Time for Bangladesh to deliver in Tests
When there are calls to protect the primacy of Test cricket, its newest participant often slips somewhere between the eloquent paragraphs.
Bangladesh have entered a phase where some cricketers are subtly, through their actions, sending out a message that Twenty20s are their choice of format. When they face Sri Lanka in Galle tomorrow, it will be their first Test this year, almost three months after their last, and it comes on the back of the Bangladesh Premier League.
The initiation of the BPL, the emblematic domestic T20 competition, has brought on the advent of "choice" to the Bangladeshi cricketer. Harsh though it may be, playing for Bangladesh is no longer the only option for a cricketer with above-average skills. The BPL offers enough money to a player and, judging by the Bangladesh Cricket Board's (BCB) announcement of enhanced match fees for Tests, ODIs and T20s, sticking to the safety of the BPL has become an obvious option for many cricketers. It has happened in India, West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Given how the importance of the BPL has grown among players and the BCB, Bangladesh could be the next in line to accommodate T20s in every aspect of its cricket.
At times like this, the buck stops with the captain. Bangladesh is led by Mushfiqur Rahim, a strong character with a penchant for an occasional emotional outburst. But he has come of age as a wicketkeeper and a batsman, working harder than anyone in the team and gaining respect as a leader. He is a sort of individual who needs to do well to be in the right frame of mind while leading the side. In the last 18 months, Mushfiqur has seldom failed with the bat or gloves, giving him the emotional stability to captain the team. And he can lead the team's mindset, helping them define their individual Test cricket aspirations.
Bangladesh, however, have not done well in Test cricket, not even under the matured Mushfiqur. They pushed West Indies for two-and-a-half days late last year but that form didn't last very long. Glimpses of brilliance, guts and tenacity were all there but ultimately, the scoreline read 0-2, a sight that Bangladesh fans are now used to seeing at the end of most Test series. Bangladesh need a brilliant on-field performance to lift their image and, if they can push Sri Lanka like they did the West Indies and finish it off, it will only benefit the players.
Against Sri Lanka, Mushfiqur will need performances from Tamim Iqbal, Mahmudullah and Mohammad Ashraful to make this tour more successful than the four previous ones. Bangladesh have never drawn a Test match in Sri Lanka, losing all eight matches. This is, however, a country that they have enjoyed playing in over the years.
The team is without its best cricketer, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur will yearn for his abilities with the bat and ball when the Sri Lankan batsmen get going. The bowling attack is specially thin; offspinner Sohag Gazi can be a threat with his control and flight, but none of the other bowlers have had enough bowling practice to stake a claim as automatic choices in the line-up.
The selectors believe the pace bowling department is their blind spot. It is likely that Abul Hasan's mid-match sickness is related to the sloppy training schedule of BPL teams, and Rubel Hossain's lack of rhythm can be put down to the limited number of matches he has played between January and February.
The BCB president pointed out on Wednesday that there is a trend among players to think twice before playing the longer version of the game, even as they adopt a different attitude towards T20. Just as the buck stops with the captain when it comes to on-field performance (and Mushfiqur will be liable regardless of the team's result), Nazmul Hassan must himself and his associates within the BCB one very important question: what is more important to Bangladesh cricket?
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent