Matches (21)
IPL (2)
ACC Premier Cup (3)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
Women's QUAD (2)
WI 4-Day (4)
Pakistan vs New Zealand (1)

More gaps than games - the frustration of being Mominul Haque

A Test specialist has very few chances of becoming as good as he can be in Bangladesh

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Mominul Haque scored 127 in the Pallekele Test, his innings lasting over five hours  •  AFP/Getty Images

Mominul Haque scored 127 in the Pallekele Test, his innings lasting over five hours  •  AFP/Getty Images

After ten Test centuries, Mominul Haque has finally got his first on foreign soil - in the 18th game he has played away from home. That lopsided home-away record has been a cause for concern, but if you take a closer look at his record, something interesting pops up: Haque doesn't get to play Test matches nearly as frequently as a long-form specialist like him must, but as a one-format man and now the team's captain, he is usually expected to perform like a world-beater.
ESPNcricinfo runs a global workload survey to look at cricketers' workloads in a year. A similar survey on which cricketers have had the longest gaps between international matches might place Haque around the top of the list.
Bangladesh don't play as many Tests as the top teams. The Pallekele Test, where Haque made 127, was after a gap of two months, since the home series against West Indies. During this period, the likes of Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Liton Das and Najmul Hossain Shanto played white-ball matches in New Zealand. Earlier, when Bangladesh returned to playing after the pandemic, Haque's wait was the longest among the seniors: there were 347 days between the one-off Test against Zimbabwe in February 2020 and the first Test against West Indies in February 2021.
"I think his demenour lends him to be a very organised Test batsman. He is meticulous in his preparation. He works really hard. He knows what his strengths and weaknesses are"
Russell Domingo on Mominul Haque
These are just two examples of the frustrating lack of cricket in his eight-year long career - he is only playing his 43rd Test since his debut in March 2013.
In Bangladesh, it is accepted wisdom that players improve when they play international cricket. And dropping off from the top level could be the death knell for a cricketer's career. This is mainly because of the yawning gap between international cricket and domestic cricket in the country. Bangladesh also doesn't have a strong 'A' system. The difference in intensity is huge, which is why comeback stories are a rarity. Being a format specialist, especially if that format is the longest one, makes things worse.
National coach Russell Domingo agrees that it is difficult for players like Haque, or Mahmudullah, who is now considered a white-ball specialist, to find the right intensity in competition and training sessions when they are not with the Bangladesh team.
"It is a very tough one. It is something that I have been speaking to chacha [Mahmud] quite a bit, about making sure we get some systems in place for guys when they are not with the national side. Guys like Soumya [Sarkar] and Mahmudullah, who is looking after them now? What are they doing? What facilities is available?
"It is very difficult, and it is something that needs to be looked at, and provided for the players that aren't part of various teams at certain stages. It is a challenge for us, something that we are aware of, and something that we hope to get a move on (with) in the future."
Haque has spent roughly two-third of his international career away from the senior set-up. He has played 77 [28 ODIs and six T20Is] out of Bangladesh's 234 matches since his Test debut, having missed only four Tests along the way - two in 2017 when he was dropped during Chandika Hathurusingha's tenure as coach, and two that he missed because of injuries. His longest gap between Tests has been 457 days from the South Africa series in 2015 to the England series in 2016. Bangladesh played 27 white-ball matches in between, while Haque played 14 first-class matches for Bangladesh A, Chittagong Division and East Zone.
He was out of form for almost a year before he was dropped for the Dhaka Test against Australia in 2017. Four months later, he became the first Bangladesh batter to score a hundred in each innings of a Test match.
Still, the gaps never went away. After that series, he waited five months for his next Test, in the West Indies. He had a six-month wait from February to September in 2019, and then came another yearlong break because of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Haque hasn't toured Australia or England, and hasn't played India or South Africa much either. He has been tested in New Zealand and West Indies, but again, there isn't enough evidence to poke holes in his technique or temperament.
If anything, Domingo believes Haque is a one-of-a-kind cricketer, who works relentlessly on his game to improve even as the rest of the field gathers more experience than him. "I think Mominul understands his game really well. He is a very calm person," Domingo said. "I think his demenour lends him to be a very organised Test batsman. He is meticulous in his preparation. He works really hard. He knows what his strengths and weaknesses are.
"I think he is a fantastic Test batsman. He is trying his best to lead the side. He got a hundred against the West Indies, and followed up with a hundred here again. I think he has 11 Test hundreds now, which is a fantastic achievement."
All said, Haque has played the most Tests - joint with Rahim - since his debut, and has scored the most runs for his team, as well as the most hundreds, and once scored 11 Test fifties in a row. He is yet to prove himself as a leader, and the doubts about his abilities as a top-notch Test batsman might not go away just yet, but he is getting there, leading by example.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84