Recognizing the superstar in Saifuddin
With a batting average of twenty-nine, a bowling average close to thirty-eight in ODIs and mere twenty-odd international caps, the word superstar may sound a farfetched adjective. But a close look on Saifuddin’s short career shows a glimpse of a superstar in making.
Saifuddin first drew attention in 2015 playing for Bangladesh U-19 when he took five wickets in a spell against the South African counterparts to turn the match on its head on his team’s favor in Cox’s Bazar. Next year he opened the bowling and batted at 7 for Bangladesh team in Under 19 world cups at home. In Bangladesh’s most successful junior world cup campaign Saifuddin made his mark for his freakish ability of executing perfect yorkers and his Afridisque celebration.
Though his captain at junior level Mehidy Hasan Miraz established himself in highest standard of cricket very quickly with a 19 wickets debut test series against England, life was not that easy for Saifuddin. Soon after his debut he experienced the brutal side of international cricket with David Miller hitting him for five sixes in an over in South Africa. Then he got plummeted against Srilanka in T20s at home and West Indies ex captain Darren Sammy took him for a riding in a BPL match and hit him for five sixes in an over again!
Many had seen the end of Saif that day. But it only did more good than harm to him as it had given him the necessary kick to work harder than ever. He went back to high performance unit and kept working on his bowling with the coaches there. Saif not only upped his bowling speed but also developed various slowers and cutters along with a very slow’ bouncer and honed his yorker skills. Fast forwarded in 2019 Men’s world cup he is the 2nd highest wicket taker for Bangladesh, delivered the most yorkers in the tournament by any bowler bar Malinga and partnered up with Mustafiz nicely in death overs to stop the flow of the opponent and picked up abundance of wickets in a pair.
But it’s his batting that should not be looked down upon. Now one may doubt his batting abilities for his ‘bowling allrounder’ role in Bangladesh team but the fact is when Akram Khan unearthed Saif in an inter-school cricket tournament in late 2000s it was his precise leg glances and lofted shots that forced the selector to put Saifuddin’s name on his book.
He may not have the solid defense of Mushfiq, Tamim’s cover drive’s, liton’s pool shots or Sabbir’s timing but he has developed his very own technique of pushing and nudging the balls into the gaps and rotate the strike regularly to build an innings. And when he is set he can hit a long ball too. He has shown his ability of building an innings with the limited opportunities he got.
In the horrendous New Zealand tour earlier this year he played two solid knocks coming in late order to give faltering Bangladesh batting a bit of respectable look. Last year against Zimbabwe Bangladesh lost their 1st test against the touring side and the 1st ODI was going to the same route as the host team were at 137/6 when Saifuddin came into bat. He scored a fluent fifty and gave Imrul Kayes enough support to take Bangladesh to a winning total of 271.
Now what sets Saifuddin apart from other Bangladeshi players who have shown lots of promises at the start of their career and then faded away? I will give you the answer. It is his mental strength that takes the bar higher for him. It showed when he killed the ghost of death overs belting by Miller and Sammy and pinged a pin point yorker to Russel to win the match for his team in last year’s BPL.
So, when Saif challenged Indian bowling in Edgbaston and almost won the match for his team, people who followed him closely were not surprised by his calmness and self-belief. It was not a fluke innings, not first of that kind from him and certainly wont be the last. It was one of many more to come. And when he goes out to bat next time, he will be the same Saifuddin. Calm, composed and beaming with confidence.
He may replace Mashrafe in ODI team for now, but in the long run, Saifuddin, truly, has the potential of filling up the void of Shakib Al Hasan in shorter formats when the later decides to hang up his boots. Now it is on the management and the board to recognize his talent with both ball and bat and use it properly.
Author of this article, Saadat Ullah Kawser, a Hertfordshire graduate and a nine to five regular office worker, is so passionate about cricket that he can talk cricket to his pet for hours.