Bangladesh fall to old weakness again

Rangana Herath celebrates after dismissing Nasir Hossain Associated Press

Bangladesh probably had three of their coolest heads to deal with a difficult fourth day on a wicket that was deteriorating and against an attack that knew exactly how to use it. But none of Mominul Haque, Nasir Hossain and captain Mushfiqur Rahim stayed in the middle long enough, and it was the ninth time out of ten that Bangladesh failed to take a Test to the fifth day in Sri Lanka. The defeat in Colombo will not take the sheen out of the Galle draw, but it opened old wounds and reminded how hard it is to develop a new habit, and get rid of an old one.

There were reasons to rely on this trio. Playing just his third innings in Test cricket, Mominul had displayed promise by hitting half-centuries in his first two outings. His calm demeanor has been a welcome addition to a line-up that is dominated by trigger-happy batsmen. Nasir has been in form this season, having just scored his maiden hundred. He has been reliable at No. 7, taking on the difficulties of batting so low down the order, and has mostly given the team runs from a position or situation from which Bangladesh haven't had too many in the past.

Mushfiqur didn't make much in the first innings after hitting the country's first Test double century in Galle, but he hasn't done badly for too many innings in a row. So a lot was expected of him as well. He and Mominul survived long enough on the third evening to give an inkling of a scrap on the fourth day.

What happened was far from a scrap. Rangana Herath claimed the wickets of the three batsmen, starting with Mominul. The left-hander was caught at short leg and though Mushfiqur contested the decision later in the press conference, the choice of shot should have been called into question too. Throughout the Test, Mominul had seen enough reason not to play Herath off the back foot. Mushfiqur (in the first innings) and Mohammad Ashraful (in the second innings) were bowled as they were rooted to the crease.

One would straightaway call Nasir's attempt to biff Herath over mid-on or midwicket a very poor shot, but given the propensity for these strokes among Bangladeshi batsmen, young and experienced, he could earn a pardon in the dressing room. But the timing of his dismissal riled his captain, because Bangladesh had to encounter the second new ball soon after. As someone who has regularly taken on the new ball quite well, Mushfiqur needed Nasir after the 80th over.

Mushfiqur batted out another hour after Nasir had been dismissed, but his resistance or attempt at aggression at that stage was never going to be enough. The dismissal was poor once again, the batsman coming forward and ball hitting both bat and pad.

Bangladesh gave Herath seven wickets in the innings and 14 overall in the Test series. From Ashraful's lack of footwork to the wicket of Mushfiqur, the batsmen didn't know whether to go back or prod forward, whether it was wise to charge, whether to attempt to flick Herath or smash him. It prompted the obvious question: why don't Bangladesh, the country with so many left-arm spinners, play left-arm spin properly?

It is Herath's quality, repertoire and control that makes him better than most of the left-arm spinners that the Bangladeshi batsmen play at home. As Mushfiqur said at the end of the game, he lands it on spot regularly and the variation isn't of the fancy kind. He uses the crease very well, and knows exactly how much to flight the ball.

Because Bangladeshi batsmen struggle against left-arm spin, first-class teams, clubs and every other league side rely on two or three left-arm spinners in every game. Whenever a "lefty" (a popular term in Bangladesh for left-arm orthodox spinners) comes on, the batsmen stiffen up.

The general approach against left-arm spin in Bangladesh is to play safe. Against Herath, they neither took the safety-first approach nor were they successful in hitting him out of the attack. It could have been a different day had they offered a more assured foot forward.