Bangladesh find their feet on the field again
Mehedi Hasan was a livewire in the field on the first day of the Colombo Test, but the hot weather can take the sting out of even the fittest player. Mehedi had taken one catch and two wickets, and had been bowling long and short spells. So when Dinesh Chandimal top-edged a sweep off Taijul Islam before the tea break, not many expected Mehedi, fielding at fine leg, to go for the catch.
He did, running in a fair distance, and nearly pulled it off. As he got up with the ball in his fingertips, Chandimal waited for the umpires to check the catch. Unfortunately for Bangladesh, the replays were inconclusive in showing whether he had collected it cleanly and with the soft signal given as not out, the catch wasn't allowed.
Mehedi and the rest of the Bangladesh team kept up their spirits after that opportunity, however, and in his next over, Taijul removed Dhananjaya de Silva to end a dangerous fifth-wicket stand on 66.
It was that kind of day for the visitors, the start of a landmark 100th Test that had them looking sharp on the field. They bowled well to take seven Sri Lanka wickets, took their catches and created plenty of wicket-taking opportunities, forcing the home side to use referrals repeatedly. Sri Lanka were successful on three occasions while Bangladesh lost one review, an optimistic one to a ball that was certainly going down the leg side.
Given the landmark, it was natural that all the attention at the P Sara Oval would be on the visiting side. A pre-match felicitation ceremony was backed up by a great start with the ball and once Mehedi had pouched Dimuth Karunaratne, the confidence of the fielders, having been battered in New Zealand and India, was boosted to an extent.
There were plenty of theories about what had caused such an upturn in confidence and the body language in the group. Perhaps it was seeing Mehedi take the catch at gully, or the sight of Mustafizur Rahman beating the bat consistently in his first spell.
Or maybe it was the occasion of Bangladesh's 100th Test, a milestone which means a lot to the players, many of whom were teenagers in 2000. Some are too young to remember the inaugural Test but on the eve of the Colombo match, Mushfiqur Rahim said that seeing Bangladesh play their first Test meant that he could dream of playing one himself one day.
Perhaps it was also their position in the Test series. Leading into the series, Bangladesh had spoken of how they could challenge Sri Lanka, only to suffer a 259-run loss in Galle. Apart from the criticism that follows a defeat, there was also the added drama surrounding Mahmudullah's exclusion on Monday and Liton Das' last-minute withdrawal due to injury. Team sports, however, are all about dealing with last-minute pull-outs and form issues and unexpectedly big losses.
The meeting with BCB president Nazmul Hassan could also have motivated them. The discussions at the meeting are unknown but, stick or carrot, it is never a great feeling to meet the headmaster before an exam.
It was hard to deny the role that the senior players Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur and Shakib Al Hasan played in this. Tamim had stated on the eve of the match the need for someone to make heavy contributions at the start. In the Dhaka Test against England, which Bangladesh won by 108 runs to level the series, Tamim's first-day century had inspired positivity.
In Colombo on the first day, Tamim, Shakib and Mushfiqur kept the team positive in the field. Shakib and Mushfiqur made direct contributions in terms of wickets, even as vice-captain Tamim was always at the bowler's ear, either cheering him on, telling him off or sometimes just sharing a joke. Tamim plays much the same role in his interactions with the younger players. He sets the mood in the dressing-room and helps them out with small off-field issues, and they listen to him intently.
Whatever the reason, Mushfiqur and his side have to ensure it is repeated over the next four days, and in every game they play going forward. Bangladesh reacted well to the situation on the first day in Colombo but they need to keep it up. They know well what the other side of this upturn looks like.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84