Bangladesh v NZ, 2nd Test, Chittagong, 3rd day October 28, 2004

Bangladesh batsmen must keep their heads down at home

Andrew McLean questions the approach of the Bangladesh batsmen at test level



Mohammad Ashraful: rash shot set the tone for the day © Getty Images

The chant of "Rafique, Rafique" that rang around the ground in the dying overs of the third day in many ways summed up the state of Bangladesh cricket. While the fans that stayed to the bitter end called for another six from their hero, the real task at hand for Mohammad Rafique and his batting partner Tapash Baisya was to survive through to stumps to ensure that the second Test went to a fourth day.

Amid the carnage of wickets that is the unfortunate norm for the Bangladesh cricket team, it seems that a flurry of big shots is enough to keep the fans coming back. It actually runs much deeper than this. As one journalist told me, "We don't have much, and our cricket team is something to be proud of."

With such strong support from the public and the local media, the dismal efforts on the field are even harder to accept. While it is difficult to be overly critical of a side in which four of the top five are aged 20 or younger, some of the play today demanded a closer dissection.

After losing Rajin Saleh to the last ball of the second day, a solid start was imperative. Why then did the new batsman, Mohammad Ashraful, charge down the track to the second ball of the day and donate another wicket to Paul Wiseman? It is hard to imagine a more rash shot being played and, regrettably, it set the tone for the day.

Sure, Ashraful is only 20 - but this is his 21st Test match, making him the third-most experienced player in the team. As a top-order batman as well, he needed to set an example by putting a high price on his wicket.

Bangladesh needed to be positive with the pitch turning, but they struggled with the mental aspects of the game, in particular picking the right ball to score from and the correct shot to play.

Javed Omar showed good application in making 58 in the first innings, and then the lower order showed what was possible. Although his scores for the day were a modest 15 and 20, Mushfiqur Rahman played good supporting hands for Rafique in the first innings and Khaled Mashud in the second. Rafique had little difficulty in working out the right ball to dispatch Wiseman (twice) and Daniel Vettori over the boundary in the first innings.

In the second innings, there were plenty of starts - but starts are not enough at this level. Mashud's 51 was a particularly sound effort. He kept the good ball out and played low-risk shots, usually the sweep, when looking for the fence. Rafique was also able to combine defence and attack second time round on his way to 30 not out.

The New Zealand bowling was testing, particularly from Vettori, and many wickets were earned. However, it is those that were gifted which Bangladesh must seek to eliminate. Across the two innings each of Saleh, Ashraful, Mashud, Rafique, Rahman, Omar, Nafis Iqbal and Alok Kapali fell to loose shots.

Bangladesh are a side littered with talent and skill, but the challenge for their players is to find a way of putting the tremendous pressures of playing at home out of their minds when they are at the crease. Only then will they be able to develop the mental fortitude so urgently needed if they are to do themselves justice.

Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show (www.cricketclub.co.nz).