Bangladesh trapped in vicious cycle of failure and forgetting

Ebadot Hossain chats to Mahmudullah Associated Press

Bangladesh's Test cricket has been stuck in a vicious cycle for years.

After every overseas series loss, fingers are pointed at the same issues: the pitches back home, the standard of domestic first-class cricket, technical frailties of the batsmen, and everything in between. Then the attention shifts to the limited-overs formats, which Bangladesh play more of anyway. They are a pretty good ODI team, and they are looking to catch up with the rest of the world in T20Is.

The cycle has repeated itself with no actual change on the ground over the course of Bangladesh's last four overseas series: 2-0 losses in South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand and India. The inability to compete in Test cricket, especially away from home, is a long-standing issue, but there's always a limited-overs series around the corner for a change of taste. Then, before the next overseas tour, there will be talk about conditions being a challenge for a set of batsmen bred on slow and low pitches, primarily against left-arm spinners, and a set of fast bowlers who have been bit-part players on those unhelpful tracks.

The cycle can seem an endless one.

But it will have to break, out of necessity, over the next 18 months, when Bangladesh are set to play at home against Australia, New Zealand and West Indies, and away against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, in the World Test Championship. In this period, they will also play a Test match each against Zimbabwe and Ireland. This sets a new and unprecedented agenda since, because of all these contests, Bangladesh will have to take Test cricket more seriously than they have done before.

Mominul Haque, who was named Test captain after Shakib Al Hasan was banned by the ICC last month, wants his players to work harder and improve their Test game, and wants this work to reflect in Bangladesh's next WTC assignment.

"We took a lot of lessons from this Test series," Mominul Haque, who led the Test side in India, said. "How to play this challenging pace attack, how to bat session by session, how to bat against the new pink ball, these are the small things we learned from this series. Everyone knows that we don't play a lot of Tests.

"We have around ten Tests coming next year, so I think we can overcome these issues. If [the players] have taken the lesson from this series, you will be able to see it in the next series. You will see it otherwise too. We have to be mentally stronger, I feel."

For this improvement to take place, the Test team - and the coaching staff - will have to pay more attention to detail. Bangladesh can learn from how well they have managed the ODI team since 2007, with proper plans in place. They have found at least two batsmen to compete for specific batting positions. The established batsmen have grown more consistent, and the line-up as a whole has looked more settled. Bangladesh have also found new talents among bowlers and allrounders, with Mustafizur Rahman and Mohammad Saifuddin standing out as examples.

Bangladesh haven't tasted as much success in T20Is, with big-hitting talent in particular proving elusive, but their players have been highly motivated to improve themselves in the format. A similar sense of desperation and hunger for technical knowledge would serve Bangladesh well if applied to Test cricket as well.

Making Mominul the captain is a positive move, and so far he has shown a glimpse of his aggressive side, choosing to bat first in both Indore and Kolkata, against arguably the best pace attack in the world. Bangladesh failed on both occasions but, as their coach Russell Domingo said, they don't want to be sitting ducks. That may be ridiculed in many quarters, but he makes a fair point.

It would be a sensible move for the BCB to retain Mominul at the helm for at least a year, to give him the time, and a bit of security, to prove his captaincy mettle. His partnership with Domingo may well have some potential, given their pragmatic personalities.

Mominul also represents a niche in Bangladesh cricket by being a Test specialist. The term was almost a slur in the past, while used to describe players like Javed Omar, Rajin Saleh and Enamul Haque Jr, but the establishment is finally seeing some value in players with Test-match virtues like Mominul, Taijul Islam and Shadman Islam. Taijul is a fighting cricketer who brings value to the team as a left-arm spinner who is prepared to bowl long spells. Shadman, as opener, has shown he can bat with patience and leave well outside off stump, even though he didn't make a fifty in either New Zealand or India.

Eventually, Bangladesh may have to bring more Test specialists into their side, with some of the senior players possibly needing to give up one or two formats to lengthen their international careers. It could have happened earlier, for instance, in the case of Mahmudullah, and now might be a good time for that decision.

The two Tests in India were, in the end, missed opportunities for Bangladesh. Had they prepared a little better, they could have shown more than just glimpses of their ability, and a fighting performance against a top side in their own conditions could have raised Bangladesh's profile considerably. It would have shown that their cricket is improving overall, even in the longest format.

Instead, their performance in India could prove damaging in the longer term, putting forward another reason for the bigger cricket nations to not show any interest in hosting Bangladesh in bilateral Test series. The only way for Bangladesh to change this perception would be to ensure that they pay enough attention to detail in Test cricket. The pieces of the puzzle are lying there, scattered on the floor. All they have to do is pick them up and put them together.