M. Serajul Islam
Bangladesh Team's Sri Lankan Coach Chandika Hataurasingha had given the Bangladesh fans reasons for optimism for the just-concluded Galle Test. He had declared the Bangladesh team as the favourite for the two-Test series. Captain Mushfiqur Rahim did not say so explicitly but gave the same impression in his meetings with the media.
The Galle Test was a historic landmark for the Bangladesh Team; it's 100th Test that ended like 75 others before this Test, in defeat. And like most of the defeats, this one too was by a huge margin of 259 runs, a massive defeat by any definition. It was again a sorry tale for the Bangladesh cricket fans that notwithstanding the expectations raised by the Coach and the Captain, had shown great improvements over the last few series that it had played.
The fans were dismayed because Bangladesh once again lost not so much on cricket playing abilities but on the inability of the Team both collectively and individually, to plan, think and play. In fact, the Bangladesh Team's tryst with embarrassing Test defeats one after another despite such huge improvements in its cricket playing abilities has been because it plays first and then plans and thinks.
On a tour to a country where pitches favour spin, the Bangladesh Team has included five fast bowlers. In the Galle Test, it played three fast bowlers where the Sri Lankans included three spinners. These bowlers, with the exception of Mustafizur Rahman and the two in the touring party, are apparently passengers in the Team. Why Taijul Islam, an excellent left arm spinner, was not included in the Galle Test is a question that the Captain and management must address together with the question why five pacers have been included in the Team. There must be something strange happening in selecting the Team, for sure.
The case of Mustafizur Rahman deserves some discussion. He was injured and had been recuperating. It was obvious that he was not fully fit for the Galle Test as his body language suggested. That reflected in his bowling. His dangerous cutters were innocuous and ineffective and belied the aura built around him by the Bangladesh media. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) may consider seriously whether to play him only in the limited overs where he is devastating. His physique seems not to be suited for Tests. He looks frail.
Soumyo Sarker played two outstanding innings. But both were redundant for his Team because of his inability to think and plan and the inability of the captain and the management to encourage him to do so. He went out to bat on 66 not out and the team 133/2 on the third morning chasing SL's first innings total of 494. The easy pitch and the way he and Tamim had dominated in the final session on second evening suggested that Bangladesh could have come closer to the Sri Lankan total or even overtaken it.
Instead, he forgot it was a new day. He needed to settle before playing his strokes. He was out within minutes of the start of play on day three to a soft dismissal trying to hit a six! Again, on the fourth afternoon, chasing a target of 454, he had scored a brilliant, quick fire 50 and more importantly, he did so by totally dominating the Sri Lankan bowling. At end of play on the 4th day, it did not appear that the target of 456 set by Sri Lanka was a fantasy to chase. Yet, on the final morning with 395 runs to win in 98 overs, he made the same mistake as on the 3rd day. He went to the crease unaware that he was batting on a new day and needed time to settle before playing his strokes.
Captain Musfiqur Rahim said during the closing ceremony that is very relevant to review the Test; that the pitch was as easy on the final day as it was on day one. It was incredible that he had forgotten to tell his batsmen on the final day about it. Tamim, Mominul, Shakib and Mahmudullah all fell in hurry and flurry because they went out to bat without any thinking or planning. They did not know whether to play attacking cricket to win or to defend and draw.
Mushfiq was correct about the pitch where the batsmen with the proper application could have played at ease for long period and drawn the game. But unfortunately, the Bangladesh batsmen brilliant as they are in attacking are extremely poor in defending. Added to that at least two batsmen, Mominul and Mahmudullah have lost their ability to judge the flight of the ball. Mominul was out in identical fashion in both the innings when he went to the back foot to balls he should have easily defended on the front foot. He failed to do so because of his failure to judge the flight of balls.
Mahmudullah no longer plays as an all-rounder. It is time therefore for the Team's management to ask itself whether he is good enough to get a place in the team as a specialist batsman. Two fifties in the recent Tests he has played in New Zealand and India that ended with a first ball duck in the crucial second innings of the Galle Test should now encourage the Team's management to rest him. If Imrul Kayes is in the Team for the Second Test in Colombo starting on the 15th, Mahmudullah should be dropped. Kayes should open and Soumyo made to take Mahmudullah's spot in the batting line up.
There was something amiss with the Bangladesh Team in Galle going by the body language of its players. Shakib was lethargic at best all throughout that reflected in both his bowling and batting. He gave more than a hundred runs in each innings picking 3 wickets, two that came as gifts. Tamim took a brilliantly judged catch but that apart, his body language too was lethargic. Some degree of lethargy was evident in almost all the Bangladesh players. And throughout the Galle Test, it appeared like the players were playing to retain their places in the Team and not for the team.
Bangladesh's sudden attacks of diarrhea while batting have become permanent. After Soumyo's soft dismissal on the final day when many were thinking Bangladesh would make a strong bid to win, five wickets fell in a flurry and defeat became inevitable. After Tamim's wicket, the instruction to the batsmen should have been to play for a draw. It had rained on the third and the fourth afternoons and therefore had the team decided to play for a draw; the weather could have been helpful toward Bangladesh's cause.
Dean Jones, the TV commentator for the Galle Test, said something very pertinent to the Bangladesh Team. He was surprised how it could lose so badly given the fact it has shown so much improvement in recent times. At various times while batting in the two innings, it showed equal, if not greater, potential than the Sri Lankan side.
It is past time for the BCB to go back to the drawing board and think and plan about the Team's Test playing abilities. It made a wise decision to take the wicket-keeping gloves from Mushfiq. Liton Das is Test wicket-keeping class, which Mushfiq never was. With wicket-keeping responsibility now off, he no doubt will improve further and perhaps even become world class.
The Team's bowling, despite its recent improvements in Tests over-all, is still below class with Shakib's bowling abilities waning. The BCB must seriously focus on the Team's bowling. It may be useful to look at the spin department rather than focus on fast bowling. It has been a serious mistake in taking five pacers on the trip and playing three in the Galle Test. It could make amends for the Colombo Test by dropping one pacer and including Taijul.
The Bangladesh team needs a new coach. The present coach does not understand the psychology of the players. Calling them favourites for the current series was a mistake that was unnecessary and immature. Notwithstanding all the negatives that came out in Galle, it is very much possible that the Bangladesh Team could still win the next Test at Colombo because the fact about the Bangladesh Team is that it is now potentially capable of doing so. What is needed is to make the players and the Team to first plan, and then think before the players go to play in the field. The question is who will bell the cat and is the BCB up to it?
The writer is a former Ambassador.