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Cricket news - Taijul Islam - The old-school alumnus

Labelled a Test specialist, Taijul hopes to smash the stereotype and the ODI series in Sri Lanka is his best bet.

In the modern age, there are plenty of cricketers who love being in the spotlight. Some are darlings of the advertising world, seen constantly on television ads or huge billboards. There are others who prefer to be measured by the number of followers they have on social media. And then there are some - like this 27-year-old from Natore - who like to fly under the radar, be it on the field or off it.

Taijul Islam, the Bangladesh left-arm spinner, has been part of the national setup for nearly five years but he doesn't have any air about him. He's an introvert who swears by traditional values, and a lot of it has to do with his upbringing and the fact that he had to face certain realities of life very early.

The only son among three children, Taijul began contributing to his family by playing cricket from a very young age. An adept player of tape tennis-ball cricket, he was a much sought-after kid in his locality at the age of 10. And at 11, he donated his entire earnings from his first Man of the Match award to his family - just to make sure they ate a good meal.

With responsibility thrust upon him from a very young age, Taijul's determination to excel in cricket also grew stronger, as did his love for the game. "I have seen a lot of things in life and probably that helped me to grow as a human being and a cricketer," Taijul recalls in a chat with Cricbuzz. "I was the only son of my family so I had lots of responsibility for my family. My two sisters got married when I was growing. Since my childhood, I learned many things from my own experience.

"I started playing from my home town Natore. I started liking it (cricket) since I was a child. I used to play in our area with small clubs. We didn't have many clubs in our local area. So I started playing in my local area with tennis ball. And I used to watch Bangladesh's matches (on TV). There weren't too many televisions (in our area) but I used to follow Bangladesh's matches somehow, despite not having a TV at my home."

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While Taijul was looking for an opportunity, his big break came one fine morning when his uncle arrived at his doorsteps upon hearing a megaphone announcement on the streets - that there will be a camp for Under-13 cricketers in Natore, a small city of Rajshahi. It didn't take long for Taijul to showcase his talent and he went on to represent Bangladesh in the national Under-13 team, and later representing different age-level teams.

"I played Rajshahi league and before that I played national championship in Natore and we had Mohiuddin sir [who was my first coach] there in Rajshahi. He died a few days back. Almost every day it took me around one hour and twenty minutes to go to Rajshahi for practice and that's how it all began under the guidance of Shamim sir, Mohiuddin sir and Siraj sir (the age-group coaches at Rajshahi)."

The left-arm spinner received his first call up to the National Cricket League (the first-class cricket tournament in Bangladesh) for Rajshahi in 2011 during his Under-19 days when he was playing for Orient Sporting Club in division cricket. There has been no looking back since then as he continued to excel in the longer formats and eventually became an integral part of the Test setup.

"I came to Dhaka maybe in 2008 or 2009 for the second division. I played second division for two years. Mirpur Boys Club, where I already played for two years, and then I got into Orient to play first division. I played for two years and they became champions in one season. And I was supposed to play Premier League with Orient but there were some financial issues so I did not continue with them. And again I played first division that year with Sheikh Jamal. Then I met with Sujon bhai [Khaled Mahmud] who was Jamal's coach then. That's how I met with him and was a teenager then. Sujon bhai guided me," he says.

Taijul came into prominence when he picked 55 wickets in the National Cricket League despite being overlooked in the opening two seasons. With the help of Mahmud, Taijul got acquainted with Khaled Mashud. It was Pilot bhai, as Mashud is fondly called, who gave him exposure in the Bangladesh Premier League where Taijul proved his mettle in his the debut season.

"I came into BPL when there were three matches left and I played for Rajshahi (which was coached by Mashud). Then I went to Singapore to played Under-23. It was when I took 55 wickets (in the domestic league), and there were a few five-six wicket hauls, that people started noticing me, and the performance in BPL also got me attention."

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Despite doing well in the shorter formats in the domestic circuit in Bangladesh, Taijul isn't yet a regular member of the national team's limited-overs setups. But Taijul isn't losing any sleep over that, or over being labelled as a Test specialist. All it matters to him is that he can contribute consistently with both bat and ball, more so with the bat to prove that he is limited-overs worthy.

"Batting is very vital ... if you can add 30-40 runs with the bat (lower down the order) then selectors would consider you. In the shorter formats of cricket, batting is very important. If you know batting it's better for you," says Taijul.

"When I went to Australia in 2015 to play the World Cup, (the fans there) took signature from Test cricketers. It means they give different priority to the Test cricketers. I like these things a lot. They prioritise Test cricket. But in our country, people follow ODIs and T20s. I have played ODIs and want to play more," he adds.

Taijul is keen to make his presence felt during the upcoming limited-overs series against Sri Lanka, having been picked in the squad in place of Shakib al Hasan. But he's also aware that it won't be a walk of the park for him in the shorter formats. However, in his quest to cement a place in the limited-overs sides, Taijul is banking on his Test skills to get the job done, as well as the truckload of knowledge shared with him by Shakib with whom he has forged a good bowling partnership.

"When a batsman wants to get set he needs to play shots. He can't get set without playing big shots. And if a bowler bowls good lines and lengths, it becomes hard for the batsman to play big shots. When you can have the same level of good bowling from both ends, the scenario becomes different. The batsman then picks one bowler to charge and that's when the wickets fall.

"Shakib bhai is a very experienced bowler. He understands the batsmen's mindset. If he understands that (while other bowlers are bowling) he tells us how we should bowl. So if we can inherit these qualities from him, this will be so much helpful for us. If you remember against Australia - the Test that we won here - I was bowling over the wicket while they had built up the last wicket partnership. Then Shakib bhai came and told me to come from around the wicket because there was a possibility for an LBW, and it worked. I got the wicket. So when Shakib bhai is around, we get such help a lot. He knows these things.

"As I have already passed five years in national cricket, I am learning these tricks slowly and that time I was less experienced now I am slowly improving and I need to know this from Shakib and others," says Taijul, who again emphasises on the importance of Test-match bowling and how that helps in limited-overs cricket. "When you give flight, a batsman get delusional - whether he needs to hit or block. If he goes to hit and the bowler is clever enough, he understands with the batsman's look. So observation is very important here, especially in Test cricket (which in turn helps you succeed in shorter formats)."

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For Taijul, his life is all about cricket and family. When it comes to the former, he makes sure he leaves no stone unturned to keep himself up to speed with the requirements of the game. And when he's not playing the game, his focus is on spending as much time as possible with his family.

With these two loves keeping him occupied, he doesn't have any time "for that" (social media). "How can I spend time on that? I practice every day and after that I spend time with my family. I am happy with the faces around me."

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