Bangladesh bank on inexperienced Robiul
Robiul Islam has a lot riding on him as Bangladesh head into a busy home season from next week. He is the leader of a pace attack that he believes is growing in confidence, despite a shortage of wickets, experience and personnel. The other medium-pacers in the squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka are Rubel Hossain and Al-Amin Hossain. Beyond them, Bangladesh's options are thin.
Mashrafe Mortaza has just played a first-class game after more than a year and is still readjusting to the longer format. He has not played a Test in more than four years. Nazmul Hossain has only just returned to competitive cricket after recovering from a knee injury, while 18-year old Taskin Ahmed is recovering from a knee injury. Abul Hasan's back injury will take a long time to heal.
With so few to choose from for Bangladesh, the current Test attack is carrying tremendous responsibility. Their stats aren't great, though. Al-Amin has played only one Test and is being considered an understudy; Rubel has 26 wickets in 18 matches at 78 apiece. While Rubel's recent ODI form might improve his confidence, Robiul will be the seamer Mushfiqur Rahim will bank on.
It isn't often that a Bangladesh pace bowler wins the confidence of his captain but Robiul's performance in Zimbabwe last April did that. He was the Man of the Series for taking 15 wickets at 19.53 apiece, including two five-wicket hauls. He has been injured twice since then, though, and missed the second Test against New Zealand in October.
Robiul recently recovered from a quadriceps injury and played domestic cricket regularly. He took seven wickets in two Bangladesh Cricket League matches, bowling conservatively in patches while also going at full tilt.
"The best part of the preparation was playing the two four-day matches," Robiul said. "I did a lot of experimentation with line and length, as well as the number of overs I bowled. I also varied my pace and made sure I attacked or defended by cutting out the runs."
Pitches in Bangladesh are deterrent for fast bowling, but Robiul is not using that excuse. He is banking on bowling accurately and squeezing out batsmen. "I always take it as a challenge because this is the best condition I will get at home," he said. "I bowled well in Zimbabwe partly because of the seam movement but I do the same thing at home. My approach is to cut out the runs in any condition, bowl economically. So the overall approach won't change much as I bowl in different conditions. Here at home, I have to be very patient to pick up wickets, and never lose hope."
Robiul has worked closely with Bangladesh coach Shane Jurgensen, who sometimes stands at the boundary edge when the bowler returns to the outfield after an over. Jurgensen's hands-on approach and no-nonsense attitude has been appreciated by most of the Bangladesh players. "Today Shane was helping out with my bowling action finishing well," Robiul said. "He is someone who treats everyone equally. I have never seen a coach like him. He doesn't have favourites in the team."
Having done a lot of work off the field and in domestic cricket, Robiul is raring to go. Of his seven Tests, he has had one bad game at Lord's in 2010 and two good matches in Harare last year. In between he has played sporadically, but has always been a fast bowler who isn't forgotten by a Bangladesh captain.
Robiul is one shy of picking up his 200th first-class wicket. He wants to make it a special moment and has targeted taking one off the first ball he delivers in the Test.
"I have had to make adjustments when bowling in home conditions, but if I or Rubel can give the team an early breakthrough or two, it will make life a lot easier," he said. "Both of us tried this during the BCL matches for South Zone, trying the hardest in the first spell of a game. I wouldn't mind taking a wicket off the first ball."
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here