Mehedi Hasan keeps things simple

It’d be easy for Mehedi Hasan Miraz to get carried away. The Prime Minister has ordered a house be built for him; he’s already the second highest ranked Bangladesh bowler in the ICC rankings at 33; praise is coming from all corners of the cricketing world. Also apropos of nothing, his off-spinning heroes are Graeme Swann and… Ramesh Powar.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that a twice Under-19 World Cup captain is mature enough to handle this; mature beyond his years. Simplicity and maturity are not the usual buzzwords for a 19 year old spin sensation, but they are with him.

Rip the ball. Land it on the right spot. Some will turn. Some will not. That’s the extent of Mehedi Hasan’s bowling tactics. On pitches the like of which Chittagong and Dhaka have served up, that’s pretty much all he’s needed to do.

Of course, that’s a bit reductive. Across his two tests, Mehedi has had the control to keep landing it on that spot, the control of his seam position to get that spin, and natural variation. He’s started to vary his pace like a man older than his nineteen years, the wicket of Alastair Cook based on a ball slowed down significantly to get Cook, pressing in front of his body, caught off the face of the bat at silly mid-on.

As for maturity, the depth of thought that he has showed was exemplified in an interview he gave to Wisden India. Talking about an age group tour to West Bengal he said, “I am so young; I didn’t know Hindus don’t have beef. I realised when I went to play in West Bengal. It was so different. I don’t know much about Partition, I found out when I went to Kolkata.” The tone seems self-deprecating but it’s clear that he’s a thinker, and not just about cricket.

That maturity showed in his debut, and in the second Test when in England’s second innings, Mehedi had to deal with Test batsman attacking him for the first time. Ben Duckett swept, reverse swept, dabbed, hit over the top, pulled and (yes, really) reverse drove.

But all it took was the lunch break, and a ball that kept low, and consistent, calm, mature, nineteen year old Mehedi Hasan was in the game. The wicket of Duckett opened things up. Cook was triggered then saved on review, Ballance pulled a long hop up in the air (“The harder I work, the luckier I get”), then four balls was all it took for an off-break that went on to thud into Moeen Ali’s front pad.

Bangladesh swarmed over England. Shuvagata Hom was pulled along in Mehdi’s wake, his unexceptional off-spin tinged with menace, balls sliding into Cook’s pads and spinning past his outside edge.

But this was Mehdi’s show. Bowling over and over again in the mid-50s mph, he had more luck, but no more than his performance deserved. Cook, unsettled by the wickets falling around him, pressed forward and only managed to prod the ball into the midriff of silly point Mominul Haque.

Bairstow followed, and after Shakib joined in, running through the lower order, it was time for Mehedi to get his champagne moment, turning one onto the big pads of Steven Finn. There was no doubt. Mehedi Hasan was a matchwinner, and the hottest new name in cricket.

Given what he’s managed in his first two Tests, it’s astonishing that he’s described as a batting all-rounder on his Cricinfo page. If you take first class averages (at the age of 19) of 35 with the bat, and 22 with the ball into account, he could well be the next Shakib al Hasan, a second genuine all-rounder in the Bangladesh team.

The first time I saw Mehedi Hasan bowl was in an Under-19 game against West Indies in 2013. On the admittedly poor stream that the WICB had provided, he looked tidy, but little more than that. The leg-spinner Jubair Hossain looked the better prospect, and indeed made his Test debut first.

But had I looked closer, I would have noticed that Mehedi Hasan – captaining the side – was doing so shortly before his 16th birthday. I’d have also noticed that although he only averaged 18.14 across the seven ODIs with the bat, he took 13 wickets at 13.07 with the ball, comparable figures to the leg-spinner two years his senior.

Despite getting his Test debut two years ago, Hossain has receded, dropped for his club side’s last First-class game, and Miraz (as his team-mates call him) has taken his place for Bangladesh. With this sudden success has come worldwide attention – in the world of cricket that is – and he’s shown his maturity there.

His love for the game can’t be disputed. The boy who was beaten by his father for playing cricket, but then continued to play, isn’t one with either a lack of commitment or love.

Mehedi Hasan has risen this far, and greater challenges lie ahead. I have a feeling he might be up for them.

Originally published 3-Nov-2016

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