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Stopping the slide - Bangladesh's six-point agenda

With big-ticket cricket coming up in all formats, Bangladesh have too many loose ends to tie up

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
There have been far too many setbacks in recent times  •  AFP

There have been far too many setbacks in recent times  •  AFP

Harsh criticism and talk of big changes usually follow a series defeat in Bangladesh. Their busy schedule often only allows quick fixes. But the need of the hour is to take some concrete decisions for the long term - there are important games coming up in all formats.
After the New Zealand tour, they have two Tests against Sri Lanka in April. They also have three crucial series - Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and England - in the ICC World Cup Super League, which will have a bearing on qualification for the ODI World Cup in 2023. Not to mention the T20 World Cup in October. The BCB has already announced a robust lead-in for the tournament. According to the ICC's calendar, Bangladesh have home series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and a New Zealand tour later in 2021.
Here, we take a look at some items that must be on Bangladesh's agenda after what has been a very poor run of results.
The gap at the top
Bangladesh will go to Sri Lanka with a question mark at the top of their Test batting order. In the last five years, they have had ten opening pairs. Tamim Iqbal opened alongside Soumya Sarkar - a return to an old combination - when they reprised the latter's role as an opener during the Dhaka Test in February. But Sarkar's 0 and 13 hasn't done anything to solve the problem.
His inclusion in the XI also became controversial after BCB president Nazmul Hassan criticised the team management for picking him. Bangladesh had Saif Hassan in the Test squad, but called up Sarkar for what they called balance. Shadman Islam and Saif are considered long-term candidates by some, but neither has justified that faith so far.
There's an even bigger concern in T20Is. Iqbal gave the New Zealand series a miss, and the two opening pairs were hardly convincing. Mohammad Naim hasn't produced an innings of consequence yet, while Liton Das and Sarkar have struggled for consistency recently.
Islam could open with Iqbal in Sri Lanka, but they must be given a long rope, a chance to fail, before a change is made. Ditto for the T20I openers. Their next batch of T20Is begin in July. The World Cup isn't too far away from there. Instability could prove costly.
Shakib at No. 3
Najmul Hossain Shanto lost his No. 3 spot during the ODIs and T20Is in New Zealand, and it could be a message that he will be looked past in Tests as well. Mominul Haque could return to his old position and Bangladesh could also try Saif, who recently batted at No. 3 in two National Cricket League matches, for that spot.
That said, Shakib Al Hasan will return to No. 3 in ODIs and T20Is - it is imminent and important. Bangladesh cannot afford to have a wobbly No. 3 - especially in addition to an unstable opening pair - in any format going forward, not this year.
A big-hitter at No. 7
Not having a big-hitting allrounder is strictly a white-ball problem, and it has been a constant for Bangladesh for a long time.
Mahmudullah's transformation into a T20 enforcer is commendable but in ODIs, he has to bat in the middle order to guide the lower order. In T20Is, he has to be around in the second half of the innings, regardless of how many wickets have fallen. That's too many hats to wear for a big-hitting finisher.
Bangladesh have relied heavily on top- and middle-order batsmen to take their innings deep, rather than have batsmen at No. 7 or 8 who go after the bowling from the get-go. Currently, Mohammad Saifuddin and Mahedi Hasan are being tried but someone has to step up - a power-hitter. And the management must back him - it's a role where players fail more often than they succeed.
Balance in the bowling attack
Spin will have a major say in Pallekele, where Bangladesh play both their Tests later this month, but they will be taking a step back if they rely only on spin; a one-dimensional bowling attack might suit the conditions, but won't be a long term fix.
The BCB has released Mustafizur Rahman for the IPL. That leaves Abu Jayed as the only pace bowler with recent Test-match experience under his belt.
In the white-ball formats, too, spin can only be a supporting act against good batting line-ups.
Taskin Ahmed impressed in New Zealand, while Shoriful Islam, who has made a swift graduation from the Under-19 World Cup-winning team to senior cricket, was handed a T20I debut. Those are decent signs.
Managing the seniors
Even if balance is achieved, team building depends entirely on the four senior cricketers. When Bangladesh played without Shakib, Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim in New Zealand last week, they looked rudderless. Alongside Mahmudullah, these men have to take the lead to form a strong and cohesive unit to play in the three ICC events in the next three years.
But how do they see their futures in the Bangladesh team?
Shakib hasn't ruled out playing Tests altogether despite being the first among the Bangladesh cricketers to voluntarily skip Tests since 2017. Iqbal has hinted that he might stop playing one format to prolong his career. Rahim and Mahmudullah haven't said anything, but the former's role as wicketkeeper is under the scanner. Mamhudullah was given a white-ball contract only in 2020, and hasn't played Tests since January last year.
Bangladesh are losing out due to the uncertainty around their experienced - and best - players. Clear communication is a must.
And this is where different levels of leadership have to be put in place, and offer a clearer picture. Right now, Bangladesh have three captains, all relatively new to the roles. Iqbal has to guide the team through a tricky Super League, and Mahmudullah has the T20 World Cup later this year to worry about, while Haque has the job of not just leading the Test team out of a mire, but making Test cricket relevant to this generation. Apart from these three, Bangladesh has an all-format head coach in Russell Domingo, who hasn't yet found a lot of success.
For them to succeed, the BCB must make things simpler, create the right environment. The onus lies with the board - and its influential boss Nazmul Hassan - to give all of them the confidence for the year ahead. It is perhaps not a time for major chopping and changing, but of creating a leadership group with clarity, keeping in mind all three formats.
All of this, together, might help.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84