Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Chittagong, 2nd day February 5, 2014

Bangladesh's mental brick wall

Bowling to left-handers has long been a struggle for Bangladesh's spinners. Bowling to Kumar Sangakkara has become a nightmare

Tamim Iqbal, stand-in captain for the day, watched from deep fine-leg as Shakib Al Hasan bowled the last ball of the 146th over. All nine outfielders were just a few meters inside the rope as Kumar Sangakkara tapped the ball past point to retain the strike and move to 285. There was every reason for Tamim to pull all the fielders in, but on that instance, like many times in the past, Bangladesh were possessed. It has happened several times when playing against Sri Lanka since 2007.

Sangakkara has the most runs and hundreds in Tests against Bangladesh, and the force of such run-scoring has turned him into a mental brick wall for the bowlers. In a way, it has altered the way Bangladesh's bowlers think of bowling at left-handers, and how left-arm spinners and orthodox offspinners have been selected and used over the years.

Bangladesh's left-arm spinners have always had a general weakness against left-handed batsmen. Out of Shakib's 121 Test wickets, for instance, only 23 are left-handers. Of Mohammad Rafique's 100 wickets, only 31 were left-handers.

What has never worked for them is the angle. They have never quite mastered the technique of finding the gap between bat and pad, using turn to beat the bat, or bowling a widish line to bring the slips and the off-side field into play.

The same was true for Shakib over the last two days, as he bowled either short or on a middle-stump line. Often, he failed to string dot balls together, something the Bangladesh bowlers had been planning to do for two weeks. Sangakkara struck him for five sixes and eight boundaries as he completely dominated the team's best bowler, scoring 100 runs off him in just 121 balls.

He also took full advantage of Bangladesh's selection, easily milking Mahmudullah and Nasir Hossain. Sohag Gazi has taken Sangakkara's wicket twice in four innings previously but this time he had no chance, giving away 96 off 150 balls. Sangakkara avoided using the sweep, giving Gazi even less of a chance to beat the bat.

Gazi is by far Bangladesh's best offspinner and has so far been successful against left-handers. But he has taken just three wickets in this series at an average of 103.66, bowling flatter and more often than not slipping down the leg side after building up some pressure.

What has also become a negative trend in the Bangladesh mindset is the theory of only employing offspinners when a left-handed batsman comes to the crease, and using them heavily until two right-handers come in. Even on the second morning, Tamim used Gazi, Mahmudullah and Nasir instead of Shakib in the first hour. Nasir took the wicket of Kithuruwan Vithanage but Shakib must be good enough to take on left-handers. This theory, which in itself shows a lack of confidence in a bowler's quality, has caused Shakib to pick up fewer left-handers' wickets.

Sangakkara used every angle and option possible in the field to milk the Bangladesh spinners, and by the team he approached his triple-century, there was nothing left for the bowlers to try but watch the inevitable.

While he moved from 286 to 302 in the most wonderful style, the fielders remained aimless, some of them glancing towards the pavilion building. The bowlers were at their wits' end, and when Nasir took his wicket, he raised his arms, screamed in delight, and kept at it for 20 seconds. Getting Sangakkara out early has always been tantamount to thinking Bangladesh have a big advantage over against Sri Lanka, only for him to quash their confidence the next time.

Nasir's reaction showed precisely how ecstatic and relieved Bangladesh have felt each time they have been able to get him out, no matter how much he's scored.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here

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