Virat Kohli had a wry smile on his face, shaking his head as he watched Taijul Islam taking a remarkable catch at fine leg. Taijul’s body was parallel to the ground as he leapt to his right and made the grab while mid-air. He landed awkwardly, and threw the ball up. Team-mates stood stunned, but as soon as Taijul got up, they raced towards him.
Behind by 202 runs, down 1-0 in the Test series and having just been subjected to a batting masterclass by arguably the best in the world, Taijul’s catch suddenly injected a bout of energy to the entire side. They smiled and had a bit of fun. Ebadat Hossain, the bowler, even gave a salute goodbye to Kohli, all in good fun.
This wasn’t just about a great catch. They were celebrating Taijul – quiet, almost forgotten, until there’s need for dirty work. Bangladesh turn to him for those long spells to hold up one end while Shakib Al Hasan or Mehidy Hasan take wickets at the other because he always gives it his all. Even when he’s batting.
On the second day, he was probably the only bowler to ask Kohli some tough questions, varying his pace and length expertly. In the middle of his marathon 17-over spell from the start of the second day till the new ball was available after lunch, he beat Kohli twice in five balls drawing the batsman onto the front foot both times and spinning it past his outside edge.
This, remember, was a bowler who was originally dropped from the XI, who is only playing this game after being called in as a concussion substitute for offspinner Nayeem Hassan. It is easy to drop someone like Taijul. The team management, much like any other in a normal office setting, knows there are certain individuals who can “take it in the chin and move on”. Taijul is one of those who would happily do the dirty work – he took on 12th man duties in addition to everything else – and then be happy to fade away into the background.
Last month he became only the third bowler in Bangladesh Test history to take 100 wickets. He has taken 87 of those at home, where he averages 27.04 in 18 Tests. His overseas average, to take 19 wickets, is 59.05, which is a major concern and one of the reasons he is easily dropped from the side away from home.
His experience, however, always keeps him in the fray. The selectors can’t keep him out of the Test squad, one of the reasons being his “Test specialist” tag. He also offers more with the bat than the average Bangladesh tail-ender. Taijul often provides confidence to the main batsmen with his sheer willingness to play time. He doesn’t run away from the ball, presents a straight bat on most occasions and ends up scoring useful runs. He is a safe fielder, but not someone who would pull off something flashy every day. Today he did, and he also gave us a reminder of his value.
Even early in his career, Taijul found himself working overtime. When he took 8 for 39 against Zimbabwe in 2014, the best innings figures by a Bangladesh bowler, his team still needed his dogged batting to pull off the victory.
But Mehidy Hasan’s emergence, particularly his 19-wicket haul against England in 2016, put Taijul further behind in the pecking order. As long as Bangladesh use spin-friendly pitches at home, though, Taijul will keep hanging on. And he will never give up.
He will bowl through tough phases, like 17 overs non-stop on the second day of a lost-cause Test match against the best batsman in the world. He will have to bat ugly against tough bowling attacks, letting the other batsmen get to their milestones. He will field well, occasionally taking a great catch.
When Ebadat lifted him up in the middle of their jubilation following the Kohli catch, Taijul’s smile turned into a scowl. He told Ebadat to put him down. Enough of this. It was not the occasion for merry-making. If there’s one Bangladesh player who was aware even in that moment what was happening at Eden Gardens, it was Taijul. He has seen and fought through it all before.