More bouncers await stunned Bangladesh
Mahmudullah's battle with Tino Best and his bouncers in the closing stages of the Mirpur Test was a forewarning to Bangladesh to expect more of the same from the West Indies fast bowlers in Khulna. Mahmudullah was hit thrice by Best's short deliveries and backed away a few times towards the end of the Bangladesh second innings, but he did hit back by hooking Best for a six.
It is a shot many in the Bangladesh line-up would take heart from. What would also help them is a simple piece of advice from a batting great in the opposition camp - keep your eyes on the ball, something that has often been ignored by Bangladeshi batsman who always struggle against fast, short-pitched bowling.
"There aren't many batsmen in world cricket who play the short ball very well, but at the same time batsmen work hard to overcome these problems," Mushfiqur Rahim, the Bangladesh captain, said. "We do the same things too. [Mahmudullah] Riyad bhai played very well in the first Test, and the guts he showed at the time was what we needed. It has inspired us. They won't be bowling bouncers all the time, but we have to make sure we see off the tough period."
Junaid Siddique struggled against short deliveries in both innings in Mirpur while back-of-a-length deliveries and the extra bounce also accounted for Shahriar Nafees. Tamim Iqbal got out cutting a ball that rose at him in the second innings, but he is the best Bangladesh player of the short delivery alongside Shakib Al Hasan, who pulls it without much risk.
Former West Indies captain Richie Richardson, the team's manager on this tour and one who only used the helmet at the fag end of a career in which playing short bowling came as second nature, said that the key was to focus on the ball and let the natural instincts take over.
"My belief was that if you keep your eyes on the ball, your natural reflexes will allow your head to evade," Richardson told ESPNcricinfo. "That was my approach really, I was fearless. I didn't think I would get hurt. I always backed myself 100 per cent."
That is not how Bangladeshi batsmen have approached anything directed at their body in the past decade. They resort to ducking, weaving and getting hit. Mahmudullah's struggles brought to mind how Makhaya Ntini smacked Akram Khan on the chest, or when Khaled Mahmud's inadequacy was laid bare by the England bowlers, or the time Al Sahariar held out a periscope only to have the ball hit the splice and pop to slip in South Africa. Both former captains were seen off in those Tests while Shahriar only lasted another year in international cricket.
A similar fate won't be in store for Mahmudullah yet, but he and many others in the line-up have to get the hang of encountering bouncers, as Mushfiqur pointed out. "It is one thing to do well in one innings or one match but to do it consistently is very important and the real challenge. It is not impossible, but very difficult," Mushfiqur said.
Top-order batsmen need to play short-pitched bowling regularly, and with authority. However, what has happened in the past in Bangladesh is continuing in the present. If the the docile pitches in domestic cricket don't change, these problems will continue well into the future.
Neither of Siddique or Nafees have played genuine fast bowling regularly in the domestic circuit in the last two years and that is why their struggles have come as soon as they faced the type again at the international stage.
Flat pitches, tailor-made for batsmen and spinners, are rife in the country with very few fast bowlers given an extended spell even in a one-day game. In first-class cricket, the obsession with left-arm spinners has not only hampered the growth of legspin and offspin, it has also reduced fast bowlers to shine-removers and over-fillers.
Such matters have to be addressed urgently but it is likely that the Bangladesh batsman will be left to his own devices in international cricket to figure out a way.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Bangladesh