Australia's Test tour of India earlier this year may have given Bangladesh a plan against Steven Smith, a possible chink that may have evaded the other attacks he has conquered. In the final Test of that tour, in Dharamsala, India offspinner R Ashwin bowled around the wicket to Smith extensively, and drew an edge to slip from that angle. In the first two Tests of that series, he had bowled only three balls from that angle.
In the first Test in Mirpur, offspinner Mehidy Hasan seemed to have carried on from where Ashwin left. His bowling from around the wicket, to some extent, curtailed Smith's free-flowing batting against spin, although in Chittagong, more accurate lines and lengths could make a significant difference. In 2016 Sri Lanka offspinner Dilruwan Perera had managed to curb Smith's strokeplay with an around-the-wicket line, dismissing him once in 41 deliveries bowled from that angle. Smith, who has three hundreds in India across two tours, now has a couple underwhelming innings - 8, 37 in Mirpur - and a new challenge to overcome.
This is a relatively new angle for offspinners against Smith, and one that bowlers like Graeme Swann, Moeen Ali and Mark Craig did not try extensively over the past seven years. Swann, Moeen and Craig had little success bowling around the wicket to Smith and even Ashwin, from whom Bangladesh have taken their cue, wasn't successful in the 2013 series: he bowled 62 out of 93 balls to Smith from around the wicket, but his only dismissal came from over the wicket.
In the first innings in Mirpur, Mehidy bowled one ball to Smith over the wicket before switching his angle. Three balls later, he had Smith bowled. In the second innings, Mehidy began from around the wicket to Smith and nearly had the Australia captain stumped first ball. He bowled from the same angle for another 30 deliveries during Australia's unsuccessful attempt at chasing 265.
In the first innings, Smith began by charging at Mehidy when he came from around the wicket, but was bowled by a delivery that would have turned to yorker-length after the batsman stepped out too soon. It dipped on him late, and he was left with no room to drive it down the ground, let alone loft it over wide mid-on, which seemed to be the original intention.
After the first-innings dismissal, Mehidy said that the Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim had told him on the eve of the Test about this new line of attack.
"We had a specific plan for Smith," he said after the second day's play. "Mushfiq bhai told me that if you can bowl around the wicket, he can be in trouble. He doesn't use his feet too well. He is someone who likes to come down the wicket and, if the ball turns, there is a possibility of a stumping or a catch. I just tried to follow his instruction and bowled around the wicket. It worked."
Mehidy's accuracy, coupled with his subtle variation of pace and turn, made him a dangerous proposition for England last year and now for Australia. While successive Bangladesh captains, including Mushfiqur, have been eager to use offspinners against left-handed batsmen predominantly, Mehidy was given a long run when Smith was at the crease on the third evening and fourth morning. And that also highlighted a challenge for the young bowler.
In the second innings, Mehidy's first ball to Smith was an offbreak that drifted away in the air, drawing the batsman out and catching him slightly overbalanced. Mushfiqur whipped off the bails, but replays showed that Smith had a bit of his boot inside the crease. In Mehidy's seventh over, Smith flicked one right at the short-leg fielder's body but a chance wasn't held.
Apart from these two close calls, however, Mehidy struggled with his length from around the wicket to Smith for the rest of the innings. He bowled 13 short deliveries and offered plenty of full balls too, allowing Smith to read him easily. If the new angle has the potential to test Smith, it is also a challenge for Mehidy to maintain his consistency when the margin of error is smaller: anything straight can be whipped through the leg side and a bit of room can be crashed through the covers.
After Mehidy spoke about the new angle at the press conference, there was some unease in the Bangladesh camp, as they felt he may have given out too much. Mushfiqur did not comment on it during the post-match press conference, while Sunil Joshi, the spin coach, refused to speak about it, too. Not that Smith would have needed Mehidy to tell him that the around-the-wicket angle was a problem: he was bowled the third ball he faced from this angle, and nearly stumped first ball the next time he came to the crease. The next match, which begins from September 4, in Chittagong will test both Mehidy and Smith.