Bangladesh Test attack finally finds its bite

The Chittagong Test has become a prime example for Bangladesh on how to benefit by giving deeper thought to their bowling attack. In other words, the team hierarchy gave more priority to a winning approach rather than settling for a draw.

Enforcing their game plan on England, who were playing their first Test in the subcontinent since 2012, was itself an encouraging sign. It was hardly a gamble, though. Apart from Shakib Al Hasan, there was hardly any other reason for the visitors to really fear the Bangladesh attack going into the match.

They ended up taking 20 wickets in the game for only the ninth time in their Test history (though this was the first time that they did so in a loss). The three-man spin attack made all the running, taking 18 of the wickets to fall. It was quite obvious that the management would put more emphasis on making sure that the spinners got the best use of a sporting pitch, the best condition of the ball and for them to bowl at almost every juncture. Unlike England, there was no team effort to ensure the ball was maintained for reverse swing because there was hardly any trust put on the two pace bowlers, Kamrul Islam Rabbi and Shafiul Islam.

Their success was mostly due to the trio of spinners - Shakib, Taijul Islam and Mehedi Hasan - and despite the ineffectiveness of Rabbi and Shafiul.

Shakib led the pack superbly by finishing with seven wickets in 52 overs, which included his 150th in Tests. His steadiness through his consistent use of the shoulder and the crease, subtle variety that includes short bursts of spin on the ball and endurance in bowling marathon spells regularly, has been the bedrock of Bangladesh's bowling for the last eight years. It was at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, on the day before the Test against New Zealand in 2008, when Jamie Siddons pronounced Shakib as the leader of the bowling attack in Bangladesh's first Test after Mohammad Rafique's retirement.

"I don't think Shafiul and Kamrul bowled that badly. It was a learning experience for them, and they realised that they need to know how to bowl with the old ball" Mushfiqur Rahim

Shakib responded with 7 for 36 in the first innings of that game and, since then, he has been the attacker, the stock bowler and the end-blocker in nearly every Test. Because of his quality, specialist spinners in Bangladesh line-ups are often called the second spinner, among whom Taijul moved past Sohag Gazi as the highest wicket-taker during this Test.

Taijul, who is slightly different to the conventional Bangladeshi left-arm spinner with his high jump before landing on the crease, has big fingers which help him control the amount of spin he wants to impart on the ball. He picked up four wickets in this game, and was the most economical among the three spinners. He has shown the consistent ability to hold up one end, which is what Bangladesh has always looked for in a second spinner bowling opposite Shakib.

Bangladesh also got a glimpse of Mehedi, the debutant offspinner who finished with seven wickets in the game. Coming off a simple action, Mehedi produced heavy turn on the ball. Ben Duckett found out first hand when he went to defend a ball pitched on leg stump but saw it turn back to hit the inside half of the off stump. It was a remarkable way to pick up a first Test wicket, and Mehedi finished with 6 for 80 in the first innings.

His ability to make full use of the brand new ball, and then doing the conventional spinner's duty of bowling with the old ball was impressive, and so was his attitude on the field. He looked eager to be listening in on conversations that involved the senior bowlers. His hunger has been talked about widely in the domestic circuit, where he usually partners left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak for Khulna Division in the first-class competition.

A run-out accounted for one of the other two England wickets in Chittagong. The other one went to Rabbi, who was also making his Test debut. It was the only wicket that went to the pace bowlers, who accounted for 28 overs in total, giving away 108 runs. Shafiul was the only one given the new ball, but bowled just four overs with it. Shakib, Mehedi and Taijul were the bowlers mainly entrusted with the new ball.

The trend will continue in the second Test for which Bangladesh have picked the uncapped seamer Subashis Roy. If he makes his debut in Dhaka, he will be part of one of Bangladesh's least experience new-ball attacks with Kamrul Islam Rabbi having played just the one Test. But there's no guarantee that both will be picked, or whether any one of them will get the new ball.

England also handed the new ball to their spinners but, unlike Bangladesh's quicks, the likes of Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes generated much reverse swing in both innings, tellingly on the final day when Taijul and Shafiul were victims of late movement into their pads.

According to Bangladesh's captain, Mushfiqur Rahim, there is a dearth of pace bowlers in the country who can offer variety in the longer version, especially bowling with the old ball. He said that it would be foolish to expect bowlers like Shafiul and Rabbi to have skills mastered by England's seam attack. He suggested that Al-Amin Hossain and Rubel Hossain, both of whom have Test bowling averages over 75, wouldn't have made much of a difference.

"Al-Amin and Rubel also don't have an extraordinary Test record," he said. "Does anyone know how many first-class bowlers we have who can bowl well with the old ball? It is hard to find such a bowler. If you look at a scorecard from our first-class competitions, you will invariably see a spinner taking a five-for and the pace bowlers taking one or two wickets.

"If a bowler doesn't know how to set up a batsman, and bowl according to the field, then you can't expect him to do it at the Test level. It is easy for guys like Broad and Stokes who have been doing it for years. I don't think Shafiul and Kamrul bowled that badly. It was a learning experience for them, and they realised that they need to know how to bowl with the old ball."

Mushfiqur said that the Chittagong pitch suited their game plan, which wasn't always the case in previous Tests at home. "[Zahid Reza] Babu bhai made an outstanding wicket. I think this is the first time that we played on a surface which suited our game plan," he said.

"Our bowlers did a great job. If we could have played on such wickets in domestic cricket, we could have prepared differently for this game. But still, we took 20 wickets which I see as a positive sign."

The question mark on Bangladesh's first-class structure crops up every time a Test is lost, and even on the rare occasions when they win or draw. At other times, it is called "picnic cricket" because that is all it has been sine 1999 - a big picnic where the players get together to play for three months in various towns, get less pay than they do in the Dhaka Premier League and only focus on personal records rather than enriching the four-day game or the competition.

There is little effort being made to cleanse this attitude, with most of the interest in Bangladesh cricket lying with one-dayers and T20s. Test cricket, as a result, suffers. But a Test match like the one in Chittagong gives more reasons to take it seriously, and plug the large holes in the make-up of the team. Taking 20 wickets against England is a good start, and Bangladesh must look at ways to maintain this performance.