After more than a month of international cricket without registering a 50-run stand or a half-century from any of their batters, Bangladesh's batting finally breathed easy, in Chattogram on Friday. The relief came via the 204-run unbroken fifth-wicket stand between Mushfiqur Rahim and Liton Das, who struck his maiden Test hundred.
Both batters found instant reward in their first match back in the Bangladesh XI, after being dropped from the T20I side last week. It was perceived as a punishment for their sub-par T20 World Cup performances. Liton played a first-class match in the National Cricket League in the interim, while Mushfiqur spent the time presumably facing hundreds of balls in the nets, as well as slamming the selectors.
The partnership provided for a stunning comeback for the home side, who had lost four wickets in the first session of the Test. It was shaping up to be yet another batting debacle when the top four succumbed to Pakistan's bustle. Taking into account Bangladesh's mentality, 49 for 4 could have easily become worse.
Liton and Mushfiqur changed the complexion of the day in three phases. First, they gritted out 40-odd minutes in the first session when they shifted the focus from scoring runs to stalling Pakistan's surge. They carried that confidence in the second session, typically a quiet time for bowling sides. Liton and Mushfiqur did that with 102 runs in 31 overs, gradually raising the scoring rate, and building their own confidence.
They both reached fifties, which probably freed them up for more consolidation after the tea break. The last session was mostly about reacting to the situation. Both had their eyes out on keeping Pakistan at bay. As Liton inched towards his hundred, things got a bit nervy as he struggled with cramps. Mushfiqur kept feeding him the strike, to make sure he got to the landmark. When Liton reached the three-figure mark, Mushfiqur too appeared equally delighted.
Batting coach Ashwell Prince was proud of how Mushfiqur and Liton lifted Bangladesh out of a difficult situation. He was especially pleased to see Liton reach his century by fighting cramps.
"I think the guys showed a great deal of character and skills after we were 40-odd for four today," Prince said. "Mushfiqur was very patient at the start. He is an experienced player. A lot of younger players might have panicked at the low strike rate, and not being able to get the ball away. But he is an experienced Test player. He stayed calm. He knew runs can come in faster periods in Tests. He played a great innings.
"I was really impressed by how calm and composed Liton was today. He was solid in defence. He was decisive in leaving balls outside the stump. He was committed and positive when playing an attacking shot. I think the most nervous everyone got was when Liton started getting cramps. We were hoping that his body can hang in there till the end of the day. The dressing room was extremely happy when he got the hundred."
Liton has bonded with Prince ever since he was appointed as batting coach in July. Prince said that they worked on minor aspects of Liton's stance and balance ahead of this Test series.
"I didn't ask anything of him during the T20 series [against Pakistan]," Prince said. "He came here earlier to prepare for the Tests. We worked on one or two little technical things.
"It was more about changing his stance, and basically his alignment to get him lined up better. I think he showed good balance at the crease. He is such a joy to watch. He makes batting look so easy when he is batting well."
Liton focused heavily on the zone square on the off side, where he got three quarters of his 12 boundaries. He abstained from forcefully driving the fast bowlers straight, and only pulled the ball when it was too short.
Mushfiqur, too, struck plenty of fours through point, backward point and cover, but he drove straight almost regularly. He struck three fours in the range between mid-off and wide mid-on.
The way Mushfiqur and Liton batted should spread confidence across the dressing room. Here were two cricketers who were shown tough love by the team management, albeit somewhat unwarranted, but they bounced back strongly.
The partnership also sets Bangladesh up for a stronger second day, and it is sure to serve debutant Yasir Ali a great platform to benefit from, even though Bangladesh don't really have a target in mind for the first innings.
Prince said the straw-coloured Chattogram pitch was a sight for sore eyes in the Bangladesh dressing room. "The pitch makes a big difference. It is a good pitch. The guys played well. It is nice for our batsmen to bat on good pitches more regularly. But is 400 or 500 enough? No one knows. We just have to keep batting until the captain feels we have enough to declare."