Nurul Hasan, Axar Patel and a dizzying chain reaction

Nurul Hasan’s 31 appears to be an anonymous figure in the Bangladesh scorecard, dwarfed into quantitative irrelevance by half-centuries from Zakir Hasan and Litton Das. But numbers only tell a fraction of the story, making context imperative for a holistic understanding.

Bangladesh lost half their side for 102, having just waddled past India’s lead. The spoils were evenly distributed between the five bowlers with KL Rahul preferring to hand out short spells. Having underperformed in the first Test at Chattogram, Hasan and Litton, the last two recognized batters, found themselves in the middle with a herculean task at hand.

Peeved by the failure of a defensive approach in the series opener, Hasan threw caution to the wind. He square cut Umesh Yadav to give an inkling of his hawkish mood. He launched R Ashwin over his head and repeatedly ran him down to third man without caring a jot about the cherry spinning in from the footmarks. His run-a-ball knock may not have blossomed into a headline act, but it inspired confidence in Bangladesh at a juncture when India threatened to run away with the game.

The third day of a Test is known as ‘moving day’ in cricketing parlance. It had moved largely in India’s direction till Hasan’s counterpunch turned the tables. While Ashwin’s sidespinners frequently probed the inside edge of a left-handed top-order in the morning, his control suffered in the aftermath of the cameo. Earlier, Rahul and Shreyas Iyer threw themselves around and Rishabh Pant rose with the bounce to expertly collect a fizzing top-spinner, but such was the shifting of tectonic plates that Virat Kohli grassed as many as three catches at first slip, permitting Bangladesh 100 runs in the 24 overs after Lunch.

“Their wicketkeeper [Nurul Hasan] came and started attacking. After that even Litton did and with that momentum shifted a bit. We conceded 30 runs extra.” Mohammed Siraj admitted. “But no reason to worry,” he added, even as India lost four wickets in the treacherous pursuit of 145, a defendable total according to Litton.

“Of course it’s possible to win, if we can pick one or two wickets early in the morning it’s possible. We always know how hard it is to bat in the fourth innings in Mirpur. We knew that we had to give them a 200-220 target but the score that we actually put up, they still need 100 and it is still difficult. They will be under pressure if we take one or two quick wickets tomorrow. I think this target is enough for a win,” Litton told the reporters with an air of optimism.

India have things to take heart from as well. Sent up the order to tackle the penetrative pair of Shakib Al Hasan and Taijul Islam, Axar Patel exercised caution and pragmatism in equal measure. He respected the good balls while latching onto the scoring opportunities, so much so that he punched the last ball of the day into the gap instead of stonewalling the drag-down off the backfoot. Axar has underperformed with the bat so far in the series, but a golden chance lies on the morrow to justify his all-rounder tag following a three-wicket haul.

His variations confounded Bangladeshi batters. The undercutter from a wider point of release landed on the leather to go on with the arm, nabbing Mushfiqur Rahim. Conversely, the ball gripped after landing on the seam, defeating Hasan’s shimmy and enticing a poke from Litton only for a pre-empting Kohli to be wrongfooted. Reprieved on 20, he went on to compile 73 off 98 to buttress the lead.

”It’s not the kind of surface where one can defend and stay for a long time,” Litton highlighted. You have to counter attack. Miraz couldn’t do it but I said the same thing to Nurul. The time he spent brought vital runs no matter how long and then I told Taskin the same thing.”

“The more you get bogged down here, the more they will dominate. You need runs on this wicket – not one where the game will be a draw or you can bat for long. It is difficult to defend 100, but the scenario is different when you set 150 to win. It would have been even better had the lead been 200. This Test wouldn’t go into the fifth day, so I kept saying to Taskin that we must attack them. I think we were successful,” Litton remarked.

India are at panic stations, and paying heed to the advice of transferring pressure onto the bowlers might serve their World Test Championship standing well.

Broadcast Schedule

India v England 2024 Test Series
IND v ENG 4th Test, Ranchi
23rd February to 27th February
Start time: 4:00 am GMT
IND v ENG 5th Test, Dharamsala
7th March to 11th March
Start time: 4:00 am GMT