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Analysis

The anatomy of Bangladesh's top-order woes

The year began with the high of Mount Maunganui, but it's all gone downhill since

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
22-Jun-2022
Mominul Haque was undone by an unwise decision to pinch a single to Hasan Ali, Bangladesh vs Pakistan, 2nd Test, 4th day, Dhaka, December 7, 2021

Mominul Haque has been out for single-digit scores in his last nine Test innings  •  AFP/Getty Images

Bangladesh have tumbled from one difficult Test match to another in the last six months. They were clueless against spin in South Africa, hopped around against Sri Lanka's fast bowlers at home, and then crashed to yet another collapse in Antigua. ESPNcricinfo looks into what's gone wrong for them.
A batting nosedive
Bangladesh's batting form has been on steady decline for the last 12 months, but it has fallen off even more sharply in 2022. They have the lowest batting average of any Test team this year, having been bowled out for less than 200 in five out of 12 completed innings. This includes scores of 80 and 53 all out against South Africa.
In the Antigua Test last week, the West Indies fast bowlers got all 20 Bangladesh wickets, and 13 of those wickets were to catches by the keeper or the slips cordon. Batting with unabashedly hard hands on pitches offering pace and bounce had once again brought about Bangladesh's undoing. The irony of the batting nosedive has been that Bangladesh began the year with a historic win over New Zealand in Mount Maunganui, where the batters showed collective patience and discipline. That display has proved to be a one-off rather than a sign of things to come.
Similar issues, similar lows
Teams have lost six or more ducks in an innings only seven times in Test history. Two of those innings have come from Bangladesh in their last two Test matches, in Dhaka and Antigua.
In both Test matches, the top and middle order caved in to pace. Kasun Rajitha and Asitha Fernando, Sri Lanka's unlikely pace-bowling heroes, blew them away at the Shere Bangla National Stadium. A couple of weeks later, it was West Indies' turn.
There were similarities between both innings: Mahmudul Hasan Joy was out in the first over, Mominul Haque succumbed to deliveries in the corridor outside off stump, and Najmul Hossain Shanto was bowled by balls that sneaked into the gap between his bat and pad.
A broken foundation
Poor starts have been the biggest contributor. In 12 out of their last 16 innings, Bangladesh have lost their fourth wicket with less than 100 runs on the board. On ten of those occasions, the score was less than 50. In this period, Bangladesh's top four have a collective average of 18.19, by far the worst of any team in Test cricket.
The only thing that has kept Bangladesh going is their ability to recover from top-order collapses. The biggest recovery was in the Dhaka Test last month when Bangladesh had six ducks in the first innings, but ended up scoring 365 thanks to centuries from Litton Das and Mushfiqur Rahim.
During the last 18 months, Bangladesh's fifth- and sixth-wicket pairs have produced more century stands (5) than those of any other team. They are also the team with the second-most runs and second-best average for the fifth and sixth wickets.
Mominul's unwanted record
The last top-five batter before Mominul to be dismissed for nine consecutive single-digit scores did it 134 years ago, and George Bonnor played no more Test cricket after that run of poor form. There's a debate over whether Mominul will get a break, but it is likely that Bangladesh's lack of a reserve batter will give him a chance to redeem himself in St Lucia later this week.
Time running out for Shanto?
Mominul gave up his No. 3 spot to Shanto couple of years ago, but the latter hasn't lived up to this reputation. He scored hundreds against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe last year, but he's struggled for consistency otherwise, and has passed fifty just once in his last 17 innings. To add to his issues, he's also put down five catches in the slips since the start of 2021.
Shanto has never quite settled into any format. He was dropped once last year from the ODI setup, and while he has kept his Test spot partly due to the coaching set-up's interest in continuity, that patience may now have run out.
The replacement
The talk coming out of the Bangladesh camp is that Shanto may be replaced by Anamul Haque, who was flown in during the Antigua Test to cover for Yasir Ali, who was ruled out with a back injury. Anamul last played Test cricket in 2014, incidentally in St Lucia, but he is still being considered ahead of Mosaddek Hossain, the other reserve batter, mainly because of form.
Since the start of 2015, Anamul is one of only three Bangladeshi batters to score more than 5000 runs at a 50-plus average in first-class cricket. He also recently broke Tom Moody's 31-year-old record of scoring the most runs in a one-day competition when he amassed 1138 runs for Prime Bank Cricket Club in the Dhaka Premier League.
Joy's yo-yo form
Joy has been one of Bangladesh's brighter performers this year but even this early in his career, he has seen both extremes. He has made five ducks in 12 Test innings, but he's also faced 140 or more balls four times.
There's little doubt that Joy is good enough to spend time at the crease, having proven his worth with innings of 78 in Mount Maunganui and 137 in Durban, but his tendency to get dismissed early is worrying. In South Africa, for instance, he made only four runs in his remaining three innings after the century. One particular weakness he has to overcome is his penchant for going after wide deliveries early on.
Cant' score, can't catch either
Bangladesh have dropped the second-most catches since the start of 2021. Without counting half-chances (as defined by ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data), Bangladesh have dropped 40 in 20 innings, behind England who have dropped 56 in 27. This year, Bangladesh are leading the dropped-catch charts, however, having put down 22 in 11 innings.
The catching returned to focus in the Antigua Test, where they dropped five clear chances, apart from not appealing when they actually caught one. All this coupled with a lack of awareness regarding DRS calls has given Bangladesh a painful headache.
The strangest part about the catching issue is that no one seems to know why it's happening. Opposition coach Phil Simmons, however, may have offered a clue after West Indies' seven-wicket win in Antigua. When asked what he felt about his side's excellent catching, Simmons said: "It is a matter of practice. I think the guys are enjoying the fact that the balls are coming to them."
With stats inputs from Sampath Bandarupalli

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84