Can Bangladesh overcome batting woes?
Friday, December 9
Start time 0930 (0330 GMT)
It's been 11 years since Bangladesh made their Test debut and 71 games later their status as a Test-playing nation continues to divide opinion. There have been those who've been dismissive of their ability, others have been more generous and patient about their progress. There have been some highs, though very rare. They challenged Pakistan in Multan and Australia in Fatullah, and beat a severely-depleted, strike-ridden West Indies in 2009, but 61 defeats, and most of them by a comprehensive margin - 34 by an innings - is a bitter, embarrassing fact to digest.
Their fast bowlers aren't express but their spinners have been quite effective, and remain their biggest strength. It's in the batting that the team has been found most wanting. While their batsmen have promised much and even earned some success in limited-overs cricket, and won a few sessions in Tests, batting time, preserving their wickets and proving their durability are areas in which they've failed consistently.
They've, once again, found the going difficult in recent weeks, struggling against Pakistan's slow bowlers on pitches keeping low and taking turn, and face an even more testing challenge in the five-day format. If the results in the recently-concluded ODI series are anything to go by, Bangladesh don't stand much of a chance but how hard they make Pakistan's bowlers work for their wickets will be the focus.
Bangladesh: LDLLL (most recent first)
In the spotlight...
Mohammad Ashraful is back in the Bangladesh squad. Again. Once their best batsman, his form underwent a serious slump and he was relegated to the fringes of the national team. He was dropped for the Tests against West Indies in the series before this, and Stuart Law, the Bangladesh coach, said he'd have to perform in domestic cricket to warrant selection. In his last three innings on the domestic circuit, Ashraful scored two half-centuries and a ton to win his place back. Some say his call-up is a backward step; that it's time for other youngsters to take Bangladesh's batting forward. He's still only 27, and has plenty to offer. How desperate and determined he is to ensure his selection this time is one for some time to come remains to be seen.
One of the best slow bowlers in the world currently, Saeed Ajmal, who is on top of the ODI bowling rankings, has had plenty of success in Tests as well. He's well acclimatised with the tracks in the Middle East, where Pakistan play England early next year, and can be potentially lethal with his variations on even slower pitches in Bangladesh. At 34, recognition has taken time to come to Ajmal but in Pakistan's post-spot-fixing revival, Ajmal has been a key performer. The Bangladesh batsmen didn't have too many answers against him in the ODIs and it doesn't bode well for the Tests either.
Bangladesh have left out opener Imrul Kayes and Raqibul Hasan from their Test squad. Mahmudullah, who missed the Test series against West Indies due to dengue fever, makes his way back and so does Ashraful. Bangladesh have also selected batsman Nazimuddin, and medium-pacer Robiul Islam in the squad. Allrounder Naeem Islam has been withdrawn from the Bangladesh squad for the first Test after failing to recover from sinusitis and flu-like symptoms.
Bangladesh (possible) 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Shahriar Nafees, 3 Mohammad Ashraful, 4 Nazimuddin, 5 Shakib Al Hasan, 6 Mushfiqur Rahim (capt & wk), 7 Mahumudullah, 8 Nasir Hossain, 9 Elias Sunny, 10 Rubel Hossain, 11 Shahadat Hossain.
Pakistan are without Junaid Khan and should they choose to go in with two seamers, Aizaz Cheema could open the bowling with Umar Gul.
Pakistan (possible) 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Abdur Rehman, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, Aizaz Cheema.
Pitch and conditions
It rained in Chittagong during the Test against West Indies but the weather forecast is encouraging for this game, with plenty of sun for the next few days. The pitch is usually slow with adequate assistance for spinners, calling for graft and patience from batsmen which is something Bangladesh have rarely shown.
Stats and trivia
- Both of Pakistan's wins in Bangladesh, in 2002 which was the last time they played a bilateral series in this country, were innings victories. Taufeeq Umar, Younis Khan and Mohammad Ashraful were part of that series.
- Younis Khan is 60 away from reaching 6000 runs in Tests.
"It's actually time for the batsmen to show something because our bowling and fielding was not bad in the series. Bangladesh always bounce back strongly when they fell in dire state."
"If they stick to their goals, they will give us tough competition. It will not be easy for us since Bangladesh are playing in home conditions."
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at ESPNcricinfo