December 23, 2008

Memo to Bangladesh

Four achievable performance indicators for Ashraful and Co. in their upcoming Test series against Sri Lanka

Ashraful could drop down the order to try and break out of his rut © AFP

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 He lives in London

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mohammad Sadman on December 25, 2008, 8:29 GMT

    I think Bangladesh is too young for test cricket. But they showed good signs of being a test playing nation in last 2 to 3 years. The main problem with Bangladesh cricket is with their team selections. How come they dont take a swing bowler like Syed Rasel. He has swing and can take wickets. The team is too young and no one is above 25. They dont take aged players in their team. Another problem is with their mindset. As you can see in the series against New Zeland, they blocked or left alone the deliveries all the way through, and hardly hit any fours. Why they are being so defensive? And I want to tell to Davesh_cricket_analyst not to undermine the talent of this team. And if you dont have knowledge about cricke then dont write rubbish, Shahriar Nafees is in ICL not IPL. Bangladesh should have this line up for test series against Srilanka. 1.Tamim 2.Mehrab 3.Saleh. 4.Rokibul 5.Shakib 6.Ashraful 7.Mushfiq 8.Mashrafee 9.Enamul 10.Shahdat 11.Alam. Anyone can comment about my comments.

  • rachit on December 25, 2008, 8:19 GMT

    Sprewell, It may be a slight degression from the issue of Bangladesh, but I would say that I have to disagree with 2 of your points. The 1st being that SL belong to the top 3 test teams and secondly of their having the best batting line up. I think SL only belongs in the top 3 if you consider Australia as not being there, for I do believe that India and South Africa are 2 of the top 3 teams now. Secondly, as far as batting lineups are concerned India , South Africa and Australia are better than SriLanka. Watching Bangladesh play is becoming boring unless they change their game quickly.

  • Davesh on December 24, 2008, 19:32 GMT

    Right_Arm_Fast probably b'desh needs you :). Well H'jan Singh averages pretty close to Ashraful. Isn't he ? He may not have scored a century but ask international bowlers and they ll tell you whose wicket they value more. Look at Ashraful's average - 7 in Australia, 6 in England and 9 in South Africa. Now even tailenders and i mean absolute tailenders can bat better than this guy. If this is talent to you, then probably you can do away with such talent and focus more on compact batsmen who can score runs and not merely play a pull or hook shot once in a while. I am sure, Ashraful is an ordinary batsman to everyone outside B'desh but the fact is B'desh is so low in performance that they try to make a hero out of nothing to keep themselves motivated. It's now coming to a stage where probably Bdesh players will themselves raise their hand and say they don't want to play anymore and be ridiculed.

  • Mradul on December 24, 2008, 17:36 GMT

    Sorry to interrupt you mate but if Mr. 'Sprewell' can atleast check some records on Statsguru and verify how many Overseas matches has SL team won with the Best Batting linup in the world since 2001.... I give you the stats... Played 32, Won 9; out of which 5 are against Bang + Zim + WI which are at 8,9 & 10 in the Test Ranking Table and also havn't won an overseas series since 2001 other than against Bang and Zim. I know they are good team and have Sanga & Jaya who are surely one of the best batsmen...But boasting of Best Batting Linup is a bit too much..... I guess they can boast of Best Spin bowling i the world for sure....

  • Davesh on December 24, 2008, 16:24 GMT

    I agree that time has come to reassess their test status. They can't beat even a Ranji side of India and it's due to the largesse of BCCI that they got the test status when there were far more deserving countries like Kenya and Ireland. Infact someone rightly mentioned few months back that they are the punching bags of BCCI sent all over the world to be humiliated and ridiculed. England has decided not to play cricket with Bangladesh after 2010, India anyway never plays with them and same is the case of West Indies. Sooner the test status of Bdesh is revoked the better it will be for cricket in general.

  • Abu on December 24, 2008, 14:17 GMT

    Davesh_cricket_analyst, with respect your comments do not do justice to your nickname. Ashraful may not be up to the mark, but there's no doubting his talent. You compare him to Shahriar Nafees and Harbhajan Singh. Nafees scored one fine hundred against Australia in 2006, since then all his hundreds have been in one day cricket and against weaker sides like Zimbabwe and Kenya. Nafees has a better average than Ash, but he's played far fewer tests. Ashraful has scored 4 test hundreds all against India and Sri Lanka (including one on debut against sri lanka) and a few 80s and 90s. He is renowned for being one of the more successful batsmen to have faced Murali. As for Bhaji, as far as I'm aware, he's never scored a test hundred...

  • Kristan on December 24, 2008, 0:36 GMT

    I rate Sri Lanka in the top 3 sides in Test cricket right now. A very good batting line up and a solid seam attack backed by the best spinners. Its going to be tough for the Banga's batting lineup to get that 250 mark, but they definately have to improve on this part of the game. India struggled against this spin attack recently so I find it hard to believe Banga will get close to 250 each innings. Realistically if they could get above 200 in each of the four innings they would be showing signs of improvement. Ashraful has been woeful, a series average greater than 30 would be a massive improvement. If each of the top order can average over 25 an innings this series that would be very promising. As for the bowling, its the seamers which need to show improvement. But the Sri Lankans have the best batting lineup in world cricket (although Australia & Sth Africa rate highly too). If the bowlers could limit the opposition to below 400 an innings that would be a very good effort.

  • Davesh on December 23, 2008, 23:37 GMT

    What really amazes me is when columnist talk of Ashraful's talent. If playing a hook shot or an inside out shot is the mark of talent then i would say even Harbhajan Singh is more talented than Ashraful. The plain fact is he is an ordinary batsman and not good enough to play international cricket. Tamim Iqbal looks like the most competent B'desh batsman to me and the other one was Shahreer Naffez whos playing IPL now. Bdesh spends 50% of their energy in finding a batting slot for Ashraful and don't care about other batsmen. Inspite of that he fails consistently and still says in press conferences that he's good enough to play IPL and Champions League. Well B'desh does have good players like Iqbal, Mushfiqur and Mehrab and if attention is given to them, then they can succeed. At the very least they will perform better than their captain.

  • Michael on December 23, 2008, 19:33 GMT

    Bangladesh require not only improved performances all round, but also far tighter mental discipline. Bangladeshi batsmen and supporters are far more attracted to an innings of say forty runs that contains six fours and a six, when the game situation demands a century with five fours. Far too much flash and dash. They cannot be successful at the Test level with an approach that belongs to the short game. Their fielding needs improvement. It is hard to understand why a side so young cannot be one of the best fielding sides in the world.Also, Ashraful is yet to develop into a passable captain. It would be good to see Bangladesh succeed. The talent is there. They must remember that Cricket is played in the head.

  • babai on December 23, 2008, 15:44 GMT

    Their batting is actually not even as good as Aussie tails.. Time has come to think abt their test status.. though the interest is there in the country.. I think the local administrators should b held responsible.. they should think abt the future of the bangladesh cricket .. continuously changing a budding side never going to help..

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