September 6, 2012

Where have Bangladesh's leggies and offies gone?

Bangladesh's traditional surfeit of slow left-armers has had a negative effect on other kinds of spin bowling in the country

That there are just two specialist legspinners in the 105-man list of BCB-contracted first-class cricketers doesn't offend anyone in Bangladesh cricket. That the grand total stands at five, including two who are slowly drifting into batting allrounder roles and another who is considered a batsman despite his 148 first-class wickets, is hardly greeted with outrage.

Chittagong division has both specialist leggies - Noor Hossain and Raihanuddin Arafat. Sabbir Rahman (Rajshahi) and Tanveer Haider (Rangpur) are the ones who began their careers as legspinners but are now mostly picked for their batting. Alok Kapali is the most successful legspinner in the country but he never really established himself as a top-level bowler, despite having a Test hat-trick to his name.

It is a similarly dire outlook in terms of specialist offspinners, who are under threat of being driven out of business by the selectors' proclivity for promoting batsmen who can provide offspin support. For the record, there are just two specialist offspinners - Sohag Gazi and Yasin Arafat - as against 21 recognised left-arm spinners, 15 of whom play as specialists in the eight regional teams.

The numbers are a fair reflection of the general approach of decision-makers in Dhaka club cricket, which is the main source of income for cricketers in the country. Since the four-tiered structure (Premier League and first, second and third divisions) has a ruthless league format of one-day matches, officials are not willing to invest in bowling options they consider risky. There is a lot of love for "safe cricket", and left-arm spin, which provides thrift if not wickets, fits the bill. Three, and even four, left-armers are often picked in playing XIs in the Dhaka First Division League, the only competition outside the Dhaka Premier League that is played on natural wickets.

This lack of imagination among officials, perceptible over the last decade, has had an effect all along the food chain. The low demand for leggies and offies means that feeders such as academies and age-group teams across the country have no option but to nurture left-arm spinners, and so the supply of left-arm spinners outweighs those of the other varieties.

"One has to understand that the young generation follows whoever is playing at the top level," Habibul Bashar, now a national selector, tells ESPNcricinfo. "Imran Khan inspired so many kids to become fast bowlers in Pakistan. It is quite the same here; kids want to bowl left-arm spin because this is all they have in front of them.

"There is a tradition of left-arm spinners in Bangladesh, and it is our forte. But I would have been happier if there were six or seven legspinners, at least, along with the large number of left-armers. We have told age-group coaches to find legspinners, keep an eye on them and let us know," he said.

The former Bangladesh captain said he used to be frustrated by the one-dimensional nature of bowling attacks at his disposal at every level. "I felt a little helpless when I had to put together a bowling combination. There were no offspinners, only left-arm spin."

He thinks the lack has also to do with the fact that it takes years to master legspin. "Legspin is a difficult art, compared to left-arm spin or offspin. I don't know if there's a mentality thing, where people don't want to work hard.

"A leg-spinner has a lot of advantages. He can get into the team quite easily, because I think winning games is easier with a good legspinner. But I'm not sure whether the new generation is interested in bowling legspin."

Just as one-dimensional, left-arm-heavy bowling is hurting budding bowlers, it is also having an adverse effect on batsmen who are picked in the representative sides. They now take years to properly read offspin and legspin

The deficit has been hard on the existing legspinners. Hossain has been worn thin, shunted between representative teams like the Under-19s (in the recent World Cup) or Bangladesh A. The constant shifting about has not afforded him the opportunity to bowl lots of overs in matches in the NCL. The new contracts system, under which players will be pinned to a team for a year, could help in theory, but there is no guarantee that Hossain won't be pulled out at short notice to play for the A team.

Arafat's stop-start career too says a lot about attitudes towards legspin. After taking 11 wickets in four games in his debut season (2003-04), he played two first-class games in 2005-06, one in 2006-07, three each in 2008-09 and 2009-10, two in 2010-11, and bowled just nine overs in the 2011-12 season. He was the token legspinner before Hossain, and toured South Africa with the National Cricket Academy in 2008.

There is also a thin pack of offspinners - most of them batsmen who are part-time spinners than specialists. Gazi, the Barisal youngster, has played consistently for the last two seasons, mainly due to the bowling combination used by his team, as well as his ability with the bat (BCB lists him as an allrounder). "I really think that without the Barisal team, I wouldn't get this far. They gave me enough opportunities to bowl and use as many variations as I please. I got the wickets too, which helped the team," he said.

The BCB contracts list is a fair reflection of the current status of offspin in the country - a far cry from the 1990s, when the skill was much used.

Just as one-dimensional, left-arm-heavy bowling is hurting budding bowlers, it is also having an adverse effect on batsmen who are picked in the representative sides. Even those playing international cricket now take years to properly read offspin and legspin, and with the proliferation of left-hand batsmen in Bangladesh, at a time when the stocks of offspin are rising in several international teams, these problems are set to remain for the next few years.

