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Why Bangladesh should play more in Sylhet and Chattogram

The pitches there are more sporting than the slow, low ones in Dhaka, and could assist their World Cup prep

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Bangladesh's fast bowlers have been penetrative in Sylhet  •  AFP/Getty Images

Bangladesh's fast bowlers have been penetrative in Sylhet  •  AFP/Getty Images

With the ODI World Cup set to be played in India later this year, Bangladesh have moved away from the slow, low pitches in Dhaka to the more sporting ones in Sylhet and Chattogram to prepare for the tournament. After completing the 2-0 ODI series win against Ireland in Sylhet, the first white-ball matches in the city in three years, the T20I series will be played in Chattogram, where Bangladesh have already played an ODI and T20I against England earlier this month.
Sylhet and Chattogram are known for offering the best batting conditions in a country which has the lowest scoring rate in T20Is in the last four years. The ODI scoring rate in Bangladesh during the same period is also in the bottom half among countries that have hosted at least 40 innings.
This is largely down to the pitches at the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Dhaka, which aren't usually friendly for batting or pace bowling. The BCB treats this venue as their fortress and only spinners have thrived here, particularly in the last seven years.
The pitches in Chattogram, though, have provided relief to the batters and aided strokeplay. As for Sylhet, it has offered pace and bounce, assisting both the fast bowlers and batters. In fact, the Bangladesh team got almost everything they wanted from the Sylhet conditions over the past week.
Their 349 for 6 and 338 for 8 in the first two ODIs are now their highest totals in the format. Bangladesh put up such big totals, despite the ball moving and bouncing considerably during the first powerplay in both games. After seeing off the early movement and bounce, the likes of Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan, Litton Das, Najmul Hossain Shanto and Towhid Hridoy cashed in with quickfire knocks and big partnerships.
Captain Tamim Iqbal has said that Bangladesh were willing to risk giving a bit of familiarity to the Ireland bowlers in return for the opportunity to keep playing on sporting pitches. He also said that they are trying to stick to this plan, with preparation for the ODI World Cup in India being their top priority.
"I said during the England series that we will play on these wickets in the near future," Tamim said. "That one ODI in Chattogram was a step. There was a good amount of live grass on this wicket. Normally we don't play a lot on grassy wickets. But since there's a World Cup and series in other conditions later this year, we decided to play on this type of wicket. Bear in mind that it also becomes an even contest at home on these wickets. The opposition's pace attack is familiar with such conditions. But we took on the challenge, and the players reacted exceptionally well."
Bangladesh's fast bowlers have also impressed on these pitches. They picked up 16 of the 20 wickets that fell in the two completed matches. Their average of 10.93 is their best as a collective in home conditions.
Allan Donald, Bangladesh's fast-bowling coach, was particularly delighted with the pitches in Sylhet and said it even reminded him of the ones in South Africa.
"The curator here has produced a belter of a wicket," he said. "It is a wicket that has more pace and bounce. Good consistent carry. It brings the quicks right in it. Batters have been piling on the runs as well. The pitches here are a great preparation for [three ODIs against Ireland in] Chelmsford in May.
"There we will get the same type of wickets where the ball will come on. It won't spin much. It is awesome preparation for the next series where there's points at stake. For me it is almost like a South African type of surface, where it comes on. It slides on even better at night when there's dew around. It quickens up. It allows for good strokeplay. If you get in here, you have to fill your boots"
Donald also explained further as to why Bangladesh need to play more regularly in Sylhet. He reckoned that the pitches in India may not offer a lot of help to the spinners, something he experienced during the last 50-over World Cup in the country in 2011. Donald was New Zealand's fast-bowling coach at the time.
"I have been to the 2011 World Cup in India," Donald said. "I can tell you not many wickets in the World Cup spun. So we need to play on wickets like [Sylhet], so that you don't have to change the mindset and mentality. The wickets [in India] will be like here. They are all very good pitches made for high scores.
"From here to Chelmsford to [the home series against] Afghanistan and New Zealand, and then the Asia Cup. The wickets in Pakistan will be absolutely gun, so we know our approach. It is going to be fine margins in the World Cup"
Playing on turners in Dhaka will not be ideal preparation for the World Cup in India. It wasn't in 2021 when they beat Australia and New Zealand at home, 4-1 and 3-2, but went to the T20 World Cup that followed and lost all the Super 12s matches in the UAE.
Bangladesh's obsession with the Shere Bangla National Stadium is not new. It has always come at a price. Bangladesh's struggles with the bat since 2016, at home and abroad, has a lot to do with the volume of cricket they play in Dhaka. It not only hosts most of Bangladesh's home international matches, but also most of the BPL matches.
A move from Dhaka to Sylhet and Chattogram makes sense, at least for 2023. Bangladesh will host Ireland for the one-off Test in Dhaka, but later in the year and before the World Cup in October, they will also host Afghanistan (in June and July) and New Zealand (in September).
Most of these are white-ball fixtures, so Sylhet and Chattogram will be in the mix once again. The two grounds are relatively unused at other times, while the Shere Bangla National Stadium hosts plenty of domestic one-day matches. Playing on overused pitches isn't advisable, especially in the lead-up to a World Cup, so Bangladesh need to make smart choices.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84