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Feature

Mehidy, Litton and Taskin - Bangladesh's metamorphosis men

They had faded away after bright starts, but found ways to reclaim their places in international cricket. This is their story

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
28-Mar-2022
Taskin Ahmed and Mehidy Hasan celebrate a wicket, South Africa vs Bangladesh, 3rd ODI, Centurion, March 23, 2022

Taskin Ahmed and Mehidy Hasan, as well as Litton Das, faded away after bright starts only to bounce back  •  AFP/Getty Images

Bangladesh's turnaround in the first quarter of 2022, with a miraculous Test win in New Zealand and now an ODI series win in South Africa, has been remarkable, and some of their best results have featured Litton Das, Taskin Ahmed and Mehidy Hasan Miraz.
Once considered enigmas, blow-hot-blow-cold cricketers, they have been frontline performers. Litton is scoring runs more often than he isn't, as a white-ball opener and a red-ball No 7. Taskin was Player of the Series in the 2-1 ODI series win against South Africa. Mehidy is becoming a reliable allrounder, and not just at home.
For all three, the new dawns have come after their darkest phases as international cricketers.
Taskin was nearly forgotten after a long run of unimpressive returns. Litton was dropped for the second time in his career last year. Mehidy was staring at a career as a home-only player.
In Bangladesh cricket, it's easy to be the new star, but doing justice to the initial promise is tough, avoiding the pitfalls of sudden fame and becoming a consistent performer even tougher. The three players didn't lose their quality, but it seemed, for a long time, that none of them would be able to go really big.

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Taskin was the big fast-bowling hope for Bangladesh when he burst on to the scene in 2014. He was tall and well-built, had a sweet smile but was quick, clocking 150kph at times during the 2015 World Cup. But his decline, by 2017, was rapid. Despite all the initial promise, he took seven wickets at 97.42 in his first five Tests. After his comeback in 2021, he has taken 16 wickets at 38.93 in five Tests.
Mehidy's 19-wicket haul in his debut Test series is part of Bangladesh cricket folklore. It took them to their maiden Test win against England, and made him a household name overnight. Mehidy continued to show promise in Bangladesh's 100th Test, which they won in Colombo, but the wickets dried up after that, for five years or so.
Touring turned out to be Mehidy's major problem. Before the ongoing South Africa tour, his home vs away bowling average was 23.43 vs 53.43. He took 47 Test wickets at 53.28 in overseas conditions in his first three years.
Mehidy lost his place in T20Is, too, in 2019, with Mahedi Hasan taking his place. When Nayeem Hasan was picked ahead of Mehidy in the one-off Test against Zimbabwe in February 2020, it seemed like it was about to be a long spell in the wilderness for Mehidy.
Around the same time came the Covid-19 pandemic.
Taskin had been out of the Bangladesh team for two years already, and with practice facilities shutting down indefinitely, he felt it was the end for him.
Just about then, Litton struck Bangladesh's highest-ever individual ODI score, against Zimbabwe. It was during his best series after several false starts since his 2015 debut. Litton had come into the Bangladesh team after dominating domestic cricket for a couple of seasons, but he couldn't quite bring the same consistency into the international level. He was dropped for a year-and-a-half, but the old inconsistency didn't go away. An Asia Cup hundred or a 94 in the World Cup promised a lot, but returns were infrequent when is this? Asia Cup 2018 and 2019 WC?. So, when he struck two hundreds against Zimbabwe, Litton felt he had turned a corner.
But the lockdown took out his sting, too.

