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Feature

Mehidy Hasan Miraz makes the step in a time of plenty for Bangladesh

The offspinner followed his success with the ball in the ODIs against West Indies with his maiden Test century

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
04-Feb-2021
Mehidy Hasan Miraz played spin confidently, Bangladesh vs West Indies, 1st Test, Chattogram, Day 2, February 4, 2021

Mehidy Hasan Miraz added crucial lower-order runs before getting to his maiden Test hundred against West Indies  •  AFP via Getty Images

For an offspinner making his comeback in a team of four spinners, important runs are gilt-edged. Mehidy Hasan Miraz had been dropped from Bangladesh's last three Tests after taking just four wickets in his last six matches. Now his maiden Test century, with the team in some trouble in the first Test against West Indies in Chattogram has given him an additional tag as a bowler who can bat more than just a bit.
After his 15-wicket haul against West Indies during the 2018 home series, Miraz played one Test in New Zealand and took just three wickets during Bangladesh's unexpected loss to Afghanistan at home in 2019. Then against India in Indore, his match figures read 1 for 125 in 27 overs. He wasn't picked for the day-night Test in Kolkata that followed - he only batted as a concussion substitute for Liton Das - while also being sidelined for the Rawalpindi Test against Pakistan and against Zimbabwe in Dhaka last February. With offspinner Nayeem Hasan also taking nine wickets in what would turn out to be Bangladesh's last Test for almost a year, Miraz's chances of a comeback diminished further.
The selectors, however, took an encouraging view of Miraz when they picked him for the ODIs and Tests against West Indies. Perhaps it was always in their plans to play a four-pronged spin attack in the Test series, boosted by Miraz having 25 wickets against West Indies in the longest format. He took seven wickets in the three ODIs, and a place in the Chattogram Test XI was almost a given. Still, he had to do something to stand out.
From 248 for 6 when they lost Das in the third over of the second day, Bangladesh's total climbed up to 430. Shakib Al Hasan, not out overnight on 39, added 29 more on the second morning. But it was Miraz's contribution through his own innings and the three mid-sized partnerships he forged that made the difference between a middling first innings total and a formidable one.
It was the sort of innings that the team management would appreciate. It came in a pressure situation with the team needing one of the lower-order batsmen to show concentration as well as score runs while at the crease. Miraz initially held one end up when Das fell early, but soon started to dominate his 67-run seventh wicket stand with Shakib.
Once Shakib got out, Miraz had to take charge of the lower-order batting. He had Taijul Islam and Nayeem as partners, both with a decent reputation as tailenders. He added 44 and 57 for the eighth and ninth wickets with them, respectively, and was eight short of his maiden Test century when No. 11 Mustafizur Rahman arrived at the crease. When on 99, a slight reminder from Miraz to Rahman helped them take the run would get him to his landmark without much fuss.
Miraz has provided Bangladesh with runs lower down in Tests before, including a fifty each against India in Hyderabad and an unbeaten 68 in a 218-run win against Zimbabwe in 2018. But he has always played predominantly as an offspinner in the Bangladesh line-up. After his 19 wickets in his debut series against England in 2016, there was very little attention paid to Miraz's batting - perhaps even by himself. He made just 20 runs in his first eight innings before making 51 in Hyderabad.
Miraz did step up to open the innings in the Asia Cup final against India three years ago when Bangladesh were struggling to find a partner for Das. He even made 32 in a 120-run stand for the opening wicket, but has mostly hovered around the lower order in white-ball cricket for Bangladesh. Even in the BPL, he has opened the innings 13 times for the Rajshahi Kings and the Khulna Tigers combined, with two half-centuries, including a highest score of 87 not out. But he is no one's first-choice T20 opener either.
It is a far cry from his Under-19 days as a middle-order batsman, when his all-round form helped Bangladesh to the 2016 World Cup semi-final. But as soon as he graduated to the first-class scene, it was clear that Miraz's bowling would supplant his batting efforts.
Moreover, the emergence of a number of offspinners has changed the scenario for Miraz in the last couple of years. Among them, Nayeem has made rapid strides, having already replaced Miraz once in a Bangladesh XI where the team management had to choose only a single offspinner. Last year during the one-off Test against Zimbabwe, Nayeem was considered for his ability to extract bounce due to his height and better form.
Miraz said he understands that at some point, the team management may have to take a decision between him and Nayeem, but with that being a team-focused decision, he remains prepared for it.
"International cricket is really tough. I played well today, but the future will have both good and bad days," he said. "Anything can happen for team combination. Team comes first. We have to play for the team. But definitely I will have some confidence now after this century. I have worked on my batting. Nayeem is a good bowler. I am also playing. The rest is up to the team management who will do what is good for the team."
Even allrounder Mahedi Hasan has piqued the selectors' interest recently, particularly in white-ball formats. Mahedi is also an offspinner, but has become a slightly more accomplished batsman through his domestic first-class and BPL numbers. He was in the Bangladesh ODI squad against West Indies but didn't play, and is now currently playing in the Abu Dhabi T10 tournament.
There is likely to be a time in the near future when the Bangladesh team management may have to choose one among the trio of Miraz, Nayeem and Mahedi in either of the three formats. Certainly in overseas Tests where Shakib is the lead spinner, there is seldom the need for a second spinner. In home games though, coach Russell Domingo has reverted to a four-pronged spin attack. But when he does start picking two seamers, he is unlikely to pick both Miraz and Nayeem, as he did against Zimbabwe last year.
Miraz is mostly playing Tests and ODIs while Nayeem, the youngest among the trio, has so far only played Tests. Mahedi has only played T20Is for Bangladesh, but has shown through his bowling that he can break into the longer form too. For a long time the concept of competition for places had been lost in the Bangladesh team, but now - at least for two or three slots - it is bearing fruit with the incumbent Miraz stepping up.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84