The Bangladesh selectors' quest for legspinners or offspinners will be futile unless there is a change in the attitudes of those who are in charge of competitive cricket in the country. Not too many seem keen on the need for balancing the three formats in the domestic calendar. Introducing two-day or three-day tournaments in age-group cricket would seem to be the most viable option at this stage.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Bangladesh

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sami on September 9, 2012, 11:11 GMT

    Those who are criticizing Bangladesh need to be careful and aware of the fact that Bangladesh does actually have a few star players. We maybe a weak team but we most certainly can produce good players.

  • Dummy4 on September 8, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    @puroniks...lool Who is the Number 1 all-rounder in Tests and ODIs mate? Yes Bangladesh will be playing Cricket forever now considering right after India, Bangladesh is next on the market in terms of supporters so you should really just accept the reality mate lol The fact is that times are changing considering that many of the top older players of the other teams are retiring now whereas the Bangladesh team as a whole are the youngest plus the most experienced compared to the youngsters of the other teams so really, based on these evidence alone, Bangladesh will become a very good team. Maybe each of the Under-19 teams should play Bangladesh so we know where results will lead common sense really. Boycott and Chappell may have said that but their words have no impact on Bangladesh Cricket good luck and all the best! :)))

  • Dummy4 on September 8, 2012, 16:38 GMT

    @purokins didn't the asia cup prove ian chapel wrong the num1 allrounder plays in our team and you say u never have any decent cricket first watch cricket then talk about it

  • Sami on September 8, 2012, 11:21 GMT

    Its true in what the article is actually saying but the fact is that there are Bangladeshi players who specialize in certain fields lurking around somewhere but Bangladesh have not managed to spot them yet. The guy in the photo Noor Hossain is a very handy leg spinner and the Bangladesh management should look after him because I saw him play for Bangladesh Under-19 against England Under-19 a few years back in England for a full tour and he's a big turner of the ball and pretty good. Definitely will consider using him one day for Bangladesh. Our spin department is fine because we still have very good spinners in reserves like Enamul Haque jr. Fast bowling is where the focus should be for Bangladesh and its certainly not impossible its just that the Bangladesh management are not working or trying hard enough on that field.

  • TAPASH on September 8, 2012, 9:44 GMT

    There is extremly necessary of quality fast bowlers in bangladesh team and BCB should understand this matter. there is a lack of variation and no line length in fast bowling. BCB should hire special, high profile and experinced fast bowling coach from WESTINDIES, SOUTH AFRICA and AUSTRALIA.

  • Andrew on September 7, 2012, 12:39 GMT

    @A.S Fahim - well that is an encouraging development. Hopefully the curators there will keep it up. It will almost definately lead to better cricket in Bangladesh. The secret to why Oz has been the best cricket nation in history, is because of the variety of pitches played in during the Shield. The variety can change form month to month as well. Can you imagine what would happen if Bangladesh were to play a test against Oz at the WACA ground? (It won't happen in the forseeable future as it would almost be criminal). Young Bangladeash (seasoned ones who have a chance of Test selection too), need to know what it is like having a ball sear past your nose. Or when to leave a ball on middle stump, because it will clear the stumps by a foot or two. Sameness of attacks & pitches, teach the batsmen little. I see planty of talent with Bangladesh, & managed right, they could be the best team in Asia in 10yrs time, emphasis on COULD.

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2012, 10:42 GMT

    the problem is not spinners, bangladesh's issue is with getting seamers with genuine pace who can swing or seam the ball with decent accuracy

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2012, 8:41 GMT

    @meety......last year bcb creat s green pitch at we need more pitch to develop batsmen skilled and create genuine pacer

  • Underground on September 7, 2012, 5:32 GMT

    One may suspect that progression of spin - leg and off from both arms - is natural in the subcontinental countries. Starting with India, whose fast bowlers started off well in the 1940's and then disappeared to give way to spinners until (discounting Kapil Dev, who could be played for his batting as well) Zaheer and Pathan showed up, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are going through the same phase. Vaas played for long but was incisive for not very long. Same for Malinga and his injury-prone body. Pakistan have swayed possibly because of Fazal Mahmood and his legendary match-winning spell against the best post-war English side of the 20th century at the Oval in 1954. Maybe the tradition of hero-worship in these countries does have more than ordinary effect in shaping cricketers.

  • Andrew on September 7, 2012, 0:41 GMT

    @Ahmed Hussain - I always like your comments. There is currently a big drop in standard after Mashrafe in terms of quality pacers. I have said a few times, I think the Kazi Islam ( a left pacer) needs to be looked at - it gives variety. Whilstever Bangladesh have the slow pitches that they currently play Tests & FC matches on, spin will always heavily dominate.

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