New Zealand experience shows Litton Das is ready for more responsibility
To be even more useful for Bangladesh, stepping away from T20Is could be the way to go for the wicketkeeper-batter
Litton Das' counter-attacking innings on the third - and final - day of the Christchurch Test against New Zealand was the highlight from Bangladesh's point of view. His approach, in which he strings together boundaries to put pressure on the opposition, which often forces a change in their tactics, worked well on the day, as he scored his second Test century despite an innings-and-117-run defeat.
"He is technically very sound," Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque said after the Test. "He gets a lot of time like world-class players. He always ensures he scores off the bad balls. He waits for a long time for the bad balls, and then makes it count. He has scored two centuries in consecutive series. Everyone, including myself, was really enjoying his batting."
Whichever direction Bangladesh goes in in the coming months, Litton has shown now that he is capable of taking on greater responsibility. In Christchurch. Mushfiqur Rahim's injury meant that Bangladesh needed a middle-order batter with a bit of experience. Nurul Hasan was picked, which also mean that Litton could play as a batter at No. 5, giving him a significant role in the middle-order.
The first innings didn't go as planned. Trent Boult's full delivery found Litton's inside edge, as Bangladesh slipped to 27 for 5 after tea on the second day. Litton was one of the top five who all got out for single-digit scores. But unlike the four batters before him, Litton managed to bounce back with a significant score in the second innings.
After following-on, Bangladesh's second innings, despite a promising start, was going nowhere when Yasir Ali was dismissed before tea on the third day. Litton, however, stole the show in the next couple of hours.
The difference in Litton's form in T20Is and Tests could mean that, even at this stage in his career, he might have to take a decision on how many formats he plays. He forms a strong opening pair with Tamim Iqbal, when he is available, in ODIs, but perhaps for Bangladesh to do well in Tests in the coming years, Litton's focus should be on that middle-order
In a calculated attack, he took 17 and 16 off Kyle Jamieson and Trent Boult. He pulled and ramped the ball against the tall Jamieson, while driving Boult with confidence; the last of the four boundaries off the left-armer, a straight drive, really stood out.
Suddenly, from a meandering 33 off 64 balls, Litton got to 64 within the next nine balls he faced.
He lost Nurul and Mehidy Hasan Miraz not long after, leaving him in the 80s with the tail-enders. And soon, he was up against Neil Wagner, a bowler he had hit with three fours off before the tea break. Wagner didn't hold back either, bouncing Litton repeatedly, and taunting him to go for his shots. Litton responded. He first pulled and then flat-batted Wagner over the covers for two fours. The second shot was very uncharacteristic, but it was yet another example that he was ready to play out of his comfort zone.
Litton had already showed that he had the chops in Mount Maunganui. Walking into a situation when Bangladesh had lost Mushfiqur after a tough 19-over spell in the first innings, Litton left his stamp with an attacking 86. Bangladesh needed his positivity at that stage, because Mominul was more inclined to play a conservative role. Litton took on Tim Southee, Jamieson and Wagner, while maintaining caution against Boult and, somewhat surprisingly, Rachin Ravindra.
His 158-run fifth-wicket stand with Mominul gave Bangladesh the lead, but more importantly, it was an extra point scored against the New Zealand bowling attack that had been grounded down by the Bangladesh top five.
Litton had a good year as a Test batter in 2021 as well, but Bangladesh's poor results overshadowed that. He ended the year with 114 (his maiden Test century) and 59 against Pakistan, in Chattogram. That came after Bangladesh's top order had sunk in the first hour of the match. Litton attacked, but it was a comparatively measured approach, with Mushfiqur holding up the other end. Litton almost repeated the effort in the second innings, but ran out of partners.
That came after he had been dropped for the T20I leg of the series following a poor T20 World Cup, and he was asked to play first-class cricket instead. He met his childhood mentor Nazmul Abedeen Fahim then, and discussed his game. Litton then headed to train in Chattogram before the rest of the squad had reached, and Bangladesh batting coach Ashwell Prince later said that Litton had worked on a slight issue he had with his stance.
The difference in Litton's form in T20Is and Tests could mean that, even at this stage in his career, he might have to take a decision on how many formats he plays. He forms a strong opening pair with Tamim Iqbal, when he is available, in ODIs, but perhaps for Bangladesh to do well in Tests in the coming years, Litton's focus should be on that middle-order.
Shakib Al Hasan has missed a lot of cricket of late, and neither he nor Mushfiqur are getting any younger. Perhaps Litton, with Test cricket as his focus, could be the man to step up.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84