Robiul's axing highlights defensive approach
On many occasions, the short-term in a five-day game is given more priority. Presented with a situation where his bowling attack hemorrhaged 730 runs in the Mirpur Test, the Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim cut down on attacking options in the Chittagong game, thereby underselling his team's ability.
Even on the opening day, it was apparent that wickets were going to be hard to come by. Al-Amin Hossain was the only pace bowler in the attack, the first time Bangladesh were playing a Test match with a single front-line seamer. Spinners Abdur Razzak and Mahmudullah were included in place of Robiul Islam and Rubel Hossain to keep the runs down, probably string together dot balls and hope the batsmen make mistakes.
It was strange to see Robiul serve drinks on a ground where he has taken 16 wickets at an average of 20.87. He was the Player of the Series in Zimbabwe three Tests ago and in the Mirpur Test before this he had created enough opportunities to remain an automatic choice.
By only including Al-Amin, Mushfiqur has confused the status quo among the pace bowlers. Here is an understudy, without the full physical and technical build-up, being asked to bowl long spells and do a holding job, when he should have had the support of another hardworking pace bowler at the other end.
The explanation, through Mahmudullah's press conference, was that the lack of swing or bounce in the Chittagong wicket encouraged that decision. But Al-Amin, to his credit, did what was expected of him. He made few attempts to drag Kumar Sangakkara out of his driving area, but swerved some deliveries away from the left-handers. He had the openers on a leash by varying his length quite regularly.
Nevertheless, it was quite difficult to understand why Robiul wasn't picked as the team's leading seamer when his record and form says enough. But a less experienced, more vulnerable pace bowler was chosen ahead of him, because the team management wanted Al-Amin's control rather than Robiul's wicket-taking ability.
When Razzak walked off with a strained left hamstring after just four overs, Mushfiqur was a bowler short against the might of Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. They duly put on a sizable stand of 178. Mahmudullah, as expected, was insipid. He bowled short to Sangakkara and got punished, but later accounted for Jayawardene against the run of play. To be fair to a middle-order batsman who bowls spin, it is quite harsh to expect him to do a specialist spinner's job despite taking 12 wickets in his last game, a first-class Bangladesh Cricket League match.
He said the new ball spun more than the older one, but he didn't hold an opinion on the pitch just yet.
"It is a little tough to make predictions about this wicket," Mahmudullah said. "We have to see what happens tomorrow. We hope that there will be spin. This morning it spun for a while with the new ball while it didn't during the middle period and then later with the new ball. We have to work hard tomorrow so we have to start well. If we can take two early wickets, we can capitalise on that."
On the second day, Bangladesh will depend on Shakib Al Hasan's dipping flight and ability to extract turn. Sohag Gazi too will have to bowl a less flat trajectory.
Mahmudullah said it was the team's tactic to bowl to cut out runs. "It is not defensive, just a different tactic. They are good players of spin, so it becomes necessary to contain the runs. Then you wait for them to make a mistake.
"There were times when we did miss the length. Sometimes when the ball doesn't turn, spinners get frustrated. We did bowl a few bad balls but when we regrouped, the discussion was to contain the runs. We came back well at the end of the day," he said.
Sri Lanka's vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal said they too were surprised that Bangladesh picked only one seamer. But unlike Angelo Mathews, Mushfiqur doesn't boast of fast bowlers topping the speed guns and moving the ball in barren conditions, or spinners who can regularly break partnerships. There could be an attempt to keep Robiul's axing within the same mindset but it was far too defensive to drop your best fast bowler.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here