Memo to Bangladesh
What will Bangladesh have to achieve against Sri Lanka to convince supporters and critics alike that progress is being made? We present a four-point list.
Establish a decent score
Even a casual observer will note that Bangladesh's biggest problem is their inability to bat for long periods and establish a solid foundation for their innings. That Bangladesh's batsmen have the talent is in no doubt; it is the application of that talent in the international arena that is cause for concern.
In their last 17 Test innings Bangladesh have scored in excess of 200 runs on just five occasions - an average of less than a third of the time. During this period they have made 18.40 runs per wicket. It is probably unrealistic to expect them to score 300, as most other Tests sides do. However, an eminently more achievable objective is to ensure that 250 runs are scored in each innings.
Bangladesh did manage this in the second Test against South Africa in Centurion and also came pretty close to doing so twice against New Zealand in Chittagong. The ability to do this consistently is surely a sign of progress and will inevitably lead to the sort of favourable headlines that were generated following New Zealand's great escape in that last game.
Make Tests last the full five days
To be fair, this leads on from the first point above. But Bangladesh do need to ensure that they can bat a full five days. Since May 2007 they have managed to reach the fifth day just twice (that is less than 15% of the time). The most recent occasion was in October this year.
Against New Zealand in Chittagong the openers got out early and the rest of the top order had similarly been dismissed cheaply. As the baby-faced wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim and the rookie Mehrab Hossain Jnr strode to the crease, a familiar batting collapse seemed inevitable. Yet the most extraordinary thing happened: Mushfiqur and Mehrab set about building a partnership. It was turgid and often not pretty; nonetheless the two relatively inexperienced batsmen consolidated their positions and helped Bangladesh to a valuable 245. Mehrab missed out on what would have been a well-deserved century (he was out for 83), but the solid fifties he and Mushfiqur made ensured that Bangladesh closed the day with the upper hand, and ultimately helped take the match into a fifth day.
Solve the Ashraful riddle
The captain, Mohammad Ashraful, is still Bangladesh's most likely match-winner, and while his form has improved marginally in limited-overs cricket, his Test performances have been disappointing. Ashraful is a recidivist when it comes to getting out to injudicious shots. To date he has played 46 Tests and yet averages just a shade above 23. His last six Test innings would make a tailender blush: 21, 1, 13, 1, 0 and 0 are shoddy returns. His last Test hundred came in July 2007.
Ashraful's return to first-class cricket for Dhaka has not resulted in the sort of performances he would have hoped for either. He must get that right against Sri Lanka. He could start by dropping down the order to number 5 or 6. This would allow the rather more stoic Mushfiqur or the promising Mehrab to move up to the vacant slot at No. 4.
|Bangladesh are unlikely to secure that elusive Test victory against a major side in this series. But they must start to show tangible signs of improvement|
A couple of half centuries out of a potential four innings against Sri Lanka would be palpable evidence that the young captain is finally developing his game.
A holistic bowling approach
Bangladesh's bowling is in much better shape than their batting, but there remains significant room for improvement. The vice-captain, Mashrafe bin Mortaza, leads the attack with fire in his belly and is often Bangladesh's most potent threat with the ball. However, his statistics are not quite as good as they should be; he has played 33 Tests, and while he has been impressive at times, he has yet to take a five-wicket haul. In contrast, Shahadat Hossain has taken two five-fors in the last 18 months, but he can be inconsistent and wayward. Both men (together with young swing bowler Mahbubul Alam) need to bowl fewer short balls and concentrate on the corridor of uncertainty.
Bangladesh's young left-arm spinner Shakib al Hasan has been very impressive recently, having taken three five-wicket hauls in his last six Test innings. His spin-bowling partner in the absence of Abdur Razzak is likely to be Enamul Haque Jnr. Both spinners must quickly assert their authority against Sri Lanka and ensure that if they are not taking wickets, they are at least tying an end down.
Ultimately the bowling attack has been too reliant on individual performances (most recently Shakib's heroics). For Bangladesh to be competitive, the wickets column for every bowler needs to get bigger.
Bangladesh are unlikely to secure that elusive Test victory against a major side in this series. But they must start to show tangible signs of improvement, if not in defiance of their critics then at least for the sake of their supporters.
Abu Choudhury is a regular contributor to Banglacricket.com. He lives in London