's career reaches its final stages.
"I have one role when Shakib bhai is playing, and another when he is not playing. Since he isn't playing, I had to assume his role. I have to manage the wicket-taker's role as well as maintaining economy," Taijul said. "Regardless of whether I am playing NCL or any other tournament, I try to stick to my process when I am preparing for Tests."
Taijul has now delivered again, giving Bangladesh a good chance of beating Pakistan. In a cricket team with so many spots where more consistent performers would be welcome, the stability Taijul provides is invaluable. He has a big heart. He has great control over his craft. What he might need is more support from the management, and be part of the bigger plan.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84