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Picking six specialist bowlers reflects Bangladesh's aggressive intent

Tamim reveals that if Mehidy had not had a freak injury, they would have picked this XI from the first ODI itself

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Hasan Mahmud proudly walks off after his maiden ODI five-for  •  BCB

Hasan Mahmud proudly walks off after his maiden ODI five-for  •  BCB

In the first two ODIs against Ireland, Bangladesh batted boldly to reach totals of 338 and 349, their highest in ODIs. There was even talk of an impending 400-plus total in the third match. Albeit slowly, Bangladesh seem to have finally updated themselves as a batting unit to keep up with the rest of the world.
Picking six specialist bowlers in their XI, though, is a different story altogether. It is a rare occurrence for this team. But they came around to take that big step in the third ODI against Ireland. The move paid off, and how.
They usually pick only five specialist bowlers when Shakib Al Hasan is in the XI. When he is not around, they tend to pick seven batters, relying on part-timers to bowl ten overs. But this is a World Cup year, and they are geared up to do well there. So a show of this intent was most necessary. Though it came against Ireland, on a slightly overcast day in Sylhet, everything fell into place for Bangladesh's rare show of aggression.
Firstly, Mehidy Hasan Miraz was deemed fit after missing the first two matches. His recent upturn as a batter has given the team management the confidence to give him a promotion. Bangladesh's top six batters have also shown that they can hold their own after beating England 3-0 in the T20I series. The fast bowlers too couldn't be ignored on this surprisingly pacy and bouncy pitch in Sylhet.
After Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie opted to bat on winning the toss, the Bangladesh seamers bowled the opponents out for 101 in 28.1 overs to script a ten-wicket win.
Hasan Mahmud took his maiden five-wicket haul in ODIs, while Taskin Ahmed picked up three wickets and Ebadot Hossain two. Their relentless line and length choked the Ireland batters, who looked at sea even in the middle overs against this pace attack.
It was the first time for Bangladesh that all ten wickets went to their fast bowlers. In fact, Mehidy bowled just one over in the match. Even more incredibly, it was the first time that Shakib Al Hasan neither batted nor bowled in an ODI, and only the second time when he didn't score a run or take a wicket in a Bangladesh win.
Tamim Iqbal, the Bangladesh captain, later said that they had the six-bowler plan from the first ODI against Ireland. Mehidy's freak injury, getting hit in the face by a football, kept them waiting. He said that it is the ideal line-up in most conditions, as it allows him an extra bowling option.
"We had this thought process from the first game of this ODI series," Tamim said. "If Miraz wasn't injured ahead of the first game, we would have picked this XI [straightaway]. We have faith in Miraz's batting ability. If he can deliver, it becomes easier to operate with six bowlers. Sometimes five bowlers and part-timers make it difficult on good wickets. When we knew that it would be a sporting wicket, we decided to go with six bowlers. We might do this in overseas conditions, depending on the opponent and conditions."
Mahmud had impressed with his death bowling in Bangladesh's T20I series win against England earlier this month. On Thursday, he took three wickets with the new ball and two towards the end to complete his five-for.
"It is my first five-wicket haul in domestic and international career," Mahmud said after the game. "Our fast bowling attack is playing together for the last few years. We have a good connection. We are improving on it. We are working hard with Alan Donald, our fast bowling coach.
"I have been preparing for this game for the last few days. The two white-ball formats are quite different in terms of mental set-up. I try to start well in both formats, in the different phases of the innings - powerplay, middle overs and death. Our bowling coach shares his experience and thoughts. He tells us how to bowl in certain situations, how to back oneself.
"We [the fast-bowling group] back each other, we tell each other to give our best. Taskin bhai is our senior, he looks after us. He tells us to avoid the negatives, look at the positives, what is needed to be done during the matches, and what will bring improvement."
Tamim, too, was full of praise for his fast bowlers. "If I just say that they bowled brilliantly, it won't be enough," he said. "Their hard work is paying off. Their success is not a fluke. They work very hard in the nets. When you have a fast-bowling attack like this, life becomes easy.
"You become competitive in most conditions. I am actually very proud of the whole pace-bowling unit. I was extremely pleased with the way they bowled in this series."
Tamim said that sending Mushfiqur Rahim at No. 6 was also part of their plan to give the experienced batter responsibility of scoring in the slog overs.
"The coach and I decided to bat him at No. 6 from the last series. Nothing against him batting at No. 4 where he has an exceptional record, but we don't finish well. So his experience, and the number of shots he has, is the reason. He is someone who is very aggressive when there are only a few overs left in the innings. It clicked for us. He batted unbelievably well. If he can carry on like this, that's the best possible thing for us.
"Batting at No. 6 is very tricky. We will not always get a good start. He might have to come to bat at 100 for 4. Whether it's [Mahmudullah] Riyad bhai, Afif [Hossain] or Mushy, I have a soft corner for those who bat at No. 6 and 7. It is one of the most difficult positions to bat, apart from opening the innings."
Tamim said that his strong belief in following the process was proved right in this series, and that while batting in the powerplay was tough in the second ODI, he and Litton sacrificed their styles to get through that period, allowing the rest of the batters with enough of a foundation to get big totals.
"I have a simple message for the team. I don't set targets for the team, like 350-360. I believe in following the process. If it gets us to 260-270, it's fine. I am happy we ended up scoring 350. If you consider the last match, we got to 350 [349], but nobody would know how difficult it was. Those first ten overs was the most important part. Following the process, ticking all the boxes, we ended up scoring 350 [349]."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84