Faltering Bangladesh need a rethink
The home-series defeat to Sri Lanka should prompt Bangladesh to reflect on their selections, batting strategy, choice of pitches and their inability to find a permanent head coach
Bangladesh are left searching for answers after their chastening Test series defeat to Sri Lanka. A one-dimensional batting plan, the choice of pitch, team selection and the inability to find a permanent head coach are some of the issues being discussed in the immediate aftermath.
Given that Bangladesh won a Test match in Sri Lanka last year, the loss to them at home suggests there is a need for something between a rethink and an overhaul of the BCB's long-term cricket policies and the overall team culture.
Bangladesh have performed poorly since the second Test against Australia last September, following it up with a dreadful tour of South Africa. In the tri-series last month they started well but finished with two messy games. Something similar happened in the Chittagong Test where they posted a competitive total but were completely overpowered by Sri Lanka's batting, before managing to draw the game.
After the Dhaka Test, Mahmudullah repeated the need for the batsmen to remain positive on a dodgy pitch, which made it seem like Bangladesh didn't even consider a Plan B. But he also said the Chittagong performance prompted the team management to take the risk of playing on a spin-friendly pitch, hoping that the batsmen's confidence could pull them through. In the end, across the two innings, they lasted 75.1 overs with the bat, totaling 233 runs, which is Bangladesh's second-lowest match aggregate in Test matches not unduly affected by rain.
The decision to play on spin-friendly surfaces was taken before the first Test itself - the pitch in Chittagong did not behave as planned. The Bangladesh think-tank laid out this plan at least six weeks before the series, though the players, team management, selectors and board officials didn't all agree on it. ESPNcricinfo has learned that very few members of this group thought it a good idea to prepare turning tracks against Sri Lanka, and that they were successful in convincing the BCB's decision-makers.
They overlooked a simple piece of logic: Sri Lanka has a far superior spin attack in Tests even when Bangladesh have Shakib Al Hasan - who missed the series with a finger injury. The choice of pitch ended up baffling even the opposition camp. During his press conference on the second day in Dhaka, Roshen Silva expressed his surprise at the home side's choice of pitch when they were playing against the likes of Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera. But the Bangladesh think-tank were swayed by the team's success on similar pitches against England and Australia.
It was an easier choice to prepare spin-friendly pitches against these two teams since they posed a threat with one frontline spinner (Moeen Ali and Nathan Lyon) each. Bangladesh tackled their second line of spinners - Gareth Batty, Adil Rashid, Zafar Ansari and Ashton Agar - quite well. Against Sri Lanka, they faltered against not just Herath but also Dilruwan, Lakshan Sandakan and Akila Dananjaya.
In Dhaka, the Bangladesh batsmen were undone by their apprehension of a turning track. Even someone as calm and dependable as Mushfiqur Rahim decided that going at the ball with a straight bat wasn't the answer. Many of them got out to bad shots while only some actually got out to deliveries that misbehaved.
The one-size-fits-all mentality made the batsmen suffer, and it is a lesson to be learned for future home series. Taking 20 wickets is a must to win Test matches, but it is also important to score runs for a solid base. The management must consider the team's strengths and weaknesses when they draw up their plans, especially now that their gung-ho approach hasn't worked on a spin-friendly pitch.
The loss in the Dhaka Test prompted plenty of discussions within the dressing room and among BCB directors, some of whom are irate with the nature of the defeat.
The team selection has also left many questions unanswered. In a bid to fill the gap left by Shakib's absence, the selectors picked six spinners in the 16-man squad for the first Test. They decided to go with Sunzamul Islam even though he is less experienced than Abdur Razzak and possessed less of a novelty factor than Nayeem Hasan.
Sunzamul went for plenty of runs and was predictably dropped for the second Test, and his replacement Razzak did a far better job. But the other change in the Dhaka Test was stunning. Mosaddek Hossain, whose solid defence helped Bangladesh bat out the last 70-odd minutes in Chittagong, was left out. Sabbir Rahman, who had not played a competitive match in two weeks, came into the side, scored 0 and 1, and also dropped catches in the slips.
Bangladesh would also count themselves unlucky that they lost Shakib, who picked up his injury during the tri-series final. It would have been his first Test series in his second stint as captain, and the responsibility fell on Mahmudullah, who had never captained before in international cricket.
The BCB would also rue the fact that they couldn't find a permanent head coach to fill the void left by Chandika Hathurusingha. They had known of his resignation in mid-October and revealed the matter in mid-November so they had enough time to decide upon a new coach. They didn't ultimately consider Richard Pybus or Phil Simmons, both of whom have already taken up new assignments.
Not finding a coach, the board decided to spread out the responsibility among the support staff with Khaled Mahmud, the BCB director, appointed technical director. Bangladesh have long been dependent on foreign head coaches, and had no figurehead this time around. While they did have Courney Walsh, Sunil Joshi, Richard Halsall and Simon Helmot in the mix, none of them was unambiguously in charge of the planning.
At a time like this, Bangladesh cricket needs to look at the recent past and try to recreate the successes of 2015; it has to be mindful of present challenges and, with the 2019 World Cup now 18 months away, must plan sensibly for the future.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84