Calm and clinical Shanto brings back Bangladesh's smile

Najmul Hossain Shanto used the sweep and reverse sweep to good effect AFP/Getty Images

Najmul Hossain Shanto has just scored his first century as Bangladesh's Test captain. But, who knows, it could be a one-off. Not because Shanto won't score another Test century, but change is the only constant in Bangladesh cricket, it's always in a state of flux.

The question is whether Shanto will remain the Test captain beyond this series against New Zealand. Regular captain Shakib Al Hasan is nursing a finger injury, and is also busy with his political career. He has, in any case, suggested that his Test career could be over soon. As for Tamim Iqbal, the BCB has told him to wait till this season's BPL before having discussions on his international future. Litton Das, the vice-captain before this series, is on paternity leave, and the BCB is understood to not think too highly of his captaincy credentials.

So Shanto was, in a way, a desperate choice to captain in this series. He led Bangladesh twice during the ODI World Cup when Shakib was injured, against India and Australia. His captaincy didn't stand out, but he was impressive in how he handled a couple of tricky press conferences.

But now, in his first Test as captain, Shanto has certainly made a mark with the bat. Bangladesh are without three senior batters, including Shakib. Taijul Islam stepped up on the second day, and Shanto played the quintessential captain's knock on the third. The last time a Bangladesh captain scored a Test century was in April 2021, when Mominul Haque hit 127 against Sri Lanka in Pallekele.

Mominul, who added 90 runs for the third wicket with Shanto before being run-out after a mix-up, praised the new captain for being responsible against a patient bowling attack.

"He played an outstanding innings against a team that was bowling with a lot of patience," Mominul said after the day's play. "I think he played well. Shanto has been playing well in the last two or three years. It is important to carry the good form. He understands the game, and his own game, very well. He has a clear mind. Whether Test or ODI, he understands the situation in each format. He reads the opponents' plans. He knows when and how to react."

Shanto was quiet against fast bowlers Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson. He scored just 14 runs in the 58 balls he faced from the pair. He, in fact, scored just three runs against Jamieson in 25 balls, but earned the bowler's praise.

"He played well, didn't he? I thought the way he controlled the innings, the way he took positive options to keep the runs flowing and then go about getting singles as well, it's pretty impressive to watch," Jamieson said. "It was just quite clinical. I don't think there was too many chances in amongst it. He played everything we got through to him pretty well.

"So we'll have to go to the drawing board tonight and see if we can find something for him tomorrow."

Shanto's effort - 104 not out in 193 balls at the end of the third day - came as a breath of fresh air after the team's poor show with the bat at the World Cup. Shanto himself had blown hot and blown cold there, scoring two ducks but also hitting three half-centuries.

The innings in Sylhet - he scored 37 in 35 balls in the first hit - so far has been all about his ability to change gears. After he raced to 40 off 48 balls, he took another 47 balls to reach his fifty. From then on, it was mostly percentage cricket in a 96-run unbroken fourth-wicket stand with Mushfiqur Rahim.

Bangladesh needed a couple of their specialist batters to play responsibly, after they had conceded a seven-run first-innings lead. Shanto did the job, with help from Mominul and Mushfiqur.

Indeed, earlier, in the New Zealand innings, Shanto threw the ball to Mominul, an occasional left-arm spinner, and he ended up taking three wickets for just four runs, his career-best figures.

"I didn't think much about my bowling," Mominul, who had Glenn Phillips among his victims, said. "The captain wanted to do something different. I didn't do it [bowl much] as a captain myself but he pulled it off. He himself took the decision."

Mominul said it was too early to compare Shanto to other Bangladesh captains, but felt he would be able to do the job well. "I think those on the outside can tell better," he said. "The team is playing well [in this Test], so in that sense, he is doing well. I don't want to compare any captains. One captain may be belittled in that case.

"Everyone has a different theory [about captaincy]. He is a good leader. He does what he thinks is best. Being successful is more important. He leads the team well. He understands how things work in the team."

Mominul was also proactive on the field in terms of being in Shanto's ear from time to time.

"Most of the seniors didn't play during my captaincy. When you are playing in a team, you have to come forward whether you like it or not. You are disrespecting your work if you don't want to come forward [to help the captain]," Mominul said. "Regardless of whether the captain takes what we are saying, Mushfiq bhai and I will tell him what we think. It is part of our responsibility to help the captain, as senior players."

What happens in the future is another matter. But on the little evidence so far, things look positive for Shanto the Test captain.