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Bangladesh hope changing perspectives towards legspin finally earns long-awaited rewards

The BCB even fired couple of coaches as legspinners kept getting ignored from the set-up

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Rishad Hossain celebrates a wicket in a practice game, Dhaka, October 17, 2020

Rishad Hossain celebrates a wicket in a practice game  •  Raton Gomes/BCB

Soumya Sarkar ran back to short third-man from the slips as soon as legspinner Rishad Hossain bowled a short ball. The batsman Sabbir Rahman couldn't put it away and though it was his first ball, a slip was already missing.
Next delivery, Rishad produced a peach of a leg-break that spun just enough after pitching to take Rahman's outside edge, slipped past wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim and went unharmed through the vacant slip region for a couple of runs. Captain Najmul Hossain Shanto immediately brought back the slip for the next ball and a decent leg-break from Rishad followed, only for Rahman to defend it back to the bowler.
This, in a practice one-day tournament where the young legspinner Rishad was bowling at a stage when his side captained by Shanto was in control of the match against senior Bangladesh allrounder Mahmudullah's side. But this lack of patience by the captain isn't just Hossain or any other inexperienced spinner's fault. It is a sharp example of Bangladesh cricket's inherent caginess about legspinners. Whether it was Shanto or any of the senior captains, they would do no such thing if a young left-arm spinner or an offspinner would bowl a short ball first up.
Young Rishad ended up with respectable figures of 2 for 26 from his six overs in the game, and went back to the hotel BDT 25,000 (approx. $US 295) richer. Surprisingly though, he was adjudged the best bowler of the match despite the left-arm spinner Nasum Ahmed getting Liton Das and Mahmudullah among his three wickets and Abu Jayed also finishing with as many wickets. Hossain being given the award was a little patronising, but perhaps that's the least that can be done to promote legspin in Bangladesh. Time, however, is running out for Bangladesh's legspinners - all three of them.
Legspinners Rishad, Aminul Islam and Minhajul Abedin Afridi - all part of the High Performance programme - were each assigned to the three teams in the BCB President's Cup, a one-day tournament designed to ease Bangladesh's top cricketers back into competitiveness after the long pandemic break.
But none of the three has bowled their full quota of ten overs yet. Afridi, who was plucked out of a net session in Chittagong two years ago by chief selector Minhajul Abedin, has only bowled one over in the tournament so far. Islam and Hossain too have bowled just 27.1 overs between them, taking seven wickets. That has left them with at most two or three remaining opportunities to remain viable options before the 2020-21 domestic season proper begins. While the BCB President's Cup has the Bangladesh team management in control of selection, the subsequent domestic tournaments will not.
The BCB President's Cup will be followed by a T20 tournament next month, with the remainder of the 2019-20 Dhaka Premier League likely to be held just after that. There's no certainty if even one from the trio would be chosen in the T20s, with Islam having played only one DPL match. Moreover, there's no assurance if any team in the upcoming tournaments would select a legspinner in their playing XI even if any of them bowl well in the ongoing practice matches.
There is, of course, precedence to such a thing. Back in 2014, after Jubair Hossain impressed in his first international series, he was largely ignored in domestic cricket. Even after he got Virat Kohli bowled with a googly in the Fatullah Test the following season, he could break into neither club cricket nor first-class sides. Some say that Jubair lacked the hunger after that early success, but the overwhelming theory is that without enough competitive cricket, a delicate art like legspin cannot produce elite results
Jubair was marked as a Chandika Hathurusingha favourite because the then Bangladesh head coach had championed his cause to the point that he got into a public spat with Faruque Ahmed, the chief selector at the time, for not selecting Jubair in the 2015 World Cup squad.
The Russell Domingo-led team management too wants a legspinner, as would any coach who wants to have attacking bowlers in their line-up. The BCB tried to support him last season by instructing the National Cricket League (NCL) and the BPL teams to pick legspinners. They even fired couple of coaches for not listening to the instruction but largely, legspinners kept getting ignored.
One man who also has a lot of interest in bringing in legspinners into the picture is the incumbent chief selector Abedin. He even selected 21-year-old Afridi in a practice match against Zimbabwe two years ago after seeing him in the nets in Chittagong. Abedin also advised Islam to become a full-time legspinner when he was in the High Performance programme last year.
Abedin believes that such practice matches are the only place where these bowlers will be given a fair go in match situations, and also feels that they should be given more chances in major domestic tournaments.
"Rishad [Hossain] bowled well in this tournament while [Aminul Islam] Biplob will need a bit of time and [Minhajul Abedin] Afridi is injured," Abedin told ESPNcricinfo. "We want to closely observe their ability. We haven't been able to arrange these type of matches in the last two years.
"They have to play under different managements once they go into competitive cricket, but those don't usually select legspinners. I have always advised them to give legspinners the opportunities to play but our [DPL] club culture is different. But we will try to ensure that the legspinners get to play first-class matches this season."
Abedin said that they have plans for each one of them, but all depends on how the domestic clubs and first-class sides treat them in the remainder of the season. "Biplob is more of a shorter-version bowler, but I think we can work with Rishad in the longer version. Afridi has to be played in both formats. I think all three must play a lot of matches which will improve their skills. There's no point in telling them to practice all year if they are not picked in matches," he said.
The other ramification of not having legspinners in domestic cricket is the batsmen not having any practice playing such bowling regularly. Apart from the Afghanistan legspinner Rashid Khan's 33 wickets at 12.87 across all three formats against Bangladesh in the last five years, even Graeme Cremer, Adil Rashid, Yuzevendra Chahal and Ish Sodhi have done well against them. The lack of legspinners in the circuit is not the only reason for Bangladesh's batsmen struggling against the best ones, but quality bowling at home is always of help.
The main issue, however, remains Bangladesh's struggle to take 20 wickets in a Test match and attacking batting line-ups in T20Is. It is widely believed that the inclusion of a skilled legspinner can make a big difference, as Bangladesh are over-reliant on left-arm spin in Tests and besides Mustafizur Rahman, remain unsure about their bowling attack in T20Is.
But as Abedin pointed out, a wider cultural shift is required, and the way the Dhaka clubs are run, it may take years. Back in the 1990s, Mohammad Rafique changed the thinking about left-arm orthodox spin and a decade later, Mashrafe Mortaza did it with pace bowling. A legspinner making it that big would require a lot of hard work but the good news is that if they can become regulars in domestic cricket, they are likely to be picked more quickly in the national setup.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84