Bangladesh understood that they have the personnel to hold steady in seamer-friendly conditions over the course of a rain-affected day in Wellington.
The batsmen who established that fact couldn’t have gone about their business in more contrasting fashion, though. Tamim Iqbal was carving boundaries at will and throwing bowlers off their rhythm. So dominant was he that at one point all but four runs of the total were made by him; and by then he was past fifty. Mominul Haque was subtler; so much that the runs he scored were an afterthought. Only, before anyone knew it, he was on 48 not out, his team was 119 for 2 and it took a persistent downpour to finally drag him off his beloved batting crease.
As eye-catching as the strokeplay was, it was the 120-140 kph northerly winds that held centre stage, upsetting the bails, swindling the umpires’ hats and even dissuading the cameramen off the Southern stand, which was basically scaffolding. For long periods in the middle session, the cricket was broadcast in the old way, from behind the batsman at one end. It only seemed to enhance Mominul’s appeal as he showcased stout defence and good judgment outside off.
Popular opinion was that Bangladesh would be caught off guard playing their first Test overseas in over two years. It gained steam after Kane Williamson invited them to bat on a pitch that retained flecks of green. Imrul Kayes didn’t help matters when he top-edged a hook and was caught at long leg in the fourth over. It was a particularly irksome dismissal, especially for an opener, in conditions where the short ball posed a lot less threat than the full one.
New Zealand, however, could not build on that wicket and Trent Boult looking off-colour might have contributed to that. He had missed New Zealand’s last Test in November and seemed not entirely ready to bowl with the wind in his back. He was struck for six fours by Tamim in 17 deliveries, most of them through point off the cut shot, indicating the length was too short. In the end, Williamson was pushed to the place where he had to take his premier fast bowler off after three overs.
Boult’s second spell, after lunch, was better. He picked up Tamim with his second ball, pitching it on an in-between length, seaming in off the pitch and catching the batsman on the move. New Zealand had already used up one of their reviews when allrounder Colin de Grandhomme had an lbw struck down in the 11th over but Williamson tried again and this time umpire Marais Erasmus’ on-field call of not out was overruled.
Tim Southee was uniformly good despite having to bowl into the wind. He conceded a mere six runs in 5.3 overs before the first rain break at 11.50 am, working Kayes over without breaking a sweat. The plan was simple. Feed the batsman with fullish deliveries around the off stump and then surprise him with the bouncer.
There was abundant cloud cover in the morning but the breeze was so strong that there was precious little chance of swing. The grass on the pitch, however, lent itself to helping the ball move after pitching and Southee used to his advantage, occasionally even using cross-seamers to surprise batsmen. Mominul’s outside edge was taken by one in the eighth over, and were it not for his use of soft hands, he may well have been caught in the slips.
Having weathered that period out, Mominul opened up with pretty drives through mid-off and confident cuts up on his toes, both Boult and Southee were struck for three boundaries in an over and New Zealand may well have enjoyed the rain coming when it did to get off the field so they could rethink their strategy.
Bangladesh handed a couple of new caps, Taskin Ahmed and his seam-bowling team-mate Subashis Roy joined Kamrul Islam Rabbi, who began his Test career last October, in the XI. The fourth prong of this inexperienced attack was also inexperienced, although Mehedi Hasan has already had grand success at this level with his offspin, bowling Bangladesh to their first Test victory over England a few months ago.
Ross Taylor had recovered from eye surgery and retained his place at No. 4 in the New Zealand line-up. He has 16 hundreds, one shy of his mentor and national record-holder, the late Martin Crowe.