Struggling Bangladesh seamers face the heat
It's difficult to say where Bangladesh stand as a bowling unit, as they've had to fight the dew in all their games in the tri-series. Their batting, on the other hand, looks in better shape. Never before have they scored more than 240 in four consecutive games against Test playing nations. In fact, the first time they posted over 240 three times in a row against a Test country was against a depleted West Indies last year. It's the bowling that is the concern, especially the seam attack.
Mashrafe Mortaza is recuperating from injury - the selector Akram Khan hinted the other day that Mortaza may never return to Test cricket; Shahadat Hossain is recovering from an injury and is struggling to cope with the tweaks in his bowling action; Sajidul Islam has been replaced by the more talented Shafiul Islam, Syed Rasel, making a comeback, looked his nagging but unthreatening self, but there is something in Rubel Hossain that makes everyone in Bangladesh optimistic.
This is where the former Sri Lankan fast bowler Champaka Ramanayake, who is Bangladesh's bowling coach, has faced some criticism recently. He has faced some strong questions like: Has Rubel lost his pace? Hasn't Shahadat disintegrated ? Didn't Mahbubul Alam, who has been included for the India Tests, lose his rhythm under his supervision recently? What will happen to Shafiul? The biggest concern has been Shahadat's decline, which is being blamed on Ramanayake and nearly every other bowler is now being looked through the prism of the bowling coach.
Ramanayake, who has played a hand in developing many Sri Lankan seamers, isn't too fussed with the critics as he maintains he didn't change Shahadat's action but only just made a few tweaks. "His action was never changed," Ramanayake told Cricinfo. "We changed his technique as he was spraying the ball around and he lacked control. We changed his wrist position and the front-foot landing style. To me, he is a better bowler now. It's just that the people haven't seen him bowl recently.
"Shahadat was initially apprehensive about changing things but he is now more comfortable with the idea I think." This is where it gets murky. Shahadat was frank with his assessment when asked: "I have played six years with my old action," Shahadat told Cricinfo. "I am not at all comfortable with the changes. I will be going back to my old action when I play next." It could be a case of a bowler low in confidence, not wanting to get out of his comfort zone and looking for excuses to blame his decline, or it could be a clear case of a bowler struggling with the suggested tweaks in action.
The captain Shakib Al Hasan has said it's up to Shahadat to see what he feels comfortable with. Shakib then said something very interesting. "I haven't spoken to him [Shahadat] about this. And perhaps, there is some sort of communication problem with the bowling coach and the bowler," Shakib told Cricinfo. Has Shakib, then, been in touch with his bowling coach? "Actually, not much. He had just joined us a couple of series back and post this series, we will sit and work things down. You can't blame the bowling coach; you have to give more time."
Ramanayake offered his thoughts on the other bowlers too. He said Rubel was very raw when he came to him, but is more well-versed with his craft now and that he is becoming mentally stronger. "He had the pace and the reverse swing when he came and he hasn't lost it. The conditions in this tournament weren't conducive to reverse swing and he is developing his fitness and getting physically stronger. His pace will improve. Not to worry. We have worked on his follow through.
"Shafiul [who, today, drew praise from Virat Kohli - "he was nippy off the pitch and I had to be careful against him"] has lot of skill; has a very good slow bouncer and can bowl the yorker also. He has to be given enough chances to shine and we are very confident that he will come through. Mahbubul Alam is a bowler who depends heavily on rhythm. Rasel will only play ODIs and he will always put the other bowlers under pressure as he is very dependable with his line and length. All the bowlers are working hard and it will take some time to improve."
India took 20 years to win their first Test, Bangladesh took just five but the modern-day fans are in no mood to wait and want quick results. Ramanayake might not be feeling the pressure now, but if the seamers don't start delivering, it won't be long before he begins to feel the heat.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo