Mominul: 'You cannot shut anyone's mouth, but you can shut off your own ears'
Bangladesh captain urges team-mates to "back each other" and stay focused amid waves of public criticism
Mominul Haque has the monumental task of changing Bangladesh's mood in and out of the dressing room. There has been an air of negativity around the team for the past two months. Nine defeats, fiery press conferences and public criticisms in the T20 World Cup was followed by a siege mentality during the T20I series against Pakistan in Dhaka.
Everything from the cricket team, the board, and the overall structure and culture of Bangladesh cricket has come into question.
On the eve of the first Test against Pakistan, Mominul urged his team to stop worrying about what is being said, and do what they are supposed to do, by bringing the focus back to cricket.
"This is not the first time Bangladesh has gone through such a phase," Mominul said. "We have overcome such situations before too. People become mentally weak, because they take outside talk seriously. My job is to bring back focus from thinking about what everyone is saying, and focusing on our job. We have to back each other. You cannot shut anyone's mouth but I think you can shut off your own ears."
But the job at hand - playing a Test match against Pakistan - is doubly hard for Bangladesh as injuries have kept out big names like Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, while Mahmudullah has retired from Tests. Taskin Ahmed, who has shown good form in his Test comeback, is also out with a finger injury he sustained during the third T20I in Dhaka.
"I don't want to call it a difficult challenge. 'Difficult' has a negative meaning. I don't want to see it negatively. Tamim bhai gives us good starts that we have often capitalised on. Shakib is two players in one. Taskin has been bowling well recently.
"We are effectively missing four players. It makes my captaincy a bit more challenging but Mushfiq bhai and I have to take on the added responsibility."
Mominul wants the focus on those who are in the squad, including Abu Jayed, Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Taijul Islam, a bowling trio that has carried a major bulk of the attack. "Mustafizur (Rahman) hasn't played a Test for a long time. Both Taskin (Ahmed) and Shoriful (Islam) are unfortunately injured. But we have to think about those who are in the squad.
"(Abu Jayed) Rahi has been our leading wicket-taker in the World Test Championship. Ebadot is also playing Tests regularly. We also have (Mehidy Hasan) Miraz and Taijul (Islam). I have confidence in my bowlers. I think if we bowl well, we can take 20 wickets in this game," he said.
"We have overcome such situations before too. People become mentally weak, because they take outside talk seriously."
Mominul also expects Liton Das to bounce back from his T20I downturn, which cost him his place during the Pakistan series last week.
"There's a big difference between Tests and T20Is. When we keep mentioning T20s, it becomes difficult for me. I think Liton has overcome the (mental aspect) of it.
"He has averaged 45-50 in Tests in the last 12 months. I think he can handle it well. He had a mental break. Everyone is supporting him."
Mominul said that Bangladesh's next couple of Test series will offer a peak into their Test future. They were without Shakib for almost the entire 2019-21 WTC cycle, although Tamim and Mushfiqur have been heavily involved. Mahmudullah's Test chapter has also drawn to a close, which means that Bangladesh are now forced to think about younger cricketers for these vacant spots.
"Everyone wants results. Not just me. I think it is a good opportunity for the youngsters. You will get a picture of the direction our Test team is taking in this, and some of the future series. We definitely have long-term plans in Tests. We want to build slowly, and within a series or two we will know where our Test team stands."
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84