Dormant Khulna pitch a bowler's headache
After Bangladesh's batting performance in the first innings of the Dhaka Test, the demand from the batsmen had been to do more of the same. At the same time the assumption was that the home side is going to be comfortable on featherbeds, especially after they had collapsed during the fifth-day chase. It has not been said by anyone concerned that this is the sort of track the Bangladesh camp had desired, but the state of the pitch hasn't changed much between Dhaka and Khulna. Even the state of the match at the end of the third day is similar. The Bangladesh bowlers, much less experienced than West Indies', have also toiled as much as, if not more than, in Dhaka. But they have had little in return, and this raises questions on the cricketing value of such surfaces.
The pitch in Khulna has been generally slower than the one in Dhaka despite its newness, having been relaid only a year ago. Hardly any rough has developed even after 263 overs of use in this game. It is expected to remain the same on the fourth day but may take some turn on the final day. The batsmen can be assured that this pitch is not going to break up or make strokeplay any trickier.
The Sheikh Abu Naser Stadium was a backup venue for the 2011 World Cup but since it wasn't used, the tracks were relaid after the tournament. Only three longer-version matches have been played at this ground this year including one between West Indies' Sagicor High Performance Centre side and the BCB Academy side, which was played on this very pitch. Not enough cricket has been played here to give a conclusive judgment on the nature of the pitch, but it is clear for Rubel Hossain that this is a much more batting-friendly surface than the one he played on last time. So on this pitch, an attack without an express fast bowler has very little options and it is down to the bowlers to stay patient.
The conditions as a result, and rightly so, have actually made Rubel's performance look better, although he has just two wickets in 28 overs, including that of Marlon Samuels. Rubel applied the type of control Bangladeshi pace bowlers can only dream of in a Test. His adjustments against different batsmen were remarkable given that he has returned to cricket after a long injury lay-off. He said that there were moments of despair, but his effort was attuned to the team's needs.
"When a bowler keeps trying on this sort of pitch and nothing happens, the edges don't carry or the batsmen are beaten but are not dismissed, you do feel hopeless," Rubel told ESPNcricinfo. "Being a pace bowler, I would want some support for the bowlers but we have to take decisions keeping the team in mind."
The plan in these surfaces, he said, was to keep changing the pace and be clever with the use of the bouncer. "You have to keep trying different things. Raju [Abul Hasan] tried the slower balls. I tried the bouncer even though there was not much bounce in the pitch. It is useful because the batsmen don't expect it to bounce and if you can put in enough effort, they will be surprised," he said.
The spinners too found it tough. Shakib Al Hasan and Sohag Gazi put in a lot of overs with very little success, and managed just two wickets between them in 87 overs. Shakib is adjusting back to Tests after playing a lot of limited-overs cricket this year, while Sohag, who picked up the wicket of Darren Bravo today, is still a newcomer in international cricket.
Pitches are an area of concern in Bangladesh cricket; the players point that out as well. With so many other concerns going around, they are mostly ignored and batting-friendly pitches are regarded as the "highest quality" surfaces. Better tracks, however, will not only give something to the bowlers, they will also help the Bangladesh batsmen to hone their techniques for sterner tests when they travel abroad.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Bangladesh