Bangladesh will retract from their all-spin plan at home, with head coach Russell Domingo announcing they will field two quicks and two spinners in the one-off Test against Zimbabwe. In their last Test at home, the 224-run defeat to Afghanistan last year, Bangladesh did not field a frontline pacer, much as they hadn't against West Indies in the home Test before that. While the nature of the spin-friendly surfaces is unlikely to change overnight, the move is the first firm step in Domingo's broad plan to help Bangladesh become a consistent Test side that travels well.
Domingo said that playing with one pace bowler - or none - is a self-defeating decision that hurts them the moment they play overseas Tests. He has called for better pitches, where batsmen, pace bowlers and spinners can all have an equal part to play.
It is a departure from Chandika Hathurusingha's preferred plan since the 2016 England series of having pitches stacked heavily in favour of spinners. In a little over the last four years, Bangladesh have defeated England and Australia once each, also beating West Indies twice, at home. However, Domingo felt that Bangladesh needed to develop a game suited to good wickets, rather than relying just on spinners to win them home Tests on raging turners, which also stunted the growth of batsmen and pacers, besides giving the spinners a false sense of security about their skills.
"For Bangladesh to improve in Tests, we can't play on raging turners all the time," Domingo said. "We pick one seamer, and then we go to India, South Africa or Australia, we wonder who our three seamers are because they haven't played any cricket. It is a fine balance. We know the strength of the team is playing on spinning wickets particularly when you play teams like Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. You want the wickets to spin. But we also have to learn how to play on good wickets, so that our seamers can be in the game.
"If we play on a tough wicket, the batsmen can't get big hundreds. It also puts the bowlers in a false sense of security that they think they are great bowlers because the wicket is spinning. It is a tough thing for the team to come to grips with, but it is something that I am pretty strong about. We need to play on good wickets so that we can develop our game not just in Bangladesh but outside too."
Domingo said he wants a healthy contest between bat and ball, where the seamers and spinners would have specific roles to play at different times during the game.
"I want good cricket wickets. We want our seamers to be able to bowl on day one, and the spinners come into the game in days three, four or five. Batters must work hard in the first session and then it gets better to bat on, and then hard to bat on.
"For sure, Bangladesh have done well when the wickets have spun, particularly against Australia, England and South Africa, and that's important for us. But for the holistic development of the team, we need to have a bigger picture in mind as well," he said.
Domingo was also adamant that he has passed on the message to both Mahmudullah and Mustafizur Rahman about their future in the Test team. Mahmudullah was dropped from the Test side, for the first time since 2017, and was even told to consider his future in the format so that he can solely focus on white-ball cricket. According to Domingo, Mahmudullah said he will fight for his spot.
"He is out of the team at the moment. I put it to him to consider his future. I see him very much part of our white-ball cricket. Riyad [Mahmudullah] is adamant that he wants to fight back into the Test side. He has played 49 Tests and has been a fantastic performer for Bangladesh. At the moment, there isn't a place for him [in the Test side]. He is one of our main players in white-ball cricket. It is good to have that sort of determination and fight to get back to the team.
"It is not for me to tell a player to stop playing. A player who has played for that long and with that sort of success, he deserves the right to decide when he is finished trying to play for his country. I have to give him that benefit of the doubt."
About Mustafizur, Domingo said that he was recalled in the Test squad to only work closely with new bowling coach Ottis Gibson, and will have no part to play in the one-off Test. Mustafizur has to work on bringing the ball back into the right-hander, which Domingo believes is the key for the left-armer to get back into the Test side.
"I know there's been a bit of miscommunication regarding the Mustafiz situation. I don't think he is ready for Tests until he does some technical work, so that it allows him to swing the ball back into the right-hander. Getting him back into the squad is the start of that process that he can spend some time with our new bowling coach.
"He was put back into the squad not to play, but to train and get some shape back. To get a connection with Ottis [Gibson], develop a bit of trust and relationship. He will stay with the team. Mustafiz is not playing this Test match. He is going to be bowling every day, and I have told him that, to make sure that he gets the shape that's required as that benefits him in Tests and white-ball cricket," he said.
Domingo was also critical of Bangladesh's recent scheduling, particularly for the Pakistan tour, which has been split over three legs. It left Bangladesh with just one day of training in Rawalpindi before the Test, which they lost badly. Domingo said the same will happen in Karachi next month, but he wants to ensure that his side gets more training sessions ahead of a Test in future.
"Winning is of paramount importance but we do need to develop a Test culture within the playing group," he said. "The way we prepare and schedule Tests… I am going into this Test as a coach more confident that any other Test because we have been together for 4-5 days. I have never had a Test match where we flew into a place, practice a day and played a Test.
"The next schedule in Pakistan: we fly in, play a one-dayer, practice and then play a Test match. No serious Test team has scheduling like that, and we have to change that.
"It is a cultural thing. We have to pay a lot more attention to Tests. I have been impressed with this group of players. There seems to be a big desire to do well in the Test arena."