There were four players more experienced than Najmul Hossain Shanto in the Bangladesh line-up against New Zealand in Sylhet. The BCB had made him captain after just 23 Tests. It was one of the earliest appointments for a Bangladesh Test captain among those given the job since 2010. Yet, it didn't seem like the rest of the players found him a surprising element at the top. Nor did Shanto play or lead like a newbie.
Shanto has been Bangladesh's leading run-scorer in the last 12 months in Tests and ODIs. With his century in the second innings in Sylhet, he now has the most hundreds in a calendar year in all formats among Bangladesh's batters. Most importantly, he has now led Bangladesh to a Test victory against a major team, and dragged the team out of the doom and gloom of their World Cup campaign.
Shanto struck the decisive blow on the third day when he scored his fifth Test hundred at a pivotal time in the game. New Zealand had a seven-run lead, and Bangladesh have often wilted in the second innings. Shanto kept them going with a quickfire start and settled into a nice rhythm, putting together important partnerships and handing Bangladesh an important lead at stumps.
Shanto was criticised for his all-out attack in the first innings, when he fell to a Glenn Philips full-toss after making a quick 37. He explained after the Sylhet Test that there was a method to his madness, and he knows when to stop.
"It is important to understand that I was batting for my team," Shanto said. "They set attacking fields so I had boundary options. It is not easy to defend for a long time on this wicket. When they had fielders in front of me, I attacked them. When they had in-and-out fields, I played defensively. I shifted back to my normal gameplan to avoid risky shots. When they attacked again, I went for the runs. Plans change according to the situation. They attacked in the first innings so I batted according to my plan.
"I was quite clear about my approach. They set close-in fields so I played low-risk shots. Some may have thought those are high-risk shots. If I didn't connect those shots, they would still go to the boundary over the fielder's head. It was my gameplan. It seemed like I batted very responsibly in the second innings. I had similar plans. When they pushed the fielders back, I didn't think it was necessary to hit fours and sixes over the fielders. I batted in a low-risk manner. A batter has to bat according to the situation. I had to keep my team's needs in mind."
Before the Test match, Shanto fired the first shot. He said in the pre-match press conference that Bangladesh expect to beat New Zealand in this Test series. A bold call from a stand-in captain, especially with a team under massive pressure following the World Cup debacle.
Shanto explained that he understood the confidence within the playing group, which prompted him to sound out their plans for this Test series. "I was quite clear about my statement that we could win this Test series," he said. "I didn't say it just to motivate the players. I meant it. Plus, everyone had the same belief. I got the confidence to say this when I heard it from the players.
"We were all on the same page. I considered our bowling attack and batting depth in these conditions before saying it. We have just done half of it though. We have to work hard for five days in Dhaka."
Shanto is slowly revealing himself as a strong character, something many believe is missing among the next crop of Bangladesh cricketers. When asked about the three-spinners-and-one-fast-bowler combination in the Sylhet Test, Shanto said what previous captains have shied away from explaining or even talking about with clarity. Shanto wondered why there's a lot of fuss whenever Bangladesh play a lot of spinners.
"If we played in different conditions and teams, we would have had more pace bowlers," he said. "I find it strange why this question comes up when we only play more spinners. We don't ask this question when we play more pacers and fewer spinners. Nobody asks why Taijul [Islam], [Mehidy Hasan] Miraz or Nayeem [Hasan] isn't playing today. They are all bowlers so there's need to separate them. It depends on the conditions and situations, which is how we form the team."
His tone was refreshing. He didn't just defend the team's tactics, but did it succinctly. He didn't waste too much energy in being emotional, but articulated exactly why Bangladesh picked a three-man spin attack. Horses for courses, basically. You can debate the wider effects of packing the side with spinners on turning tracks at home. But the way he has said it speaks highly of his confidence and character.