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Bangladesh stretch batting cushion to avoid collapse

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Fleming: Bangladesh had a very light bowling attack (3:31)

England beat Bangladesh by eight wickets with 16 balls to spare to win the opening match of Champions Trophy 2017 (3:31)

Mashrafe Mortaza's explanation, after Bangladesh's eight-wicket loss to England on Thursday, left no doubt that they went back to their defensive tactic of playing eight batsmen to counter fears of an early collapse, akin to the one they suffered against India in the warm-up game on May 30.

It left them one bowler short on a flat pitch that offered very little for bowlers after the first 10 overs of the game. Presumably, offspinner Mehedi Hasan would have been their first-choice bowler in that case although left-arm spinner Sunzamul Islam and fast bowler Taskin Ahmed were other options in the squad. But none of them found a place in the XI against England.

It was, however, not the first time the Bangladesh team management went for one less specialist bowler in their ODI line-up. Even in the past two years, considered the best-ever time in Bangladesh's history, they resorted to eight batsmen every time they were under pressure. It first happened in the ODI series against South Africa at home in 2015 after they had lost both T20Is and were asked for an explanation by BCB president Nazmul Hassan. The summon and the subsequent selection was a surprise given that they had just recorded historic ODI series wins over India and Pakistan.

The strategy was brought back in the England ODI series last October after Bangladesh lost the first game of the three-match series, and again in New Zealand a couple of months later. But to no avail. When Mehedi debuted in Sri Lanka and impressed with bat and ball, it looked like they had struck the right balance. The final combination they tried in Ireland saw them using allrounder Nasir Hossain at No. 8, but it was hard to understand why they would do so in the first match of a global event they had reached by playing five bowlers regularly.

Mashrafe said that their plan on Thursday got deviated when their middle-order batsmen could not capitalise on the 166-run third-wicket partnership between Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim. Bangladesh were 261 for 2 in the 45th over and added just 43 runs in the last five overs.

"The sense was to give extra freedom to the batters," Mashrafe said. "I think they batted well. Yes, we could have picked one more bowler. We thought that if we collapsed with seven batsmen, scoring 260-odd on this pitch wouldn't be enough for a win even with five genuine bowlers.

"We wanted to make around 320-330 and were happy to let the part-timers concede 60-80 runs for a wicket or two. We thought we could still be in the game that way. We were going along those lines but after Tamim and Mushfiqur got out, we couldn't stick to our plans. If we batted normally from that point, we could have reached at least 320."

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1:42

'We were 20-30 runs short' - Mashrafe

Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza talks about the side's strategy of playing eight batsmen and rues the loss of Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim in quick succession

Mashrafe also said that their bowling was not upto the mark, as they failed to take wickets in the middle period. He had given them the early breakthrough by removing Jason Roy for 1 but Alex Hales, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan scored quickly, with a tally of 303 runs among them.

"We should have taken wickets in the middle period," Mashrafe said. "I think they handled Mustafizur [Rahman] quite well, and they extended the partnership. We just wanted to push their required run rate up to eight or nine."

Mashrafe had to use Soumya Sarkar, Mosaddek Hossain and Sabbir Rahman for 10.2 overs in all, in which they collectively conceded 73 runs picking up one wicket. But to make the best use of Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur, they needed another specialist bowler to stem the flow of runs or pick wickets in the middle overs.

Mehedi would have been ideal for that, given his ability to hold one end with his accurate offspin. He had been successful against England in the Tests in October last year and was marked out as an ODI regular following an impressive debut in the format in Sri Lanka in March this year. Mushfiqur, however, said that there was no guarantee that an extra bowler would have done "something extraordinary", as there was hardly any help from the pitch.

"It would have been a different game if we had taken two or three early wickets," Mushfiqur said. "But I would still say that we had Mustafiz and Shakib who are genuine bowlers but they couldn't get the ball to grip on the wicket. Today was a totally different wicket to the one on which we played the practice match.

"Probably it would have helped if we had an extra bowler, but it doesn't mean that he would have done something extraordinary. There was no help from the wicket, and world-class players like Root and Morgan were batting. They keep scoring 300-plus totals, so they knew what they had to do."

The other surprising decision from Bangladesh was moving Sabbir down the batting order after he had been given the No. 3 role permanently since the Afghanistan series. Imrul Kayes, who is a contender for Soumya Sarkar's opening position, was brought back to No. 3 spot that he had earlier lost to Sabbir, who was handed the role of slogging at No. 6.

This decision also reduced Mahmudullah's effectiveness down the order although he had been marked as Bangladesh's slogger-in-chief in the ODIs and T20s over the past 18 months.

Whether Bangladesh revert to their proactive line-up for the Australia game on Monday remains to be seen, although conditions are likely to dictate their decision-making. For now, at least they have got the monkey of batting collapses off their back.