Bangladesh face tough questions ahead of second Test
Bangladesh's first Test scores of 134 and 147 are to Mushfiqur Rahim's captaincy what 58 and 78 were to Shakib Al Hasan's reign. Back in 2011 when Bangladesh were shot out by West Indies and South Africa in the space of 15 days, it was half expected by those close to the team. When it happened in Harare however, it wasn't under a captain who is a "ticking time bomb," and neither is the team a one-man show these days.
Despite some of the same personnel in the two debacles, there is a little more surprise at the 335-run defeat. The surprise comes from the team's steady progress this season. They beat a full-strength West Indies at home, and finally had something to write on the wall in Sri Lanka. This is a season when Bangladesh made 556 and 638, when there was a Test double-century and before one forgets, 2012-13 is the season when Mohammad Ashraful played with a level head.
Such a scoreline usually means one thing in Bangladesh cricket: heads will roll. Shakib lost his captaincy after losing to Zimbabwe last time, and was vilified by the cricket board. There is however a high percentage of improbability in Mushfiqur losing his captaincy.
Without letting emotion dictate terms, smarter minds would take this occasion to discuss some home truths within the team. The biggest one at this stage would be to find out a way to counter proficient swing bowling. The ball is bound to move in Harare in April, but there was a distinct lack of an alternate path. When they did try to defend instead of attack (and that is a highly risky shift in thinking to tame swing bowling), it spelled disaster.
The approach of Jahurul Islam and Ashraful was worth appreciating, but they are two of countless batsmen in Bangladesh bred on flat decks and the regular dose of half-volleys on it. In other words, none of them are essentially prepared to face good swing bowling on a track that bounces differently and helps maneuver the ball in both directions. Keegan Meth's swing looked innocuous until it accounted for Mahmudullah and Jahurul, both tentative in their footwork and bat-swing as their minds dictated them to be.
Then it became quite clear that while they can defend after an evening of attacking batting, these are not batsmen who could simply change gears once again. The trouble of getting into bad habits occurred in the second innings too, though to a different batsman in different circumstances, but again resulting in dismissals.
Shahriar Nafees continued to be sucked into a drive by Kyle Jarvis. Nafees' international experience meant he should have known better, but the young pace bowler out-thought him within an over. Two boundaries were hit, both with the left-hander driving away from his body. When the ball was much fuller, that habit remained and he swung back, but there was a glaring gap between bat and pad.
Mushfiqur, Shakib Al Hasan and Nasir Hossain were also unable to halt the collapse in both innings. Mushfiqur was unlucky to be caught by Brendan Taylor in that manner, and Shakib was rusty after the injury lay-off. Nasir, however, showed little faith in the tail, bringing about his downfall in both innings.
These three have been saving Bangladesh from sinking further into collapses in varied degrees in their career but once the panic button is pressed in that dressing-room, sometimes even its most disciplined or calmest fail to handle it out there.
The only repercussion could see Mahmudullah give up his spot to Mominul Haque, though the latter is not a proven player of good swing bowling. The vice-captain doesn't look like a batsman out of form, but rather one uneasy in his promoted position up the batting order.
Apart from struggling against swing and to find out a Plan B, this is also a team that doesn't always play with the expectation of winning. The other major difficulty they have placed on themselves over the last five years has been the selection of seven or eight batsmen. It looked revolutionary in 2008 and 2009, and a safety-first approach since 2010, but from next season there has to be a concerted effort to play six genuine batsmen to bring the runs.
Whether these batsmen should have been more equipped to play in conditions offering lateral movement is a long-term argument. Also, why an international team wouldn't have a reasonable alternative in every department, even if it is just a mental adjustment, is a legitimate question asked of the Bangladesh team. But these have been the team's weaknesses, whether they were drawing the Test in Galle or crashing in Harare.
Sometimes it is as simple as starting over. Much of their trouble from the first Test will remain in their minds but once the match starts on Thursday, their advantage would be the opportunity presented to quickly turn around from the disaster. This is going to be a big Test for Bangladesh, one which whether they like it or not, will ultimately define their progress this season.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here