Shanto begins repaying the faith in ODIs

Najmul Hossain Shanto scored his maiden ODI century and powered Bangladesh to a three-wicket win over Ireland in the second ODI in Chelmsford, England on 12 May 2023BCB

Just two overs after Najmul Hossain Shanto completed his maiden century in 50-over cricket for Bangladesh against Ireland on Friday, he was in need of some medical attention at the middle.

It wasn’t anything serious as the physiotherapist patched him up in no time and Shanto carried on with his innings. But the reason why he needed the treatment at the first place was a bit silly.

Shanto completed his century off just 83 balls by running a two against George Dockrell in the 34th over. Right after he reached the landmark, Shanto jumped to the air twice, punched the air a couple of times, waved his bat to the fans and the dressing room and sent a flying kiss towards the stands.

Najmul Hossain Shanto sends a flying kiss to the stands after completing his century

The wild century celebration seemingly stiffened his thigh muscles as in the next ball when Shanto took a single, he was visibly running a bit gingerly.

Thankfully for Bangladesh, the self-inflicted strain didn’t last too long as all Shanto needed was some stretching and some fluids before resuming his innings.

He also can’t be blamed for the over-enthusiastic celebration as it was more than warranted. This was his maiden ODI ton, an innings which rescued the team from a precarious scenario and set them up for a memorable victory.

It was also a statement innings for the left-hander, who has been the butt of many jokes and at the receiving end of criticism, trolls and sometimes outright abuse from the countrymen.

Shanto made his ODI debut in 2018, with a stellar age-level career behind him. With 1820 runs in 58 Youth ODIs, Shanto is still the highest run-getter in the world at the U-19 level.

But the left-hander had an underwhelming start to his ODI career. Making his debut in the 2018 Asia Cup, Shanto made 7, 7 and 6 in three innings.

This performance shut the ODI team’s door for him for one and a half years. He returned to the ODI team in 2020 and in the next two years played just five 50-over games for the Tigers where he accumulated just 73 runs at a paltry average of 14.6.

Najmul Hossain Shanto ODI career got off to a poor start

In 2022, the selectors and coach Russell Domingo gave Shanto a proper go in the ODI team, picking him for seven matches.

But the left-hander still largely disappointed as he couldn’t score one substantial innings, crossed the 30-run mark twice and also got dismissed without bothering the scorers twice.

The pressure on Domingo, who is no longer with the Bangladesh team, and the selection panel led by Minhajul Abedin to drop Shanto from the ODI squad increased after almost every innings.

Domingo and the selectors insistence to continue Shanto at No.3 even after Shakib Al Hasan returned to the team after serving his ban drew even more flak from fans and media.

Bangladesh Cricket Board chief selector Minhajul Abedin and selector Habibul Bashar

Shanto by then had started doing better in other formats. The batter from Rajshahi scored two Test centuries in 2021 and was Bangladesh’s highest run-getter in the 2022 ICC T20 World Cup with 180 runs in five innings. But for whatever reason, he just couldn’t seem to score runs in ODIs.

All that changed after 2023 rolled along. In the first five months of 2023, Shanto has begun repaying the faith of the management.

In seven ODI innings, the top-order batter has scored 370 runs at an average of 52.85. Before notching up his maiden ODI hundred, Shanto hit a couple of fifties against World Champions England at home and a commanding 73 against Ireland in Sylhet.

On Friday at the County Ground in Chelmsford, England, Shanto finally took the next step in his progression as an ODI batter, reaching the three-figure mark for the very first time.

Najmul Hossain Shanto celebrates after completing his maiden ODI ton in the second ODI between Bangladesh and Ireland at the County Ground in Chelmsford, England on 13 May 2023

One could try to question the merit of the century as the opponent wasn’t the strongest and the stakes were not high. But that wouldn’t be fair to Shanto.

The Tigers were chasing 320 runs in a 45-over-a-side contest, had just lost their skipper Tamim Iqbal with just nine runs on the board when Shanto came to the crease.

He then saw two star batters in Liton Das and Shakib Al Hasan return to the dressing room after decent starts.

But Shanto kept his cool, formed a 132-run partnership with the young sensation Towhid Hridoy and placed Bangladesh on course for victory.

The most telling part of Shanto’s innings was his strike rate. Shanto has been guilty of scoring runs at a sluggish rate in white ball cricket. But on Friday, he struck three sixes and 12 fours against an Irish attack that looked helpless against his willow.

The only criticism of Shanto’s 117-run innings would be the manner of his dismissal. After hitting Campher for a six, Shanto attempted to hit him for another six in the following ball, but this time the ball went straight to Harry Tector.

When Shanto departed, Bangladesh still needed 63 runs to win off 50 balls with five wickets in hand. A few quick wickets and Bangladesh could’ve ended up on the losing side.

But this was the risk Shanto took throughout the innings. He took his chances, played attacking shots and before his dismissal, was successful in his execution.

His fearless attitude was exactly what Bangladesh needed to chase down this stiff total and they will definitely need it when they play in the forthcoming ICC ODI World Cup in India later this year.

It took Shanto almost five years in ODI cricket to score his first century. However, in those five years Shanto has played only 23 matches and batted on 22 occasions.

So, it took Shanto 22 innings to score an ODI century, which is quicker than many legends of the game. For example, former Australia captain Steve Waugh got his first ODI century in his 166th innings.

It took the great Sunil Gavaskar 100 ODI innings to score a ton in white ball cricket and the Sri Lankan maestro Kumar Sangakkara 78 innings to score an ODI century.

Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar, considered by many as the greatest player to ever pick up a cricket bat, had to wait 75 innings to finally score a hundred in ODIs. He later went onto score 48 more in ODIs, and become the only cricketer in the world to complete a century of centuries.

They say, ‘Good things come to those who wait’. But patience is not something you can usually associate with Bangladesh cricket. But in this rare instance, the management showed tremendous patience with a talented batter, endured a lot of pressure from the fans and press but continued backing the player. So, for once, the selectors and the coaching panel deserve praise from the fans and the media.