Nayeem Hasan made his Test debut four years ago in Chattogram against the West Indies and became the youngest bowler to pick up a five-wicket haul on debut. He looked like an extremely promising off-spinner who was very tall and someone who could 'turn' the ball, something that not many Bangladeshi spinners can do. Rated by the then spin bowling coach Daniel Vettori highly, Nayeem showed in his short career that he could 'make things happen' on unresponsive pitches too.
But before the ongoing first Test between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, Nayeem had played only seven Test matches in four years. He found it hard to make the best XI because of the presence of three established spin bowlers in the team - Shakib Al Hasan, Taijul Islam and Mehidy Hasan Miraz. Miraz, a fellow off-spinner, had the upper hand because of his superior batting ability.
Nayeem might not have been in the squad if Miraz was not injured. But returning to Test cricket after more than a year, Nayeem got Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne out leg-before in his first over itself. The hometown lad got another in the first session of the match as he broke a dangerous partnership between Oshada Fernando and Kusal Mendis by dismissing the former.
The off-spinner went for a few runs though on day one as Angelo Mathews hit him for a few boundaries. But on the second day, he returned a much better bowler - more accurate and disciplined. He got four wickets on the second day and registered his best figures in Tests (six for 105).
But don't forget Shakib Al Hasan's contribution to those wickets. The all-rounder, playing his first Test in five months, recovered from Covid-19 just a day before the beginning of the match and didn't get much time to practice. He was also brought in quite late into the attack by Mominul Haque.
But there was a belief in the dressing room, as Rangana Herath said, that Shakib has the ability to deliver the goods even without practice. And he did.
Since his introduction into the attack on day one, Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews went into a shell as he along with Taijul Islam was giving nothing away. There was absolutely no help from the pitch but the duo was persistent, not erring in line and length. In the second session of day one, Sri Lanka could score only 20 off 20 overs when Shakib and Taijul bowled in tandem. The pressure eventually contributed to Kusal Mendis' wicket in the third session and later Dhananjaya de Silva's.
Back to day two and Shakib was once again hardly giving anything away. Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal found it hard to score off him and it put a lot of pressure, especially on Chandimal. Nayeem took advantage of that and forced him to play a false shot - a reverse-sweep - and trapped him in front.
Then one brought two for the tall off-spinner as he knocked over Niroshan Dickwella. Shakib was seen frequently speaking to Nayeem and giving him advice.
In the afternoon session of day two, Shakib himself took the responsibility and removed Ramesh Mendis and Lasith Embuldeniya in consecutive deliveries to turn the game on its head.
Vishwa Fernando and Mathews frustrated Bangladesh for a long time with their defensive stroke-play before the former was retired hurt. Asitha Fernando survived 26 balls before it was Nayeem who cleaned him up to record his third five-for.
His sixth victim was Mathews, unfortunately on 199, who holed out to square-leg while attempting a slog-sweep and most fittingly the catch was taken by Shakib Al Hasan. Nine out of ten wickets were taken by the comeback men - Shakib and Nayeem. The other wicket was taken by Taijul and interestingly Nayeem had a contribution in that wicket as he took the catch at midwicket.
Shakib deserves a special mention for maintaining impeccable line and length which was evident from his bowling figures of 39-12-60-3. He was seen trying a new variation - the leg-spinner - occasionally in this match.