Middle-order collapses baffle Siddons
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Two middle-order collapses in Dambulla have handed Bangladesh an all-too-common early exit from a big tournament. Just when they manage to sort one piece of the puzzle, another one pops out of place. Shakib Al Hasan, Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim were their regular firefighters, rescuing them when top-order failures were the norm early this year, but with Tamim Iqbal now tapping into a rich vein of form and providing robust starts, the others are fumbling.
The perfect example is the second Test against India in Mirpur five months ago: the top three made seven runs between them in the first innings but a 96 from Mahmudullah and supporting hands from the rest of the middle order lifted them to 233. And in the second, when Tamim counterpunched with a majestic 151, the experienced batsmen lower down flopped and Bangladesh ended up losing their final seven wickets for 22 runs.
At the Asia Cup, the trend of blazing opening stands followed by a limp performance carried on from the England tour. Against India they raced to 81 for 1 in 13 overs, but barely managed to double their score. Today, Tamim started out with three boundaries off the first three deliveries and Bangladesh found themselves at a virtually identical 77 for 1 before sinking to 168 for 8.
"Tamim keeps showing the world how good he is, I think it's a real positive," Jamie Siddons, the Bangladesh coach, said after the match. "Unfortunately, our middle order which has been saving us for the last six months making a lot of runs has stopped making runs, I don't know why yet."
One of their big worries is the continuing inability of the most experienced player, Mohammad Ashraful, to make runs. Tamim and Junaid Siddique had weathered the early threat of Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, but the initiative was squandered when Ashraful pottered around for a painful 29-ball 9, ending with a botched reverse-sweep.
"I was just speaking to Ashraful, I think he had tears in his eyes, letting the team down, he knows that and he's really upset and really frustrated with his shot today," Siddons said. "You know but it keeps happening."
There were other aspects of Bangladesh's performance that he was at a loss to explain, like the bunch of wickets that have fallen to part-time spinners, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Virender Sehwag. "It is a frustrating thing, we play spin all the time at home, it's something we pride ourselves on," he said. "Our batsmen since I've been there have struggled when it spins, whether it is part-time or world-class, we struggled in England when [Graeme] Swann spun the ball, [Daniel] Vettori always troubles us when it's spinning."
Bangladesh entered the tournament after a two-Test tour of England, and haven't played one-dayers in three months. Siddons felt his side hadn't adjusted to the radically different conditions in Dambulla soon enough. "It's difficult, it was swinging in England and we were focusing on their fast bowling over there and really leaving the ball a lot, not really focused on spin," he said. "Fast bowlers haven't worried us here, we've handled fast bowling without a problem in both games, but part-time spinners shouldn't get you out."
The non-stop cricket Bangladesh have played has also had an impact, according to Siddons. "The other sides have had a good rest, had their senior players have rested and we've been going flat out for eight months including our domestic cricket," he said. "I think we're a bit tired, a bit flat, a bit jaded, and we've been focusing on Test cricket, we'll regroup."
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo