Shakib injury linked to fast bowler scarcity
The absence of Shakib Al Hasan, who is about to have surgery on his right leg, will have a major impact on Bangladesh's bowling attack. His injury, because of the workload he shouldered over the last five years, is a signal to the Bangladesh Cricket Board that it needs to do something to improve the sluggish development of fast bowling in the country.
The responsibility Shakib had to bear enhanced his stature as a world-class allrounder, but it has compromised his fitness as well. He has bowled 505.4 Test overs more than anyone of his team-mates. Since Mohammad Rafique's retirement, Shakib has bowled 582.1 overs more than the next man Shahadat Hossain. In the Tests against West Indies earlier in the season, Shakib bowled 97 overs and his burden was eased only by the advent of offspinner Sohag Gazi, who was used for more overs.
Three months after he complained of pain in his right shin, Shakib was diagnosed with exertional compartment syndrome. BCB's chief medical officer Dr Debashish Chowdhury said at the time that Shakib had suffered a fast bowler's injury. The comparison isn't too far-fetched, and it says a lot about the state of fast bowling in Bangladesh.
Starting from the top, the problems are endless. Mashrafe Mortaza, the country's most experienced pace bowler, has been restricted to limited-overs cricket due to a series of leg injuries while Rubel Hossain, who now has to lead the bowling attack in Sri Lanka, is far from the finished product. Rubel hasn't bowled enough to give confidence to the national selectors. Shahadat Hossain has had a few good days while Shafiul Islam and Nazmul Hossain are not automatic choices.
There hasn't been much effort to look for raw fast bowling talent at grassroots level either. According to former national coach Sarwar Imran, the success of previous nationwide pace hunts should have prompted the board into looking for more fast bowlers. But the concept hasn't been pushed, much to the dismay of Imran.
"There hasn't been any progress in the hunt for fast bowlers in Bangladesh," Imran, a leading fast bowling coach and mentor, said. "There haven't been any pace bowling hunts in the last 3-4 years. The pipeline is dry. There aren't many pace bowlers coming up, which is a shame because the success rate of the two district-level hunts was quite high."
"Mashrafe Mortaza came up from an Under-17 camp while Rubel Hossain and Shafiul Islam are both from nationwide hunts. But these programs have stopped and I really don't know how these pace bowlers will come up from the different districts."
There was only one pace bowler who featured among the top ten wicket-takers this season, while in the last five seasons there have been a smattering of new and old faces. The quality of pitches and the inclination to make bowling attacks spin-heavy has also played a part in the dearth of quicks.
Once a fast bowler is discovered, he is usually burdened with more overs than the rest of the attack. Mortaza suffered severe injuries after he was overused in New Zealand in 2001. "Mashrafe and Mohammad Sharif were injured due to over-bowling," Imran said. "We now have Taskin Ahmed, a young bowler who has a lot of years ahead of him. I hope he isn't over-bowled and exposed too soon. He has a lot of work left to do."
"The culture of the national team's training sessions has also contributed to Shakib's injury. I have observed that these days the senior players are not pushed too hard in training. I suspect that is one of the reasons for Shakib to have become weakened. Of course he is a very busy cricketer but the building blocks have to be in place. He used to be tough, but I think his regimen has changed."
Without Shakib, the selectors may be tempted to bring Mortaza or left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak into the Test side. The pair has been successful in ODIs, but Mashrafe has said in the recent past that he is not fit enough for five-day matches while Razzak played his last Test in August 2011. Bringing back a half-fit Mortaza or believing that Razzak may work again in Tests isn't a forward step. It would take a rethink of the BCB's development policy to plug the gap left by Shakib's absence.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent