Openers, pace bowlers worry Mushfiqur
Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim wants his opening batsmen and pace bowlers to make best use of the two longer-version matches later this month. The Bangladesh Cricket League (BCL), a first-class competition that starts next week, will provide the players match practice ahead of the Test series against Sri Lanka, even if they get just two games each.
It will be the players' first taste of first-class cricket since the second Test of the home series against New Zealand nearly three months ago and Mushfiqur believes the longer format is the best place for Bangladesh to improve in two vital areas. Bangladesh's second opener and fast bowlers were ordinary against New Zealand, and he is worried that the middle order and the spinners will come under pressure if the trend continues.
Two partnerships of 39 were the best that the openers managed against New Zealand. Tamim Iqbal scored two half-centuries but Anamul Haque had a poor outing, which brought his place under question. Mushfiqur isn't keen on dumping Anamul but wants to see the young opener, who is averaging just 10.66 in three Tests, return to form.
"There's nothing better than match practice," Mushfiqur said. "BCL has the four best teams, which means the level of cricket will be quite good, and competitive. We haven't played Test cricket for a long time, so it will definitely help us. In terms of batting, we want the top-order give us a good start.
"Sometimes the entire batting line-up doesn't click so it is important to give a good start; what if there's a lower-order collapse? Tamim and [Anamul Haque] Bijoy know what to do. Bijoy in fact did well recently in the Twenty20 tournament, so I am hopeful of them coming good together."
Tamim has led a lone battle at the top of the order since scoring 53 and 84 on debut against New Zealand in 2008. Starting with those two innings in Dunedin, he has made 18 out of 21 scores of 50 or more by Bangladesh's openers, which includes all four of their centuries.
Tamim - and Bangladesh's openers, consequently - hasn't scored a century since his 103 at Old Trafford in June 2010. The last fifty to come from an opener other than Tamim was Nazimuddin's 78 against Pakistan in December 2011, but he has faded away swiftly since. The last 100-plus opening partnership came more than three years ago when Tamim and Imrul Kayes did it twice against England in 2010. Kayes isn't on the scene anymore but has been among the runs in domestic cricket recently.
Fast bowling is Mushfiqur's other concern. While Robiul Islam gave a glimmer of hope with his Man-of-the-Series performance in Zimbabwe, the same can't be said about the other seamers. Robiul was injured in the New Zealand series, prompting the team management to rest him for the second Test and the subsequent limited-overs leg. Over the two Tests, Rubel Hossain and Al-Amin Hossain took just two wickets in 60 overs.
Rubel, however, bowled well in the ODIs against New Zealand, famously picking up a hat-trick in a six-wicket haul in the first game. Al-Amin too has been in the news with his bowling in Twenty20s. But they need to come good in Test cricket, where Rubel averages 78 per wicket and Al-Amin has bowled in just one innings.
"The pace bowlers too need some work," Mushfiqur said. "There will be enough opportunities to better these areas in the two matches, and the practice sessions afterwards.
"We will look at pace bowling closely. They have to take at least eight of the 20 wickets needed to win a Test match. Otherwise the opponent will be planning very well against spin. [Robiul Islam] Shiplu bowled well away from home, Rubel [Hossain] is doing well and we also have Al-Amin [Hossain]. Even if they don't take wickets and just bowl economically, that would really help us."
In 2013, the selectors tried seven pace bowlers, of whom Robiul topped the wicket charts. Abul Hasan is on an extended injury layoff while Shahadat Hossain and Sajedul Islam were risked for just one Test each. Curiously, they have kept aside Ziaur Rahman, a seam-bowling allrounder who took four wickets in his debut Test in Zimbabwe. He has been labelled a limited-overs player, but Ziaur has shown a knack of contributing when it matters. Although a knee injury has cut down his pace drastically, he can still do a holding job in home conditions, with the added advantage of batting in the lower order.
Bangladesh's other source of confidence, according to Mushfiqur, is their recent record against Sri Lanka. The drawn Galle Test was the first between the two sides, after 12 straight Sri Lankan wins. Bangladesh also beat them at home in an ODI for the first time, levelling the 3-match ODI series.
"There isn't any fear factor," Mushfiqur said. "They have a good record against us but we are confident after doing well in their conditions last year. We now believe that we can do well against them. Throughout last year we have played well, so this is a chance for us to start the New Year on a good note."
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here