Zimbabwe v Bangladesh, 1st Test, Harare, 2nd day April 18, 2013

Mushfiqur needs a new mantra

Bangladesh's bowlers had a plan and they largely stuck to it, but did it offer them the best chance of success?

Among the various things Mushfiqur Rahim said from behind the stumps, two sentences firmly stood out. "Gazi, I feel like taking my gloves off and having a bowl," he told the offspinner as at the start of the 146th over. The Bangladesh captain, like his team, was clearly frustrated as Shingirai Masakadza and Keegan Meth held up the visitors in a ninth wicket stand. The other sentence, which was more telling, was the oft-repeated one: "Tighten up your lines, cut out the runs, they will give away the wickets."

He said it like a mantra, and the Bangladesh bowlers followed it like a mantra as they kept the Zimbabwe batsmen on a leash for more than 150 overs. But what slipped away was an opportunity to make proper use of a greenish wicket that offered much to pace bowlers, while also letting the spinners bowl with some turn to look forward to as early as the first session of the match.

In the four Tests this season, Bangladesh have been using a bowling attack that was mostly one-dimensional, which prompted Mushfiqur to always follow the safety-first approach. The four specialist bowlers in Harare and the hint of Shakib Al Hasan still couldn't shake the captain out of his safety-first mindset.

Robiul Islam and Rubel Hossain bowled 68 overs between them for five wickets. It was the lack of the third seamer that forced Mushfiqur into bringing back Rubel and Robiul whenever necessary. Robiul's 38 overs was the most bowled by a Bangladesh pace bowler, but he was the consummate "labourer of the bowling attack" as one bowling coach once remarked about him.

Both he and Rubel bowled far better than their last outing in Colombo, offering a much more consistent line, if not length. Their folly was to be too dependent on the line outside off-stump which was happily negotiated by the Zimbabwe batsmen. Rubel tried to build up pressure through dot balls, but he has lost some of his pace due to the shoulder injury. Robiul looked dangerous whenever he bowled straight up to the batsmen.

The spinners picked up the other five wickets to fall, but one look at their volume and one would easily understand which type of bowler is more preferred in the Bangladeshi mindset. Mushfiqur couldn't get enough of Enamul Haque jnr, the left-arm spinner, who had to re-educate himself into Test cricket as this was his first outing since mid-2009. After he had settled into a rhythm and picked up a wicket, Mushfiqur could have rotated him with the offspinner Sohag Gazi. But he kept on using the left-arm spinner who continuously changing his pace and length as he strived to contain the batsmen. By the second day, he became predictable.

Abdur Razzak, another leading left-arm spinner who is deemed an ODI specialist, had remarked recently that the natural drift and turn of the offspinner offers more to a captain than a left-arm spinner. His simple explanation was that the batsman has to play Gazi more than Enamul. It was exactly what happened, though Gazi's spells were too short to bring in extra close catchers on the legside.

Perhaps Mushfiqur wanted Gazi to play the holding role towards the end of sessions, or use him sparingly so that Zimbabwe didn't get wind of his nuances when Shakib will be ready to bowl at full tilt and they can make do without Enamul. He was also not helped by Gazi's lack of enthusiasm, as there were full tosses and some odd short balls.

This mantra of cutting out the runs to choke the batsmen wasn't useful against Brendan Taylor or Malcolm Waller or even Graeme Cremer. None of these batsmen looked flustered as they were happy to let balls either pitch outside off stump and hold its line, or turn from middle and whizz past their outside edge. The three batsmen thrived as soon as the bowlers' energy flagged, and their lines drifted to the legstump.

If it was a game of patience, Zimbabwe won the first battle but this is a Test match, so when it comes to the third innings, Bangladesh would do well to attack the stumps. Whenever Robiul or the others used a straighter line, the inexperienced home batsmen looked vulnerable and were easier to lure into a poor drive. Whether it will happen will completely depend on what the captain's mantra is later in the game.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Asaad on April 19, 2013, 17:11 GMT

    Fantastic article. The proper Test match mindset is simple absent.

  • Andrew on April 19, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    I agree with these sentiments. If you win the toss and put the opposing side in (rather than batting first yourself), it should always be an indication that you think you can get them out on the first day for a low score. Bangladesh tied them down, but their decision to bat second ultimately failed since ZIm went on to score 389 and occupy the crease for five sessions. Will be interesting to see what happens today (day three).

  • Shafin on April 19, 2013, 4:01 GMT

    Excellent article Isam, you said it right. In Tests, you got to attack! After playing so many Test, Mushy has yet to realize this very basic simple fact. He rarely attacks and sends all his fielders to the boundary line right from the get go to save and contacin runs as if it's a T20 match. But this opens up the floodgate for the batsmen to settle down, milk on 1's and 2's and when set they will attack. The problem is BD has a rookie coach who simply lacks some very basics of coaching and his lack of experience reflects directly in Mushy's poor field setup and terrible bowling rotation. Shane Jurgensen is not a very sharp coach and he continues to make terrible blunders in gameplans, team selection, field setup and specific plan for individual batsmen for the opposing team. BD can really use a more experienced coach who can guide the Team and the Captain more efficiently, thus get the best out of this talented team. I suggest BCB to look for someone like Steve Waugh or Saurav Ganguly.

  • Shuzi on April 18, 2013, 18:03 GMT

    It is exasperating to watch Mushfiqur's captaincy when Bangladesh fields. He almost always goes for safety. Out-of-the-box thinking is really out-of-the-box for him. In tests, you need to attack. Bangladesh has spinners who are capable of attacking the batsman. Why don't the coaches give him tips from the sidelines?

  • Shipu on April 18, 2013, 17:14 GMT

    hehehe another good strategy is to say it in a language which the opposition batsman won't understand. It was funny how Mushy was advising him during those overs.

  • Fraser on April 18, 2013, 17:08 GMT

    Mushi needs a lesson in captaincy. FACT. Mahmuddlah bowled less overs than nasir hossain and hasn't used for anything near a spell to give the pacers a break. Emanual was overbowled making him easy to read for the zimbabwe batsmen and gazi was severely underbowled becuase given his success against sri lanka he should have bowled much more than 22 overs. Rubel was not a threat to the batsmen and nasir should have bowled some of his overs so rubel could re-energise. Gazi could not build pressure as he only bowled a single maiden compared to roibul's 11. Poor mushi, poor

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