Over four years have passed since Mohammad Ashraful last scored a Test hundred for Bangladesh, now only eleven runs separate him from becoming his country’s first double centurion.
His unbeaten 189 in the ongoing Test in Galle has already succeeded his and his country’s previous highest score in Test cricket, an unbeaten 158 against India in 2004 and Ashraful will hope this is the turning point in a career that has promised so much, but delivered so little.
In many ways Ashraful’s career has mirrored that of his country’s since they gained Test status in 2000. He has promised many false dawns’s only to disappoint in the majority. A Test average of 22.60 goes nowhere near describing the talents of the man’s batting ability. The highlights have so often been followed by droughts that can rival those of the Sahara desert in dry season.
Those highlights started with a debut 114 against Sri Lanka, aged just 16 and have continued over the years with important ODI knocks against Australia (100, in Cardiff, 2005) and South Africa (87, in the 2007 World Cup).
His form in the recent past has been horrendous and the Bangladeshi selectors have given him as many chances as they possibly could in hope he would regain his top form.
Since his last Test hundred in late 2008, he has scored just one fifty and finally paid the price for such shortcomings after scoring just one run in his two innings against Pakistan in December 2011.
His domestic form this season has been steady and nothing more and the fact he was selected for this tour was in hope more than expectation. By no means was he a banker for a place in the first Test match – but a fluent 102 in Bangladesh’s only warm up match convinced the selectors to throw him back into the side.
On Sunday things looked different. This was a new Ashraful, a more disciplined batsman, perhaps sensing that this was really his final tilt at a Test career his talent warrants.
When he walked off the field after 398 balls and eight hours, he knew that he was just eleven runs shy of becoming his country’s first double centurion and whilst doing so putting his side in a position where it is unlikely they will lose the match.
What has been the most impressive part of his innings has been his ability to be more selective in what shots to defend or attack, the Ashraful of old simply tried to hit everything he wished, often leading to his downfall early in his innings.
Coming to the crease on Saturday afternoon after his side had slipped to 1-23 in reply to Sri Lanka’s huge first innings of 4-570. He started in positive fashion and added 42 with Anamul Haque, before the opener gifted his wicket to Ajantha Mendes. Then came the innings defining partnership of 105 with debutant Mominul Haque, who himself impressed with 55.
When Haque was dismissed by Nuwan Kulasekara and Mahmudullah decided to walk past a Rangana Herath delivery without scoring, Bangladesh were a long way from even passing the follow on and another innings defeat looked likely.
That was until Ashraful was joined by his captain Mushfiqur Rahim. The pair blunted the Sri Lankan attack and with doing so claimed another national record with an unbroken partnership of 261.
A drive down the ground off Herath brought up Ashraful’s sixth Test century and with it a roar of delight, a removal of his cap and a kiss of the pitch. A weight had been lifted, but the work had only just started.
It is easy to forget that Ashraful is only still 28, his career has spanned over twelve years and 58 Test matches and despite the false dawns his career has never really taken off.
Despite now been behind the likes of Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan in the country’s list of superstars, Ashraful remains the fans golden child of Bangladeshi cricket, perhaps the most talented batsman the Tigers have ever produced, maybe now he is finally realising that talent.
In a modern world where T20 cricket is taking over, Test cricket could do with a competitive Bangladesh and for the Tigers to be competitive, they need Ashraful to finally acknowledge his ability with bat in hand.