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After an ordinary 2021 T20 World Cup campaign, Litton, and Mushfiqur Rahim, were dropped for the T20Is against Pakistan at home in November. While Mushfiqur hit back at the selectors, Litton turned to a first-class match in BKSP, his alma mater.
Litton is not known for consulting too many coaches, but it was the right time for him to meet Nazmul Abedeen Fahim, BKSP's cricket advisor who mentored the likes of Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur and Shahadat Hossain in their formative years.
"His balance caught my eye. It seemed slightly haphazard to me," Fahim told ESPNcricinfo. "We did a few drills, and had some conversations. I think it helped him. Balance is very important in batting. It allows you to rush into a shot, it allows you to take a bit of time. Balance is what you need to get power in a shot. These are minor things, but when you have played in a certain way for a long time, some bad habits crop up in your game. Litton certainly knows how to play, he knows how to build an innings. He just needed to fix a thing or two.
"Any batter at the start of his or her career lacks a bit of confidence playing at the highest level. He doubts whether he or she belongs there or not. Litton no longer has the hesitation. He understands that there is a bit of a leadership role in taking that responsibility in the top order too."
Litton turned around his form significantly, hitting his first two Test hundreds, and hitting match-winning white-ball runs against Afghanistan and South Africa.
Taskin was the big star in South Africa, a result of two years of tremendous work that brought him back into the national fold in January 2021. He worked on his own through the pandemic in 2020, firstly with his fitness and diet, and then on his pace and skills. He was quite impressive throughout 2021, but did not have a big haul of wickets. But in South Africa, his two telling spells cleaned up the home side, earning him the series trophy.
"We have been working hard towards something like [Taskin's performance in South Africa] for a long time," said Mahbub Ali Zaki, the BCB pace-bowling coach who helped him get his fitness, pace and skills back after a lot of work in 2020.
Taskin goes back to Zaki often. Zaki, who had helped Taskin correct his action after the ICC had deemed it illegal in 2016 and had worked as the bowling coach of Bangladesh's Under-19 World Cup-winning team in 2020, said that Taskin still had some way to go before becoming a finished product, and learning the lengths to hit in places like New Zealand and South Africa was key.
"I scolded him when he mentioned working on his technique," Zaki said. "We have worked on his technique for long enough. Now he has to learn how to take wickets consistently. Without taking wickets, there's no point bowling even at 150kph.
"We worked on his length, mostly. He bowled back of a length. Around six to eight feet. During a match, you don't think about pace, fitness or anything, you have to lift the ball around the hip. You have to find the length. I used every bit of information from my experience in South Africa [where the 2020 U-19 World Cup was held] for Taskin. I also told him to speak to Shoriful [Islam, who was part of that U-19 World Cup team], who knows the right areas to bowl in South Africa,"
It was sweet redemption for Taskin after a two-wicket tour of South Africa five years prior. At that time, Taskin had lost his pace, and many felt he had lost his focus too. A few months later, the selectors lost patience with him.
Mehidy was also poor on that tour. But being an offspinner who could bat a bit, he survived. Not for long as he was dropped from the Test side in 2020, an alarm bell which grew louder in Sri Lanka last year when he took four wickets at an average of 83.
Shohel Islam, then working as the spin-bowling coach of the national team in the absence of Daniel Vettori, focused on explaining to Mehidy, who has often spoken about enjoying the work he has done with the instructor, and the other spinners their role in different conditions.
"The most important thing for our spinners when playing abroad is their mindset," he said. "Normally, they are quite attacking when playing at home. They know that a wicket is around the corner. When the same thing doesn't happen in overseas conditions, they get puzzled. But they understand their roles better now. They have become more accurate, which has helped them develop their patience too.
"It was important to recognise their roles in overseas conditions. They had to understand what to do when they are not leading the bowling attack. A bowler then has to do the holding job, by bowling accurately and showing a lot of patience."
Shohel explained that from his seam position to his run-up, Mehidy was forced to make adjustments in almost every aspect of his bowling when playing abroad.
"Spinners must have a different seam position when they are playing abroad," he said. "There must be more overspin. The pace, line and lengths have to be different too. [Mehidy and I] worked together in Sri Lanka last year. We started from the run-up, which is now quite smooth. Bowling is all about the rhythm. When everything is in place, bowling becomes better. He went on to bowl well in Zimbabwe, and he has carried on from there. I think it is going in a good direction."
Mehidy has taken 24 wickets at an average of 42.08 in Tests in the last two years playing abroad. It's an improvement.

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Bangladesh have the Test series left to play in South Africa, where, again, they can be quietly confident, especially because some of South Africa's best players will be at the IPL.
For Taskin, Litton and Mehidy, bigger tests await. They have to build towards strong performances in the T20 World Cup later this year, and the 50-over World Cup next year. These players have done the hard yards after plumbing serious depths. With coaches intent on making them better, and more consistent, they have the support they need. And the confidence. They wouldn't want to go back to where they have climbed out from.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84