The still air in Mirpur couldn’t reveal the expectations in the middle. Najmul Hossain Shanto, in his fourth Test in three years and after several misfires at the top level, looked to have crossed the threshold that had tied him down. Shanto had been batting conservatively for three hours, not just an effort to consolidate Bangladesh’s position, but to give him some breathing space. A big one in this one-off Test against Zimbabwe, and finally he would have something to work on.
He had struck the ball well against both pace and spin, driving purposefully and cutting freely. Shanto didn’t look in trouble for most of his stay, but after he had put together the foundation, he got out to a delivery that bounced a tad bit more than the previous ones. Shanto flailed at Charlton Tshuma, having made 71 off 139 balls with seven fours. It was a welcome innings at No. 3 where there hasn’t been a fifty for Bangladesh since November 2018. Shanto’s innings could eventually play a role in Bangladesh taking control in the game. But whether Shanto’s bigger purpose is served remains to be seen.
Shanto had been a bright prospect, talked up for the last three years as being one of the next big things in Bangladesh cricket. He had big scores in school cricket and lit up Youth ODIs, appearing in two Under-19 World Cups.
While he was progressing well, there was a feeling that he was rushed into a Test debut in January 2017, when a flurry of injuries in New Zealand three years ago laid low Imrul Kayes, Mominul Haque and Mushfiqur Rahim.
His next international opportunity came nearly two years later, in September 2018, opening the innings in the Asia Cup one-day tournament. Tamim Iqbal was injured in the first game, and Shanto got to play the next three matches. However, they yielded only 20 runs along with questions about Shanto’s temperament at the highest level. In the final against India, the team management – under pressure from BCB president Nazmul Hassan who had flown in Soumya Sarkar and Imrul Kayes – decided to push up Mehidy Hasan Miraz to the opening slot alongside Liton Das.
He played the following Test against Zimbabwe, in Sylhet, but no big scores meant Shanto was dropped again, for the second time in a very short career.
The sequence continued last year when the selectors blooded several young players in the T20I side during a tri-series against Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. Two failures, and Shanto was gone once again.
After his 71 against Zimbabwe, Shanto revealed he had played with the fear of being dropped through his short career. But assurance from the Russell Domingo-led coaching staff gave him better focus.
“There was fear of getting dropped previously,” Shanto said. “It was certainly in my mind when I was making my debut in New Zealand in 2017. But now I don’t think in that manner. The coaching staff are advising me to not think much about getting dropped from the team. They told me that I will get enough chances, so that allows me to focus on my game. I had a good opportunity since this was a good wicket. I am happy with the way I have batted, but I should have played a big innings as the wicket was really good to bat on.”
To his credit, Shnato has done what could be expected of him in domestic cricket, or when playing for BCB’s representative sides throughout last year. He made runs almost everywhere, and built his case to be picked in the senior team. Recently he made a BPL hundred as well as an unbeaten double-century in first-class cricket, which also helped his cause.
In this match, Bangladesh trail by only 25 runs and have seven wickets in hand, with three days to play. It seems likely that Shanto could get a second innings against this Zimbabwe attack, which might be another opportunity for him to cement his place in the side.