"Bangladesh's players should put their heads down. You can't throw your wicket at this level. They should concentrate more at this level otherwise this kind of show will happen time and again." So said Chaminda Vaas after the second day of the first Test against Bangladesh in Colombo. It's a remark that must have been uttered by many Bangladesh fans during the game. The team has developed into a competitive ODI unit - especially in favourable conditions - but in the longer version, where the premium is on spending time at the crease, they continue to flounder.
As Charlie Austin points out, the defeat must be put in perspective, for Sri Lanka have been especially dominant at the Sinhalese Sports Club, winning ten of their last 12 Tests, and drubbing the South Africans by 313 runs and an innings and 153 runs on their last two visits. That, though, doesn't mitigate the fact that most of the Bangladesh batsmen showed an appalling lack of concentration and shot-selection, factors that aren't so important in the one-day context.
Since that historic Test win against Zimbabwe in 2005, Bangladesh have had a few occasions to celebrate their Test prowess - most notably when they pushed Australia all the way in a fantastic match at Fatullah, but mostly, supporting Bangladesh in Tests is a frustrating exercise. In 11 Tests since that Zimbabwe series, Bangladesh have lost ten, the only exception being a weather-induced draw against India earlier this year. In most of those games, they've thrown away the initiative right at the start, as they did in Colombo by being bundled out for 89 in their first innings: in seven out of 11 first innings, their first-innings total has fallen short of 200.
The sheer natural ability of some of their batsmen isn't in doubt. The one-day format has allowed the strokeplayers to express themselves freely but hardly anyone has shown the willingness to occupy the crease and bat sessions, a requirement that is so crucial in Test cricket. The table below indicates how the batsmen from each team have fared over the last two years (since Bangladesh's series win against Zimbabwe). Interestingly, Bangladesh's batsmen have scored at a faster rate than West Indies, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India. However, while most of the other teams last around 60 deliveries per dismissal, Bangladesh only manage to survive 36, or six overs, which translates into an average innings lasting just 60 overs.
Mohammad Ashraful has had experts swooning over his silken touch when he is in full flow. Too often, though, his innings remain crisp cameos, which explains the fact that his average innings over the last two years has lasted less than 39 deliveries. The numbers aren't much different for the most experienced batsman in the line-up, Habibul Bashar.
The one player who has shown the willingness to bat for long periods is Rajin Saleh, who faced the highest number of deliveries for Bangladesh in each of their innings in Colombo. The difference between him and the rest of his team-mates isn't a small one either: Saleh bats, on an average, 83 deliveries per dismissal; the next-best, Khaled Mashud, manages just 51. (And the fact that their wicketkeeper bats more than all their other specialist batsmen tells its own story.)
Saleh has been pretty consistent too, going past 30 in six of the 12 innings he has played during this period. His problem, however, has been an inability to convert the 50s and 60s into hundreds; that has restricted his average in the last two years to 31.72, which is still more than what the other Bangladesh batsmen have achieved.
The one bowler who has always been among the wickets against Bangladesh is Muttiah Muralitharan - in seven Tests against them, he has 59 scalps at an astounding average of 12.33, and a strike rate of a wicket every 29 deliveries.
Not too many Bangladesh batsmen have handled him with much authority, but the one who has stodged better than anyone else is - again - Saleh, who has fallen to him just once in 79 deliveries. However, he has struggled to translate those minutes spent at the crease into runs on the board. At a scoring rate of 38 runs per 100 balls - his rate over the last couple of years against all bowlers - he'd need to bat around 105 deliveries per dismissal to push his average up to 40.
The top order has consistently been patchy, but Bangladesh's cause hasn't been helped by an ever-so-brittle lower order: their last five wickets average less than 15 runs per partnership over the last couple of years, which is lesser even than what the Zimbabweans have put together. In the Colombo Test, though, Ashraful would have been satisfied even with those sorts of numbers - his last five managed a paltry 39 in the first innings, and 24 in the second.