Three things are constant in life: death, taxes and a Bangladesh batsman being asked after a big innings whether it was the best of his career. After the press conference is over, the conversation about that last fixture turns to whether it was the best innings by a Bangladesh batsman, and the debate rages on. Yesterday after his unbeaten 219 -- the highest score by a Bangladesh batsman -- Mushfiqur Rahim was noncommittal about which of his two double-centuries he would pick as the better one.
That question can of course be asked only of Mushfiqur because he became the only Bangladesh batsman to hit two double-centuries, more than five and a half years after hitting the country's first one in the Galle Test in March 2013.
While the debate will rage on about the best Test innings by a Bangladeshi, the country's Test fans should find great succour in one aspect of Mushfiqur's epic.
He played 421 deliveries (a Bangladesh record), batted for 589 minutes (comfortably a Bangladesh record), lasted five sessions in an innings that started with the team on 26 for three and the ball seaming and swinging about and through it all he did not give the Zimbabweans so much as a sniff. These numbers are especially auspicious when considering Bangladesh's recent Test history of not scoring more than 169 in their previous eight innings.
A score of 522 for seven and Mushfiqur's series of records may also suggest that the bowling was ordinary and the wicket -- like it was in a Galle run-fest -- was one on which it was easy to bat hours on end. On the contrary, Zimbabwe's pace bowlers, led by a Kyle Jarvis five-for, were constantly asking questions and must be lauded for keeping their tails up even when wickets were not falling. And they had gotten enough assistance from a Mirpur wicket that has more bounce and offered generous movement in the two morning sessions so far, both of which Mushfiqur battled through.
Revealing the steely resolve that makes him the player he is, Mushfiqur said that the difficult wicket actually helped him craft his innings.
“When you are playing on a wicket like Mirpur, you are never set,” a smiling and content Mushfiqur said after the day's play. “I think it was also a big plus point for me, because on other wickets maybe I would have gone for my shots and thought of playing this ball in that direction and that ball in the other. So I had to concentrate hard on every ball because, as you have seen, even with the old ball there was extra bounce or it was keeping low.”
It seemed that the once highly regarded skill of playing the ball on its merits had gone out of fashion, especially among Bangladesh's batsmen. Mushfiqur brought it back in its truest essence over the first two days -- he left 67 of 191 balls played against pace and regardless of score or game situation he kept playing on merit.
“[The achievement of] concentration is a quest; it does not happen all the time. Preparation is a big deal for me. When practicing, I try as much as possible to keep my concentration level high and not get out for an entire net session. It gives me a lot of confidence that I have done my part and if Allah helps me I can execute on the field.
“There was no preset plan to focus on the leave -- I decided upon it once I came in to bat and saw the conditions. I decided that if the ball pitched outside off stump, I would leave it,” he later said.
In recent memory, Tamim Iqbal's 179-ball 78 against England in the Chattogram Test of 2016 comes close for its sheer focus on playing the ball on merit on a difficult wicket. His 104 in the Dhaka Test of that series -- while brilliant -- falls behind for the confused manner of his dismissal. Shakib's 217 against New Zealand in Wellington in January last year, one of the great Test innings, began in chancy fashion after he was dropped on four. Those and many others are all candidates to be the best by a Bangladeshi.
Doubters may take Mushfiqur down a notch or two because it was against lowly Zimbabwe and it was at home. But that is exactly the aspect in which this innings stands above the rest -- his occupation of a state that rendered the bowling attack and the conditions immaterial. Only the merit of each ball mattered.