Taskin Ahmed creates space for pace in new Bangladesh bowling plan

Not for the first time in this series, Bangladesh's quicks have given them a chance, and that's rare for them in Test cricket

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Taskin Ahmed brought Bangladesh back in the game on the second day  •  SLC

Taskin Ahmed brought Bangladesh back in the game on the second day  •  SLC

Taskin Ahmed hands his hat to his captain, takes the ball, grips it with his index and middle fingers, and gives it a bit of a flip… all fast bowlers do it, but it has been a curiously reassuring sight for followers of Bangladesh cricket in the ongoing Test series.
That Bangladesh pace attack, led by Ahmed, nearly derailed Sri Lanka in the morning session on the second day of the second Test in Pallekele, and both Abu Jayed and Shoriful Islam supported Ahmed with meaningful spells. Maybe so little is expected from the Bangladesh pacers that even a three-wicket session is seen as a triumph but it can't be denied that they made themselves relevant on the day, and that's rare enough to be remarkable.
The morning session was the third time in this Test series that the Bangladesh bowlers seemed to be getting things right.
On the third evening of the first Test, Ahmed had Oshada Fernando caught down the leg side, after which Angelo Mathews fell to Taijul Islam. Dhananjaya de Silva came in, edged a couple that could have gone to hand with the right field placements, and Taijul couldn't reach a caught-and-bowled chance from Dimuth Karunaratne. And the initiative was lost.
The quicks were impressive at the start of the second Test, too. They bowled 20 out of the first 26 overs - spin is usually in for Bangladesh by that stage - and Ahmed and Shorfiul got the batters to play and miss on a number of occasions before Ahmed found Karunaratne's edge. But Najmul Hossain Shanto dropped the dolly at slip. And the initiative was taken away.
Sri Lanka ended the first day on 291 for 1, so when Bangladesh again started well on Friday, it seemed like only a matter of time before they would run out of steam - Sri Lanka would turn a corner with a spate of boundaries, or the heat of Pallekele would have a say, or the unresponsive pitch would break their will.
But after Sri Lanka got 18 runs in the first hour, Mominul Haque did the wise thing by bringing back Ahmed and Shoriful for second spells. Ahmed had already beaten the bat a number of times in a tight first spell, so he had his tail up, looking for wickets. He zeroed in on more length and short-of-length deliveries - he conceded just three runs off the 20 deliveries he bowled on these lengths, picking up one of his two wickets. The other one came from a short ball down the leg side. Shoriful and Jayed also targeted the good length; Jayed bowled a few more full deliveries than the others, but the general plan was to offer fewer half-volleys.
As the first session on the first day, there wasn't any swing on offer, but the bowlers found a bit of movement off the pitch. More crucially, they bowled consistent lines.
Sri Lanka perhaps expected their ultra-defensive batting plan could be built upon once the bowlers tired. But Bangladesh remained disciplined, and they cashed in on the home side's caution.
Bangladesh's pace bowlers also ended up giving the spin duo of Mehidy Hasan and Taijul a good platform. It is usually the other way around. But Ahmed's improved consistency and the strong support acts made it a different sort of day for Bangladesh.
Jayed may not have picked up a wicket in the series so far, but he is the highest wicket-taker among the pacers in the Bangladesh squad. They have got three four-wicket hauls out of him in the last 18 months, and he has bowled well in India, New Zealand and the West Indies, and recently at home too.
Shoriful impressed on debut, not much by using his height or pace but by being consistent outside the off stump. He is young, having been fast-tracked from the Under-19 set-up, and this was his first first-class game in more than two years. Enthusiasm might help him get through this Test, but giving him more long-form experience is key.
The three pace bowlers perhaps could have bowled a little better against Niroshan Dickwella and Ramesh Mendis later in the day, but better hands in the slips could have helped too - Ahmed did get Mendis' edge, but Shanto dropped that.
This day could, however, be a turning point for Bangladesh's pace-bowling strategy - or the lack of it until this series. There hasn't been much in the conditions, but the pace trio has kept Bangladesh going for much of the day. This isn't common for them, not in the subcontinent.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84