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The enigma of Liton Das

There was a rather bizarre eight-ball sequence during the second T20I in Rajkot. With his side on 43 for no loss in the sixth over, a seemingly sound start, Liton Das rushed out at Yuzvendra Chahal, only to be 'stumped'. But the third umpire ruled him not out since wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant had collected the ball in front of the stumps. It was only by a few millimetres, but the law's the law.

In the next over, Rohit Sharma dropped a sitter from Das' top edge as he tried to sweep Washington Sundar from outside off stump. Then the batsman missed a Chahal wrong'un and, thinking the ball had slipped past Pant, took off for a run. It had not, and he was easily run out.

At no point in this sequence did Das need to slog at Chahal or Sundar. He didn't even have to push for that quick single that led to his dismissal. Especially considering that he had just survived two clear chances. He had smoked four boundaries already with Bangladesh making an unusually good start and forcing India to think of plans B and C. And yet…

Ill-timed slogs are not unexpected occurrences when it comes to Das. Of course, big-hitting is why he is picked in the XI, but it doesn't make sense to ignore his throwing the bat around when there is absolutely no reason to, like in Rajkot.

Das is regarded as one of the most talented of batsmen in Bangladesh. He showed ample evidence of his ability with the 94 not out he made against West Indies in the World Cup and the 121 against India in the Asia Cup final last year. No one, having seen those innings, would risk his long-term development for the sake of a few quick runs.

So why is it that he has not gone on to the next level?

The enigma of Liton Das
Liton Das punches one off the back foot as Rishabh Pant looks on © BCCI

As one member of Bangladesh's think tank said recently, Das has shots all around the wicket and sometimes three for one particular delivery. He backs himself to play those shots, but doesn't yet have a full grasp of when to play them, which is the cause of his soft dismissals.

Ever since he returned to the squad in March 2017, after an initial patch of inconsistency in 2015, Das hasn't had one series or tour in which he's played more than one big innings.

After he made that superb, unbeaten 94 against West Indies, Das made just 90 runs in the next four innings. He hasn't scored a fifty since then. His 121 against India in the Asia Cup final last year ensured he played the next series against Zimbabwe at home, but he had made just 60 runs in five innings before the final. In several other bilateral series, Das has made one big score, and nothing much to follow up.

Part of his baggage is the term "talented". When he had made his debut in 2015, any time a senior Bangladesh cricketer was asked about Das, they would laugh off thoughts of concern. They said he was in it for the long haul. As much as that helps a young cricketer breaking into the top tier, it can also be detrimental. It could make him think that he would always be an automatic choice, even if he doesn't put up a consistent run of scores.

Chandika Hathurusingha had said in an interview in 2015 that even with Das' tremendous domestic record, particularly in the Dhaka Premier League, it would take some doing to turn a club cricketer into an international batsman. When he was recalled into the squad in 2017, it was mainly due to his domestic runs, culminating in a superb 219 in a first-class match.

Since then he has been picked in every series but the Australia Tests at home, often based on one innings from the previous series or tour. It has never been his consistency that got him into the Bangladesh squad. Talent, yes. Potential, yes. Consistency, no.

On Sunday, Bangladesh have a chance at winning a T20I series against India for the first time and they'll definitely need Das' help for that. But which version of Liton Kumar Das will rock up? Of course, after 7 and 29, maybe that big innings is due.

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