Bangladesh's Mushfiqur conundrum
When the BCB president Nazmul Hassan says they are not looking for a new Test captain for the one-off Test against India next month, it is as good as the last word. Mushfiqur Rahim can consider himself lucky to have survived the axe.
Certainly Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal are strong contenders for the position given their experience, particularly in the case of Shakib who was the captain for two years till August 2011. In the current scenario, however, time (more precisely the lack of it) between Bangladesh's last Test against Pakistan that ended on May 9 and their next one, starting on June 10, is helping Mushfiqur stay on the job. Hassan said there was very little time to replace Mushfiqur and that he couldn't find someone who could be made the new Test captain.
Mushfiqur was sacked as the ODI and T20 captain in September 2014 after winning only two games out of four Tests, 13 ODIs and seven T20s in nine months, after two years of leading the side with mostly success in the ODIs. After replacing him, Mashrafe Mortaza changed the face of Bangladesh's limited overs side with a 5-0 win over Zimbabwe in November last year, a World Cup quarterfinal finish earlier this year and the 3-0 and 1-0 wins over Pakistan last month.
In the new split-captaincy era, Mushfiqur led Bangladesh to a 3-0 Test series win over Zimbabwe in October-November last year, but it is the 1-0 loss to Pakistan last month that has raised questions about his position as the captain. His biggest mistake was letting Pakistan off the hook, twice.
Mushfiqur had inherited a team with a level of confidence that was unprecedented in Bangladesh cricket. He could have kept the pressure on their newly defanged visitors by picking a stronger bowling attack in the first Test. Since Shakib had already said he would need time to bowl in long spells and the attack would include a debutant pace bowler, the selection of Shuvagata Hom ahead of Jubair Hossain looked defensive.
Mushfiqur said ahead of the Test match that they were looking to take 20 wickets to win the game, but he didn't mention how long it would take them. In the case of the Khulna Test, the first ten wickets took them 168.4 overs.
More baffling were the three decisions ahead of the second Test, and the explanations that came with them. On a Mirpur wicket that had some grass on it, Bangladesh picked only two frontline pace bowlers in Mohammad Shahid and Shahadat Hossain. If the intention was to use the early help, they should have also added Abul Hasan to the mix. Instead Mushfiqur decided to field first with the two pace bowlers. Shahadat's injury in the first over meant that Shahid was a one-man attack bowling 41 overs in the match.
At the end of the Test match, Mushfiqur said the reason behind leaving grass on the wicket and letting pace bowlers have more help was due to criticism of the Khulna pitch for being too slow and not offering a result.
Mushfiqur dismissed the two-man pace attack theory by saying considered the military medium of Soumya Sarkar as the third seam option. Soumya was given just one over in the previous Test while having bowled just seven overs in ten ODIs. The last time he had bowled more than ten overs in a first-class game was in February 2014.
As a wicketkeeper and batsman, too, Mushfiqur had a dreadful time in the two Tests. It started with a soft dismissal in the first innings of the first Test when he bunted a catch to cover after making 32. He went on to drop two straightforward catches within the first 35 overs of Pakistan's reply. While dropping the second catch, he sprained his right ring finger and left the field for the rest of the innings. Bangladesh had almost saved the Test when he came out to bat on the fifth day and made a five-ball duck.
Mushfiqur said he would struggle with the finger injury in the second Test. Bangladesh had the choice of handing the wicketkeeping duties to Litton Das who was in the 14-man squad but Mushfiqur, as one of those who decides the playing XI, wanted to continue as wicketkeeper, batsman and captain. During the two Pakistan innings, there were instances when he was visibly uncomfortable after gathering the ball. He made just 12 and 0 in the game, ending it as his fourth worst two-match Test series in terms of runs scored.
The BCB president also said Mushfiqur will be asked, in the near future, to choose between captaincy and wicketkeeping in the longer version. If he gives up the gloves even temporarily, the selectors do not have a ready replacement. Anamul Haque doesn't yet have the wicketkeeping or batting credentials in Test cricket. Mohammad Mithun was unconvincing last year in the ODIs and T20s. Among the uncapped wicketkeepers, the selectors have picked Litton in the squad and he is one for the future, but certainly not someone considered good enough to replace Mushfiqur behind the stumps or else he would have in the second Test against Pakistan.
The BCB, however, could think of replacing him as captain for the two Tests against South Africa in July. Perhaps that is long enough time to chew over the candidates. Shakib remains the team's best cricketer and should be the first choice because of the inspiration he evoked for the most of his two-year reign. Tamim is Mushfiqur's current deputy and can lay claim to the job too, but he has said he needs to learn more about the job.
The question remains whether it's too soon to relieve Mushfiqur of the Test captaincy. Former Bangladesh captain Gazi Ashraf Hossain has recently said blaming Mushfiqur was unfair given the bowling attack he has had to operate with. The other argument that Ashraf put forth was that the heavy dependency on the coach in the Bangladesh team's setup. It is hard to ignore the fact that Chandika Hathurusingha has a major say in cricketing matters. But it is hard to imagine Mushfiqur not having a say either.
When BCB split the captaincy, there were fears that Mashrafe, Mushfiqur, Shakib and Tamim form an unwieldy leadership group. When part of the split was successful in the limited-overs format, there was hope that Mashrafe's success would rub off on Mushfiqur. But as the two Tests against Pakistan have shown, he has to go through a change in mindset and then hope his teammates can be influenced by it. A Bangladesh team that is moving ahead now needs a Test captain who reflects the team's new mentality. Mashrafe has shown he has it. Mushfiqur hasn't.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84