Bangladesh carried all their doubts, poor form and an overall bad vibe from the disappointing home series against Pakistan last month to New Zealand. The prospects were bleak. But three days of solid, battling cricket in the first Test has changed the visitors' outlook.
They hold a 73-run lead against the Test world champions after the third day, and if Mahmudul Hasan Joy and Najmul Hossain Shanto frustrated New Zealand on the second day, it was the turn of the more experienced Mominul Haque and Litton Das to do it on the third. The two put on 158 for the fifth wicket, and Yasir Ali and Mehidy Hasan Miraz didn't allow a lower-order collapse after Litton's dismissal. Before them, while he scored only 12, Mushfiqur Rahim batted close to an hour, facing 85 balls.
"It was a fantastic partnership between Mominul and Litton," team director Khaled Mahmud said after the third day's play. "They batted very well against a New Zealand attack that always comes at you with discipline. Mominul played an excellent innings. He spent a lot of time in the middle, he left a lot of balls, like Joy had done earlier. Mominul is a more experienced Test cricketer than Litton but both batted superbly. By Allah's grace, we are now in a position to dominate the match.
"I think New Zealand bowled superbly with the second new ball, but we stuck to our plan. They weren't giving us many freebies. They were bowling such tight lines that, at the start of the day, Joy and Mominul couldn't even get singles. But we spent time at the crease, rather than thinking about runs. Mushfiqur [Rahim] and Mominul, both experienced players, did a great job in that situation. The execution was perfect."
Mominul and Litton got together with Bangladesh 203 for 4, in a strong position but just a bad hour away from undoing the good work. Mominul scored 88 in over four hours, facing 370 balls, while Litton's 86 came in just under three hours, off 247 balls.
"I particularly remember telling them that we lost nine Tests in New Zealand. In 2017, we lost despite declaring on 595 in Wellington. I told them that we can't keep losing here. One group has to stand out, so why not this group?"
Khaled Mahmud, former Bangladesh captain and current team director
"We were definitely under pressure with a young team, lacking maturity in these conditions," Mahmud said. "But hats off to the boys today. They batted really well. Litton is always good to watch. He was brilliant today; [he] always seems to have time while batting. He negotiated the fast bowlers so comfortably. He didn't look under pressure. We know what he went through in the T20 World Cup, but we knew of his capability.
"Shanto played an exciting, dominating innings. Young Joy, playing only his second Test, took his time in the middle. Mominul, too, batted for time, which was important for us in this Test match. They have ensured a 73-run lead, but there's a lot of cricket left in this game."
Joy, who was dismissed for 78, said that he was reminded by all three of his batting partners that time spent at the crease would bring him runs.
"I planned to play as many balls as possible. I didn't want to focus on runs. I knew that I could score runs when I am set at the crease," he said. "I had a good partnership with Shadman bhai [Islam] and then another good partnership followed with Shanto bhai. He also told me to be in control when I tried to become too aggressive. Mominul bhai told me that playing a lot of dot balls was not a problem."
Mahmud is known in Bangladesh cricket circles as a good motivator. That side to him had to come to the fore on this tour, considering Bangladesh's poor record in New Zealand.
"I usually speak to everyone individually. I particularly remember telling them that we lost nine Tests in New Zealand," he said. "In 2017, we lost despite declaring on 595 in Wellington. I told them that we can't keep losing here. One group has to stand out, so why not this group? Why can't we play better cricket?
"Results will come later, but we can play with courage. These are tough conditions for every visiting side, but I felt that we could do well here. I tried to pass this on to this young team. Definitely, there was fear within us. We have five batters - Shadman, Joy, Shanto, Yasir and Litton - who are not very experienced in Tests. They all possess the ability to play well, but working in specific areas really paid dividends for us."
Mahmud said Bangladesh were looking forward to a positive result in the next two days, particularly if they bat deep and take a 150-plus lead on the fourth morning.
"They [the players] have worked hard, did everything to get to this stage," he said. "I still think it is too early to say anything in this game. We have two more days left. We want to do well - even if we can't win, we definitely want to draw this Test."