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Feature

Five months into 2022, Bangladesh unsure of Test philosophy

With a crucial series against Sri Lanka starting this week, Mominul Haque's men have some big questions to answer

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
09-May-2022
Mahmudul Hasan Joy punches on the up, South Africa vs Bangladesh, 1st Test, Durban, April 1, 2022

Mahmudul Hasan Joy has been a bright spot in an otherwise struggling Bangladesh batting line-up  •  AFP/Getty Images

Was Mount Maunganui definitive proof of how good Bangladesh can be, or was it a fluke?
That wonderful win five months ago is hard to forget. It is evidence of their progress, of believing in the fact that they can win abroad, that too against the world Test champions. The dismal showing against spin in South Africa last month, on the back of their maiden ODI series victory there, has brought down the house on them. There is confusion and concern.
Bangladesh are caught between wanting to back their pace attack, which has done very well for them recently, and trusting spin, which has given them mixed results even at home. Injuries to Taskin Ahmed and Shoriful Islam mean that Ebadot Hossain and Khaled Ahmed have to step up again, but that isn't a problem. Both fast bowlers have shown a lot of improvement.
What is really alarming is the indecisiveness in their batting. Defend or attack? Which is right? Which is better? How Bangladesh answer that question may well determine how this series against Sri Lanka goes. Fortunately, the first Test is in Chattogram, considered the country's best batting pitch.

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Bangladesh's yo-yoing from the high of New Zealand and the low of South Africa isn't just a case of one step forward, two steps back. The tentativeness in their game is actually understandable when you consider the sheer level of scrutiny they are under. With a passionate fan following, attentive media and an intrusive cricket board to deal with, they don't have the luxury of getting away with anything.
This team is now preparing for its most important Test series this year. They are playing Sri Lanka, whom they consider equals in Test cricket, in a home series. Recent results however suggest Bangladesh still have some ground to make up.
In the two previous Test series in 2018 and 2021, they capitulated to spin after Sri Lanka's patient batting softened them. South Africa used a similar formula in the two Tests last month, which came as a surprise to Bangladesh who were expecting a trial by pace instead of spin.
Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer broke all kinds of records when they took 29 wickets between themselves. Bangladesh were bowled out for 53 and 80 in two embarrassing fourth innings performances, especially when you consider the amount of left-arm spin they face almost every day at home.

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This is the same side (considerably weaker on paper) that won in New Zealand, arguably the toughest place to tour in recent times. Bangladesh showed surprising amounts of patience with bat and ball, exploited the conditions better and applied an extra skill, reverse swing, to tilt the game at a crucial juncture.
People might still say it was a fluke. After all, one of the lowest-ranked Test teams beat the top-ranked one in their backyard. Plus, there's Bangladesh's record in New Zealand. And their subsequent results.

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But was it really a fluke? Over the course of five full days, Bangladesh displayed concentration, patience and the very best of their skills. Methodically they managed to out-bowl, out-bat and out-catch New Zealand, despite being without Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal. Mahmudul Hasan Joy, Mominul Haque, Litton Das and Yasir Ali batted out of their skins in a rare display of experience and youth coming together. Mehidy Hasan Miraz chipped in with tight spells and late runs. Taskin , Ebadot and Shoriful were the bowling architects, and arguably the main match-winners.
Bangladesh's fast bowling has come a long way in a short time. As recently as September 2019, they went into a Test with Soumya Sarkar as their lone seamer. But now, Taskin has come on in leaps and bounds. Shoriful is a breath of fresh air. And Ebadot, well he became the first Bangladesh pacer in nine years to take a Test five-for.
Despite injury concerns, Taskin and Shoriful continued to bowl well in South Africa, while Ebadot kept getting better at keeping the runs down. Mehidy too has grown as a cricketer in these five months, but there ends Bangladesh's individual improvement.

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The batting is unsettled. Concern begins at the top as captain Mominul's struggle for runs continues into a third Test series. There doesn't seem to be any specific technical errors but he has had huge trouble getting starts, having got out for single-digits nine times in the last 12 innings.
Bangladesh have tried six openers in these six Tests, with only Joy scoring more than 200 runs. Shadman Islam has been woeful in his five appearances, eventually losing his place when Tamim returned to the Test side in South Africa.
Only Litton has really stood out among all the batters, scoring 501 runs at an average of 45.54, with two hundreds and two fifties. Najmul Hossain Shanto, Mushfiqur Rahim and Yasir have averaged in the twenties, while Mominul lurks at 15.
The return of Tamim and Shakib against Sri Lanka will boost the batting line-up but Bangladesh are looking for more than that. They want to build a Test team that can stand up on its own, with the likes of Litton, Joy, Yasir, Mehidy and Taskin at the forefront. Tamim, Shakib and Mushfiqur won't be around forever. It's time for the next generation to take the lead.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84