That Soumya Sarkar‘s first instinct when he walked out to the bat in the second innings of the Hamilton Test against New Zealand was survival suggests that Bangladesh’s dire situation must have affected him quite seriously.
In his short international career so far, Soumya has built a reputation of being someone who doesn’t put a big enough price on his wicket. There have also been times when his premature dismissals, particularly after making a flashy start, has put his team in trouble. But with his side 371 short of avoiding an innings defeat – they still went down by an innings and 52 runs – when he walked in on the third evening, Soumya said he felt that it far was more important to be at the crease.
The 149 he scored was his maiden Test hundred, coming in his 13th Test, spread over four years. Only during their last home series against West Indies did Soumya, through runs in the ODIs, return to the Test side. But 31 runs in the four innings meant that he was ignored for the New Zealand Tests too, and it was only Shakib Al Hasan’s injury that caused the selectors to ask him to stay back after the ODIs, which ended on February 20.
I don’t think I have batted against this type of a bowling plan, when the ball is bouncing so much from back of a length. I have never batted against these field set-ups too
Perhaps with this performance, which came at a time when his side desperately needed him to bat for a long period, Soumya can set himself an example: that he can bat in a different way.
There were long phases during the 149 when he had to shed his natural instincts and invent ways to at least touch the ball, which was mostly fired at him at chest, throat or head level. The moment he whip-pulled Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson posted the fine-leg fielder very fine. Then came the very fine third-man, and thus followed more attempts to stop him from scoring those boundaries.
Williamson moving around his fielders was exactly what Soumya and Mahmudullah had wanted throughout the fourth morning as they ducked and weaved around Wagner’s bouncer barrage. Once they had weathered the storm, both batsmen strode into their drives and flicks more confidently, and it was evident when Soumya launched Todd Astle for a straight six to move into the nineties.
“Today my aim was to survive in the wicket in that particular situation,” Soumya said. “If I had hurried against this type of bowling, I think it would have negatively impacted me and the team. I tried to adjust to the pitch and their type of bowling. Once I was set, I tried to play on merit (of the ball). We were behind by a lot of runs with two days left, so all of these things were in my mind. It was good to have Riyad bhai alongside, as we slowly progressed.
“I realised that if I only [tried to] survive in the middle, a good ball may take my wicket, and I wouldn’t have scored runs. I decided that I should at least be a little aggressive, even if it is not every ball, so that they, at least, think of changing their plans.”
Soumya said that it was the first time that a bowling attack had attacked him in this manner, targeting his head and torso for hours, and setting catchers mostly on the leg-side to take anything that might pop up.
“I don’t think I have batted against this type of a bowling plan, when the ball is bouncing so much from back of a length. I have never batted against these field set-ups too,” he said with a laugh. I never expected someone can set such a field. I decided to play the short ball behind, by using the bounce and the pace, rather than playing in front.”
Soumya rued not batting for longer than the four hours and 15 minutes he lasted in the middle, his innings ending when Trent Boult burst one through his attempt to work the ball through midwicket.
“I think if I could have batted longer, they may have had to bat again. I am sure Riyad bhai would have continued to bat similarly if I was around for longer. But still, the first Test hundred is also special,” he said. “When I got the chance in this Test series, I thought about my first ODI fifty, which was also in Hamilton.”
Soumya is regarded as one of the most talented batsmen in Bangladesh but since his first season, when he impressed during the 2015 World Cup and the three ODI series thereafter against Pakistan, India and South Africa, he has had a lean period, marked by inconsistency, resulting in him being dropped from the Test and ODI sides.
There have been many false dawns from Soumya, but if he bats consistently over the coming weeks in Wellington and Christchurch in the next two Tests, the Bangladesh fans can finally believe there is a lot that Soumya can offer. And there is good news on that front: “When I work hard and have the mentality to stay in the wicket, I think it is possible to get results,” he said.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
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