Bangladesh's new, positive outlook bodes well for their Test future
In Pallekele, they fielded five specialist bowlers and opted to bat first - not usual for the team at all
Mominul Haque, the Bangladesh Test captain, expects his team to improve in Tests if they take positive decisions. Like picking five specialist bowlers, as they did in the first Test against Sri Lanka. They also decided to bat after winning the toss. It was a rare occurrence for Bangladesh on foreign soil, considering the greenness of the Pallekele pitch, and it was another positive call.
As such, the look of the pitch meant little, scores of 541 for 7 declared, 648 for 8 declared, and 100 for 2 proving that. But the two sides, especially the visitors, would not have known this when they chose their XIs or took a decision at the toss.
"If you want to win a Test match in Sri Lanka, you should always have five bowlers in the team," Haque said. "We were playing a Test after two months, so if someone bowled poorly or got injured, we would have been in more trouble. To get ahead in Test cricket, you should play with five bowlers and six batsmen.
"You will always want five bowlers if you want to take 20 wickets. Also, having six batsmen makes everyone take a bit more responsibility. But, while there was some advantage in this decision, there was some risk too. We usually don't play with six batsmen, but I think we should always play with five bowlers. That's what big teams do."
The best teams also take first-day conditions head on. Batting first reflected the mindset of the Mominul Haque-Russell Domingo firm. So far, Bangladesh have chosen to bat on all three occasions they have won a toss in an overseas Test.
Why that is interesting is that Bangladesh hadn't done such a thing in ten Tests, in more than ten years, prior to the tour of India in November 2019, when they opted to bat in Indore and Kolkata. Between July 2009 and November 2019, Bangladesh only ever fielded first when they had the choice. Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan were the captains during this period.
It's true that Bangladesh have usually batted first at home or in the subcontinent, but overall in overseas Tests, they have bowled first in 40% of the times they called the coin correctly. And never have they shown an inclination to have first strike when the pitch has looked pace-friendly. But the new way - in India - was criticised. In his first Test as captain, in Indore, Haque was left frustrated by all the questions, while Domingo was belligerent in his responses when asked the same question during the Kolkata Test. "I think when we played overseas (during those years), most of the conditions were bowler-friendly," Habibul Bashar, the former Bangladesh captain, told ESPNcricinfo. "I think that's why we used to prefer bowling first. But recently, we have been playing in the subcontinent where it gets difficult to bat in the fourth innings. Maybe this is a reason why we have batted first.
"I wouldn't call it a defensive mindset but we considered the given conditions. In places like West Indies, New Zealand, England and South Africa, there is sideways movement early on in Tests, so often we have tried to take advantage of those conditions."
Over the last couple of years, Bangladesh have mostly been without Shakib, but have still had a very one-dimensional spin-only bowling plan at home. Domingo has stressed on the need to have a more balanced attack at home https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/bangladesh-ditch-all-spin-home-attack-as-domingo-calls-for-balanced-pitches-1217049 so that they can have a proper bowling attack for overseas Tests.
It would be interesting to see what type of pitch is dished out for the second Test in Sri Lanka, also in Pallekele, starting on Thursday, But Bangladesh would feel encouraged from the first Test. And that might push them to take more such positive, bold decisions - that is the sort of thing that helps a struggling side get better.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84