Match Analysis

Outdated spin strategy hurts Bangladesh

The side's tendency to only bowl spinners who turn the ball away from batsmen - regardless of form or respective quality - continues to work against them

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Mehidy Hasan Miraz roars after pinning David Warner lbw, Bangladesh v Australia, 1st Test, Mirpur, 1st day, August 27, 2017

Mahmudullah and Sunzamul Islam stitched together a 58-run eighth-wicket stand  •  Getty Images

It is implemented so consistently that it infuriates you. But it happens so often that you are getting used to it.
I am talking, of course, about Bangladesh taking offspinners out of the attack when two right-handers are at the crease, and taking out left-arm spinners as soon as left-handers arrive. It is as if offspinners have no idea how to bowl to right-handers and left-arm spinners will tumble over bowling to left-handers.
Every Bangladesh captain does it, and Mahmudullah just joined the club in his first outing as captain. As soon as Mehidy Hasan removed Dimuth Karunaratne, he was pulled out of the attack. He only returned for two short spells in which he created a genuine chance, when Imrul Kayes couldn't hold on to an edge off Kusal Mendis. By then Dhananjaya de Silva and Mendis had settled down.
Taijul Islam and Sunzamul Islam bowled two-thirds of the 48 overs on the second day in Chittagong, and only in the last 30-odd minutes did they look threatening. But no matter how they bowled, Mehidy could have bowled more to whichever batsman was at the crease because he is being classed as the leader of their spin attack. It is an error to think that Mehidy can bowl only to batsmen against whom he can turn the ball away from. Mahmudullah basically limited his bowling attack to two bowlers when he had a third specialist option available to him.
But this is nothing new as far as the Bangladesh team is concerned. Famously (or infamously) during an ODI against Sri Lanka in January 2014, Mushfiqur Rahim took off Shakib Al Hasan from the bowling attack when Sri Lank slid to 67 for eight after 22 overs. He only returned after Thisara Perera had counterattacked and eventually took the game away from Bangladesh. At that time Mushfiqur explained that the plan was "fine" but that they dropped too many catches. The latter was certainly true but to expect Shakib to be unable to bowl to Thisara was poor thinking.
Four years on, nothing much has changed. Mahmudullah judged that only left-arm spinners could trouble right-handed batsmen. Mehidy has been in the Test team since 2016. Nearly half of all his deliveries have been to right-handers, and 19 out of his 44 wickets are right-handers.
Even someone as proactive as Mashrafe Mortaza has resorted to this currently in vogue concept. It is believed that the idea originated in the Jamie Siddons era with Mohammad Ashraful and Shakib himself implementing it quite regularly.
But a glimmer of hope emerges from within the current Bangladesh coaching staff. Last month during the tri-series, interim head coach Richard Halsall was asked if they would drop Sunzamul Islam against Sri Lanka because of their number of left-handers.
"Sunzamul can bowl to left-handers," Halsall said. "Just because you turn the ball the other way doesn't mean you can't bowl to left-handed or right-handed batsmen. I think it is a complete fallacy. If you are an outstanding bowler, you can bowl to left-handers and right-handers."
Mahmudullah would do well to heed his head coach's words.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84