Matches (21)
IPL (2)
ACC Premier Cup (3)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
Women's QUAD (2)
WI 4-Day (4)
Pakistan vs New Zealand (1)

Flexible thinking keeps Bangladesh afloat but they remain behind the curve in T20

Dropping Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur down the order was a sensible call, even if it didn't pay off against Oman

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Only one of Bangladesh's changes was successful in their 26-run win over Oman. Mohammad Naim made 64 after being brought back to the side replacing Soumya Sarkar. But Mahedi Hasan, Nurul Hasan and Afif Hossain couldn't do justice to their batting promotions at the expense of the experienced Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim.
It looked like a reactionary decision from the team management, particularly after BCB president Nazmul Hassan criticized the senior batters after the Scotland defeat. But going by Bangladesh's usual decision-making this was close to actually being a brave move. It was the correct call to bring back their regular opener, try to fire up the Powerplay with someone who has the ability to clear the infield and then give two of their known big-hitters some space to do their job.
It was perhaps disappointing that Bangladesh had to take these brave calls in a do-or-die match rather than when there was less pressure on them. But at least they have chosen the right path.
Mahedi was sent up to No. 3 to get Bangladesh more runs in the Powerplay. They sent Afif and Nurul at Nos. 5 and 6 to take advantage of the 80-run partnership between Naim and Shakib Al Hasan. These two are being groomed as finishers, so they were given at least six overs to try to launch. It looked odd to see Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur languishing at Nos. 7 and 8, but it is also known that both are good in the last five overs.
"We want to have different types of batters batting at the same time, not similar types of players," head coach Russell Domingo said on Monday. "We have discussed it more in depth. There might not be major changes, but there might be one or two tweaks in the line-up."
None of these batting order alterations worked in the end. Mahedi, Afif and Sohan didn't get runs while Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur couldn't fire in the last three overs. But it was good of them to try.
They also made a course-correction by bringing back Naim, their regular T20 opener. Domingo said that he missed the last game as Soumya Sarkar was considered as a sixth bowling option. But it was also true that Naim's form wasn't at its best, and Soumya did score couple of 30s in the warm-up games.
Bangladesh's team management probably also considered this difference in recent scores, but it wasn't a great look for them. They had to bring back Naim, who helped take Bangladesh past the 150-mark.
Decisions like these are judged quite simply. If Bangladesh had lost against Oman, they would have been out of the T20 World Cup. These changes would then come under fire. Now that they have won, it probably won't get as much attention, but it should mean the management remains flexible in their decision-making.
That being said, Bangladesh don't yet have a good T20I team. They don't have the firepower. They will get you the fours but not the big sixes regularly. As former batting coach Neil McKenzie said a number of times, Bangladesh can't be expected to play like West Indies. There hasn't also been any effort made at either a micro or macro level. Players haven't developed or transformed themselves into big-hitters, while the pitches, make-up and focus of domestic T20 tournaments haven't really contributed to any eye-catching improvement.
What Bangladesh have done is rely heavily in an old T20 mindset. It is almost similar to how they play in the ODIs. Keep wickets in the first few overs, bat solidly in the middle overs and then launch in the last five overs. In recent months, Bangladesh employed their Test strategy of producing tailor-made pitches at home, specifically suited to spinners who can run through batting line-ups. As much as they enjoyed beating Australia 4-1 and New Zealand 3-2, it felt hollow because their batters, already not in tune with T20's evolving styles, never got going.
The overall lack of T20 skills also means that Bangladesh, despite having a very experienced T20 side, don't have those X-factor players. A big-hitter whose walk to the middle arouses fear in the opposition. An out-and-out fast bowler who can close out the game. Or even a regular legspinner.
But where they lack in skills, they can always make up in taking smart decisions on and off the field. Teams who aren't too experienced or skilled, often get by with great fielding and thinking on their feet. Even when they are being flexible, Bangladesh also can't forget what works for them.
They have to make room for Shakib, Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah in the batting order so that the team's most-skilled batters have enough space to do their jobs. The bowlers too must also remain a consistent unit, because it is a well-organised attack. They know their specific roles, but often come up short in crucial moments.
Bangladesh must also take the hard decisions, particularly with Soumya and Liton Das, who haven't really done justice to their talent in six years. A T20 World Cup is perhaps not the place to deeply think about their roles in the team, but if what they are doing isn't working, why not be a little more bold and give their batting spots to someone else for a change? If almost everyone has the same type of skills, then greater flexibility needs to be in order.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84