Time for the old Ashraful

Mohammad Ashraful has shown a new solidity to his batting on this tour, but the one-off T20I is an ideal time for him to utilise his old strengths and range of strokeplay

Plenty is expected from Mohammad Ashraful at the top of the order, especially in the absence of the injured Tamim Iqbal  •  Associated Press

Plenty is expected from Mohammad Ashraful at the top of the order, especially in the absence of the injured Tamim Iqbal  •  Associated Press

In their final match of the tour, Bangladesh's momentum and confidence from a much-improved tour of Sri Lanka may provoke Mohammad Ashraful to return to his old ways of uninhibited strokeplay in the Twenty20 game. He will open the innings and, based on what he served up in the second ODI, there is every chance he will bring out all his shots for one last time on this tour.
His success this tour has been based on his tightened technique, part of a personal effort to rejuvenate his international career. With two hundreds on tour, his confidence has received a real boost.
Captain Mushfiqur Rahim praised Ashraful's revival, saying that his ability and good form will be required in the crucial position of opener, particularly since the team is missing Tamim Iqbal.
"Ashraful is a superb player, and he has done well on this tour," Mushfiqur said. "But experience without performance doesn't count for much.
"We would want him to continue in this form, because our opener's spot is very important. We hope he gives us a good start. He got us boundaries frequently, and it has given us confidence."
Ashraful's hundred in Matara was soothing to the eyes. There he often went into spells of dot balls before quickly picking up the rate to make up for the lost time and impetus. In the Galle Test that followed, he brought out the solidity that had been sorely missing in his international career of nearly twelve years. What was a relief to Bangladesh fans was how he never got bogged down completely.
In the past, his resourcefulness as a batsman has sometimes brought about his downfall as he tried one too many shots. He has cut out on those shots, and has admitted how difficult it is to sometimes resist those temptations outside off-stump where he, infamously, plays an airy poke.
Since he is a batsman of some class, Ashraful often finds the boundary off good balls. After Sri Lanka had posted a formidable 302 for 9 in the third ODI, it was up to him and Anamul Haque to provide Bangladesh with a fast start.
He quietly played out eleven deliveries until he burst into action for the next half hour. He first expertly opened his wrists and glided the ball past point, off the last ball of the fifth over. He continued the trend by picking up two more fours off the final deliveries of the next two overs. Both were cover drives, but both looked different through his range of footwork, the gap he picked, as well as the power behind the stroke. The first one was like buttered knife over bread while the next one was a slap.
Off Lasith Malinga, he flicked one past midwicket, and against Sachithra Senanayake, Ashraful cut through point. But in the offspinner's next over, he was given out leg-before. As he walked away, he told his partner the ball had taken an inside edge.
It cut short a promising innings, but he hardly looked like a batsman who was opening in an ODI for the first time since October 2006. His 38-ball 29 helped put up a quickfire 77-run stand with Anamul Haque, providing Bangladesh a secure start in a rain-affected encounter.
As usual, much is expected from this enigmatic batsman, but he has learnt the hard way, so it would be sensible to give him time to adjust to the different demands of international cricket. Last year he was asked to open in Twenty20s, and needed time to grow in that position. Sometimes, even the best of talents have to be humble.
To continue on his comeback trail, he will have to remain that way, but there will be moments when he has to bring out the old guns. The Twenty20 in Pallekele will be one of those moments, but he will still have to use them shrewdly.
For someone who can second guess what people will say to him if he doesn't score, and has the nous to recall the exact ball number in which he played a late-cut, Ashraful is one who can be counted on to be a shrewd operator. It is about time he keeps showing it in public.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here