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Match Analysis

Mahmudullah and Taskin Ahmed revel in comeback party

Their 191-run stand could cause the team management to rethink their four-bowler strategy

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Mahmudullah and Taskin Ahmed added 191 for the ninth wicket  •  Zimbabwe Cricket

Mahmudullah and Taskin Ahmed added 191 for the ninth wicket  •  Zimbabwe Cricket

On the first evening in Harare, two different worlds came together when Taskin Ahmed joined Mahmudullah at the crease.
Playing his comeback Test innings, Mahmudullah was running out of partners. He had just lost Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Bangladesh's last recognised batter, and now had to shepherd Nos. 10 and 11. Taskin was trying to stave off a hat-trick; Donald Tiripano had just dismissed Liton Das and Miraz off successive deliveries.
Earlier in the day, Taskin had seen Abu Jayed, considered the best fast bowler in the Test side, getting dropped. It had put in perspective Taskin's place in the bowling attack: the Bangladesh team management weren't going to be predictable with their selection of fast bowlers. Nobody was safe in a team that had lost three of its four Tests this year, and was approaching the start of a new World Test Championship cycle.
By the time Bangladesh's first innings came to a close on the second afternoon, Mahmudullah and Taskin had helped rewrite their respective realities. Mahmudullah's career-best 150 made sure he'll now demand a regular spot in the Test XI - and higher up the order than No. 8. When he was dropped from the Test side in February 2020, it had seemed a logical step. Mahmudullah was going through a lean patch against the red ball, and younger contenders were knocking on the door. On this tour, he had been a last-minute call-up to cover for the injured Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim.
Taskin's composed 75, his maiden Test half-century, offered new hope for a Bangladesh lower order that has too often been blown away in Test matches. He put on 191 with Mahmudullah, the second-highest ninth-wicket partnership in Test history, and from an iffy 270 for 8 Bangladesh surged to an eventual 468 all out.
This was an unlikely partnership between two men trying to re-establish themselves in the Bangladesh team. Taskin's comeback after three years has been well-documented, and he has rediscovered the searing pace that made him such an exciting prospect when he first burst on the scene, but that won't guarantee him a permanent place.
Any cricketer in a race for limited spots knows that any competitive advantage is welcome, particularly in a Test team that is always looking for additional skills. Jayed's axing, even after his steady bowling over the last three years, must have been a good reminder to Taskin that he needs to offer more of himself to the team. His runs, that too when the team was in trouble, were definitely welcome.
There was a lot to like about Taskin's innings. He riled up Blessing Muzarabani by performing a jig after getting out of the way of a short ball, and didn't back down from the confrontation when the Zimbabwe quick got in his face. Some may say it shouldn't be encouraged, but Bangladesh's fast bowlers don't usually bring a whole lot of aggression with them. Taskin is known for his smiley disposition, and for hardly reacting when catches are dropped off his bowling.
His reaction to Muzrabani revealed an unseen facet of his personality; it also showed he had the confidence to face up to the opposition's best bowler. This in turn fed Mahmudullah's confidence in his partner; he grew more certain that he didn't need to farm the strike.
The magnitude of a ninth-wicket stand largely depends on how well the tail-ender can bat, and in this case Taskin offered several cover-drives as evidence of his ability. There was the odd hoick towards the leg side, but they were usually followed up by a quiet word from Mahmudullah.
It became one of the features of their long partnership, and eventually it seemed that Taskin got the hang of it. For example, whenever Mahmudullah hit a string of boundaries, Taskin left more deliveries outside off stump, not giving in to any temptations.
Mahmudullah, who has of late been typecast as a white-ball specialist, hardly played a false shot. When the Zimbabwe fast bowlers hustled him with pace and bounce, he ducked and weaved out of the way. It seemed like he was aware that a bad ball was on its way later in the over. When the bad ball arrived early in the over, Mahmudullah played out the remainder of the over quietly.
He began to unveil his gorgeous range of shots, one after the another: the inside-out hit over cover, the front-foot hook against the fast bowlers. The one that really stood out was the glided cut off Richard Ngarava, a shot that he mastered in ODIs where there's a bit more protection behind square on the off-side. This time he beat the deep point fielder.
The partnership threw up an important question for the Bangladesh team management. On the one hand, you can't ignore the usefulness of a late-order partnership like this one. On the other, you might ask yourself if Bangladesh need such a long batting order. Bangladesh picked Mahmudullah at No. 8, and are using their allrounder Shakib Al Hasan as one of only four bowlers. All this against a side ranked lower than them, even if it's in their own backyard. And while Bangladesh ended day two in a strong position, their lack of bowling depth could well influence how the rest of their Test match pans out.
But Taskin's batting could cause Bangladesh to change things around when they play their next Test match, sometime after the T20 World Cup. With Shakib and Miraz in the line-up, they can afford to play five bowlers, and to bat Mahmudullah at No. 5 or 6. This will mean there's more competition for places, and that wouldn't be a bad thing at all.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84