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Low-risk cricket instrumental in Rahim's record-breaking 219

When Mushfiqur Rahim became the first wicketkeeper-batsman to score two double hundreds in Test cricket, on Monday (November 12), it came with a sense of irony. Before this Test series against Zimbabwe, Rahim’s skills behind the stumps had been a concern for the team and he had to give up the ‘keeping duties several times.

Following his below-par outing behind the stumps in the one-off Test against India in Hyderabad in February 2017, Rahim was first asked to relinquish the gloves. Between that game and this two-Test series against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh played 10 Test matches, with Rahim being used as a ‘keeper in only three of those games, the last occasion being the two Tests against Australia in 2017.

In December 2017, around the time Chandika Hathurusingha quit as Bangladesh coach, Rahim was also removed as Bangladesh’s Test skipper following the disastrous tour of South Africa, with Shakib Al Hasan taking over the role. Earlier this year, Rahim had said that he enjoyed playing as just a top-order batsman, no longer having to shoulder the triple burden of captaincy, ‘keeping and essaying the role of a senior batsman in the team.

Under new coach Steve Rhodes, whose first Test assignment was the away series against the Windies a few months back, the team-management identified that Rahim was a better ‘keeper than a fielder, and was asked to take up the gloves again after more than a year’s hiatus behind the stumps and as Rahim would mention following his record knock, standing behind the stumps gave him added confidence when he went out to bat.

When Rahim scored 200 against Sri Lanka in March 2013, he had become only the eighth designated wicketkeeper – after Imtiaz Ahmed, Taslim Arif, Brendon Kuruppu, Andy Flower, Adam Gilchrist, Kumar Sangakara and MS Dhoni – to score a double hundred. With the opportunity to wear the gloves again for the series against Zimbabwe, he embraced the chance by not only doing a safe job behind the stumps but also entering the record books by becoming the first ‘keeper-batsman to score two double tons.

“As I have said repeatedly, keeping helps me a lot. That doesn’t mean that I will score centuries or double centuries in every match where I keep. But it’s my process and I am a big believer in process and preparation,” said Mushfiqur after his knock that put Bangladesh in a commanding position in the second Test.

“It really helps me. Now I have to contribute in the way the team management decides. It sometimes happens that there is a bit of a problem managing the workload of the two roles, but I think it is a challenge which I always enjoy. I am the kind of person who does not want to sit in the dressing room doing nothing; I want to stay as much as possible on the field and contribute, feel like I am doing something for the team and my country. If I continue to be given this responsibility I believe I will be able to do it,” he said.

Rahim’s knock also came at a crucial time for Bangladesh, who had lost the opening Test and were in danger of being bowled out for less than 200 for the ninth successive time when they were reduced to 26 for 3. Having played second fiddle to Mominul Haque in a 266-run fourth wicket stand that led Bangladesh’s remarkable turnaround, he continued to display the virtues of patience after the hosts had lost Mahmudullah and Ariful Haque in quick succession.

While he has been a linchpin in the Bangladesh batting department over the years and is known to be a hardworking cricketer, the critics have been quick to point out his lack of mental strength when it came to closing out matches in limited-overs cricket – the prime example being the World T20 game in 2016 when Bangladesh failed to win against India.

When he was on 199, Zimbabwe tried to exploit that by getting fielders in close-in positions to catch him off guard and force him to do something fancy. He had, after all, missed a three-figure score as recently as the Asia Cup game against Pakistan when he tried to open the face of the bat and was bowled on 99. But Rahim’s determination didn’t waver one bit in this game as he managed to reach the double hundred and remained unbeaten on 219 off 421 deliveries when Bangladesh declared their innings at 522 for 7.

“There isn’t a batsman who doesn’t get nervous in the nineties. If someone doesn’t, he must be a super human. I think an individual’s true self comes out in these moments. I am definitely trying to stay in control. My innings of 99 was certainly in my mind. I had struck a sweep shot into short-leg’s foot, and I didn’t get a run from it,” said Rahim.

Cutting out risky shots, concentrating on taking the singles and twos, trying to make use of the gaps and put away the loose deliveries – it was a typical Test innings but also one that went against Rahim’s nature. But such was the resolve shown by Rahim that he had to make do without several of his favourite shots and work hard for his runs, which he did – only 78 runs out of the 219 he scored came via boundaries as he registered the highest individual score by a Bangladesh player and also played the longest innings for his country..

“I have been able to score without playing some of my favourite shots. It shows me that in the last 5-7 years I developed a lot of shots, which helped me to score runs playing low-risk cricket and that is a big gain for me as a batsman. It is very important when you are playing Tests, patience is key. And when you are playing on a wicket like Mirpur, you are never set to be honest. I think, as a batsman, it was also a big plus point for me, because on other wickets maybe I would have gone for my shots and thought of playing this ball in that direction and that ball in the other,” explained Rahim.

“So from that viewpoint, I had to concentrate hard on every ball because, as you have seen, even with the old ball there was extra bounce or it was keeping low. So it also helped me. Concentration is a matter of practice – it does not come all of a sudden. So as I said, preparation is a big deal for me. And I try to practise in a way that is close to the match situation. I try as much as possible to keep my concentration level high and not get out for an entire net session. It helps me a lot in the match. It gives me a lot of confidence that I have done my part and if Allah helps me I can execute on the field,” he said.

Rahim was also lavish in his praise of Mehidy Hasan, with whom he put on an unbroken 144-run stand for the eighth wicket. “I always enjoy batting with Miraz because he is a lovely fellow. One of the funny characters and it is always enjoyable to have a player like him on the field. And the way he was explaining things to me, it felt like he was the one batting on 200 and I was on 30. I always tell him that he has lots of potential. The main thing is his focus and his determination – sometimes he gets out to silly mistakes. But the way he played and the potential he has I think he can be the next big player for Bangladesh. That is what I try to tell him,” he said.

“And he knows everything – if he plays a ball away from his body he comes and tells me, ‘Bhai, I actually just played away from my body.’ I tell him ‘why did you do it when you know?’ So I always have fun with him. And it feels really good that I was with him during his two Test 50s. He missed another one, 45 I think it was in the first Test in Galle. I missed a hundred too because of that, he got out and I got no more partners. So I was reminding him today, that at least stay with me till the 200,” Rahim said of his chats with his partner.

When asked to rate this innings, Rahim said it would top his other efforts provided Bangladesh win the match. “If we can win this game, this innings will be on top of every other innings. We drew the Galle Test so the focus will be on winning this game. Galle was tough. We had to reply to their big first innings total. There was plenty of help for the bowlers on this wicket, and Zimbabwe were bowling well too. Both innings are different, and I will say that this was a good innings, not my best, because I played a lot of deliveries. I was also more compact,” Rahim concluded.

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