Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Mushfiqur and Litton channel the spirit of 1959

Litton Das and Mushfiqur Rahim walk back after an undefeated 253-run stand AFP/Getty Images

Prior to Monday, you have to go as far back as 1959 to find a rescue operation in a Dhaka Test that was as backs-to-the-wall as the one between Mushfiqur Rahim and Litton Das against Sri Lanka. At the Bangabandhu National Stadium, Wallis Mathias and Shujauddin added 86 runs after Pakistan, the hosts, had slipped to 22 for five on the first morning against West Indies.

Pakistan's 145 and 144 was enough of an invitation for Fazal Mahmood, the fast bowling star of the era, to demolish the West Indies with a 12-wicket haul using all his crafts on Dhaka's famous matting pitch. Although the current Dhaka Test is only a day old, the big difference between the two sixth wicket stands already is the amount of runs. Mushfiqur and Litton have put on an unbroken 253 runs for the sixth wicket.

They're the first pair to add a 200-plus stand for the sixth wicket and below after their team lost five wickets for less than 25 runs. Along the way, they shaded the 86-run stand between Mathias and Shujauddin was the previous highest for the sixth-wicket. There's little memory of the 1959 Test except for a Wisden report that understandably praises Mathias and Shujauddin.

But Mushfiqur and Litton are neither the lower-middle order types, nor under-rated. One is Bangladesh's most capped Test cricketer who last week became the country's first batter to reach 5000 runs. Litton is the form batter, having scored his third Test century in the last six months. He averages 50-plus in both Tests and ODIs during the period, having also scored a century and three fifties in white-ball cricket.

Given his current form, it seems as if Litton is batting one place too low, but he is the sort of player who will eventually take over the batting engine-room, i.e., the middle-order, sooner rather than later. So when Bangladesh collapsed in a heap in the seventh over, the belief that this in-form duo can stem the slide wasn't too far-fetched or misplaced.

But it was Sri Lanka's pace duo of Asitha Fernando and Kasun Rajitha who rattled Bangladesh with their accuracy. Rajitha caught Mahmudul Hasan napping in the second ball of the day, before his twin blows - Najmul Hossain Shanto and Shakib Al Hasan - reduced Bangladesh to 24 for five. In between, Fernando removed Tamim Iqbal and Mominul Haque with deliveries that left the two left-handers befuddled.

It meant Shanto and Mominul's downturn continues. Mominul, especially, is slowly sliding into a situation when his captaincy and form is being openly questioned. Young opener Joy getting his third duck in the last four innings has contributed to the frustration around the batting line-up.

The big scores from Chattogram appeared to have evaporated into a problem rather than the solution to Bangladesh's batting woes. Only in their previous Test series in South Africa, Bangladesh were shot out for 53 and 80. Prior to that, Shere Bangla National Stadium, Pakistan beat them in a game reduced by rain to effectively two and a half days.

Bangladesh head coach Russell Domingo however confessed that he has never before seen such a good batting partnership from such a difficult position.

"It is one of the best partnerships I have seen as a coach in Tests," Domingo said. "We were 20 for five. Under a lot of pressure. It was an amazing effort by those two batters. Obviously we didn't start well this morning. Couple of false shots. Couple of good deliveries. Test cricket is hard but those guys showed amazing skill and character to get us in this good position."

Mushfiqur however is no stranger to salvaging Bangladesh's batting line-up from such crashes, having been the front of centre of many a rescue acts in the past. This hasn't gone unnoticed from the current coach, who believes Mushfiqur doesn't deserve to be treated poorly after a short slump in form.

"Mushfiqur hits more balls than anybody I have ever seen. He has amazing determination and desire to do well," he said. "I think a lot of the players want a little bit of love and support particularly when things are not going well for you. For sure, he has worked a little bit on his technique in the last couple of games, but he knows how to get runs."

Litton too is growing in stature as not just the form batter of the season, but as a dependable middle-order figure. Domingo, who thinks Litton is far from being a finished product, said that he is reaping the benefit of finding a good routine leading into Test matches.

"I think Litton has evolved his game. He has developed a very good batting technique, which is very important in international cricket. He has a found a good way to prepare for Tests in the last year and a half. Knowing when to do the work, and when not to do the work. He has developed a good routine.

"He has taken his game to the next level. I think batting lower down the order has helped him. He will definitely become Bangladesh's No 4 or 5 in time to come. At No 6 and 7, takes the pressure off him. He can play with intent and positivity."

Bangladesh have put together some amazing comebacks in 2022, and the one in Dhaka on the first day just adds to the lore. They beat New Zealand in their own conditions for the first time, after a difficult period leading up to that tour.

Then they beat Afghanistan in an ODI in Chattogram, literally coming back from the dead. They trounced South Africa in their conditions for the first time too. Mushfiqur and Litton put out another statement that in 2022, Bangladesh cannot be counted out.