A ‘bit’ of a U-turn

Cricket

TRIBUNAL DESK: After another spin-less day at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong yesterday when Sri Lanka ended on a dominant 504 for three, there can be little doubt that Bangladesh have abandoned their strategy of attacking opponents at home with spin. That approach had served them well in their last two home Test series against England in 2016 and Australia last year, with Bangladesh coming out with creditable 1-1 drawn series on both occasions.

Before the ODI tri-series kicked off the new year for the Tigers, technical director Khaled Mahmud — temporarily in charge of the team in the absence of a full-time coach — told us that they will be aggressive in trying to get a 2-0 result in the Tests against Sri Lanka, even if it meant that they risk a loss. But after the first three days of the Test match had nothing for the spinners with some rare turn and variable bounce, Mahmud turned up for the press conference and was singing a different and altogether less confident tune.

“It is tough to say,” Mahmud told reporters when asked whether the home side wanted to play on such a wicket. “I don’t give excuses or complain. It is a batting-friendly wicket. I think we wanted a bit of turn which would have helped us. Nevertheless we batted well on this wicket. We have to play good cricket in the last two days.”

The ‘bit of turn’ comment reveals a lot about their mindset before the series. The Chittagong pitch historically has been one of two things — a raging turner or a flat road, and nothing much in between. Since 2010 until the match against England in October 2016, four out of eight matches at this venue were drawn and all the matches were high-scoring ones, with sides often batting untroubled even on the last day. The lowest total in a completed last innings during that period was Zimbabwe’s 261 all out in 2014, a year that also saw Kumar Sangakkara’s triple hundred in a drawn match.

“Not really,” was the reply.

Then skipper Mushfiqur Rahim’s insistence on a spinning wicket against England in 2016 was seen as a step forward into genuine competence. It is hard to say whether that strategy changed after the left-arm spin of Shakib Al Hasan was ruled out just before the Test series due to injury or the two comprehensive defeats against Sri Lanka in the tri-series prompted the think tank to go for plan B. What seems fairly certain, however, is that the ‘bit of turn’ that they asked for is a return to pre-2016 days when a draw was the best they could hope for.

“I can’t really say that we are in a position to push for a win or save the game. We obviously started with the target of winning the game. They still have seven wickets in hand with two set batsmen at the crease. Tomorrow morning will tell us who will take control,” he said.

Mahmud also expressed his disappointment over the Tigers’ bowling department and informed that the bowlers were unable to attack and contain from both ends.

Bangladesh’s fielding has been one of the biggest concerns throughout the Test match – Kusal Mendis’s 196 benefited from dropped chances in the slip cordon when the batsman was on four and 57 on the second day — and the need for a specialist slip fielder was raised yet again. Mendis was also reprieved before his century today, there was a missed run-out chance and a stumping missed off Dhananjaya de Silva.

“We have certainly worked on slip catching during the training camp. We only have two slip fielders in our setup but they work hard. We tried Sunzamul at third slip or gully. It is important to have specialist fielders in Tests which every team has. But we should definitely work more on them,” Mahmud added.

Immediately Mahmud was asked whether he expects any turn for the next two days.

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