Bangladesh And The Crumbs Of Comfort

After a gruelling tour of New Zealand, Bangladesh have returned to the sub-continent to play their first ever Test match in India. The one-off Test series will be a further examination into Bangladesh’s progress in the Test arena and indeed their competitiveness against the best. The Tigers are coming off the back of some dismal displays on tour. While they managed to gather a few crumbs of comfort from the concluding Kiwi Tests, their second innings capitulations have provided the greatest concern in the build up to one of the toughest propositions in Test cricket.

The 2016/17 season is set to be a monumental year for Bangladesh. By October 2017, they will have played Test series against each of cricket’s ‘Big Three’ and a two match away series in South Africa. The timing is perhaps slightly ironic. As cricket successfully wrestles back the executive powers and revenue shares to redistribute more evenly among Test nations and associates alike, Bangladesh are finally muscling in on the champagne fixtures against cricket’s now ex-administrating hegemonies. Sights are now well and truly set on the new era of a Test championship to come in 2019.

However, the India Test raises the bar yet another notch for the visitors. The New Zealand tour was a learning curve and a severe crash-landing reminder of the brutal realism of modern Test cricket. A 2-0 defeat and on paper, the results looked like thrashings.

NZ tour not all doom and gloom

But Bangladesh looked good in passages of the series and took enough sessions to earn a few day victories. They posted their second highest team total in Wellington (595-8d) along with their highest ever partnership (359, Mushfiqur Rahim/Shakib Al Hasan). Their talismanic all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan took the first Test plaudits, viciously cutting and pulling his way to Bangladesh’s highest individual Test score of 217. He also orchestrated the visitor’s fight back in the second Test. This time, he would star with the ball, taking 4 wickets in 6 overs to leave the game perfectly poised on day three.

Mushfiqur Rahim’s side took New Zealand the distance in both Tests, but catastrophically capitulated with the bat in their second innings’. Losing patience, getting sucked into playing unnecessarily aggressive shots and not reading the game situation were common trends in the latter part of both games. Not to mention, some horror show fielding.

The passage, which typified their naivety, occurred after they had conceded a first innings deficit of 65. With little over five sessions left in the second Test, they could have easily batted New Zealand out of the game. Instead, they panicked. Attempting to up the tempo, they threw wickets away and found themselves five down after just over a session of cricket and a lead of just 35.

Losing two games they should have at least drawn; Bangladesh still have major flaws in their game to work on.

India not taking Bangladesh for granted

And to add to their dilemmas, this is not the best time to play India. Off the back of a comprehensive dismantling of England, India are bloodthirsty.

While their batsmen helped themselves to a lacklustre English bowling attack, inflating their already-burgeoning batting averages with centuries, double hundreds and triple hundreds, their spinners imprisoned England’s batsmen both physically and mentally. The circle of close catchers provided the claustrophobic parameters of a torture cell, much like Guy Fawkes’ ‘little-ease’. The trickery in variation left many, psychologically scarred; nonplussed as to which balls would spin sharply past the shoulder of the bat, which would go on with the arm and attack the pads and which would spit or grubber to devastating effect.

Bangladesh will be under no illusions of the difficulties that await their first Test match in India. However the assumption of a foregone conclusion is not a thought that has been entertained by the Indian dressing room.

In a recent interview with Cricketsoccer, India’s first-choice wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha’s words heavily contradicted the ‘warm up for Australia’ view that so many fans and pundits will have adopted.

“One thing I must say, Bangladesh will be a tougher opponent than England. They will be more competitive.”

These sentiments are in stark contrast to the ECB’s attitude to England’s historic series in Bangladesh. The ECB decided that the only way to accommodate Bangladesh was to stuff them in before the India tour. Thus England were faced with one of the busiest winters in their history. Squeezing a few Tests in against The Tigers seemed to be an incentive more geared towards warm-up matches for India than as competitive contests in their own right. And this proved to be detrimental to England’s performance.

All the better for cricket one might say.

Crumbs of comfort

Turning to the contest to come, what can Bangladesh hope to achieve? A victory is a far cry from expectation. Most have probably already written Bangladesh off. Realistically however, there is still plenty that can be achieved from this Test for the visitors. The crumbs of comfort, regardless of the result, should be found if they can execute in the following areas.

Brave hearts

The most notable aspect of Bangladesh’s performances in New Zealand was their courage. Kane Williamson’s men conjured up a bloodbath. The Kiwis peppered Bangladeshi batsmen from the get go. Mushfiqur Rahim in particular faced a barrage of throat cutters and was eventually battered into submission. He took a blow on the head, which resulted in his hospitilisation. Luckily for the visitors, he later returned to the match but the result of such a vicious display meant that Bangladesh were three starting XI players down in the second Test.

The Tigers tackled fire with fire. Their first innings in the first Test was scintillating cricket: a brutal display of leather smiting. Bangladesh took on New Zealand’s battery of short-pitched bowling and were rewarded. They then mirrored New Zealand’s bowling plans on a good batting wicket to intimidate the batsmen into slogging.

In India they have to be willing to dig in like they did in NZ during the sessions in the field. At times, a wicket will seem impossible to come by, especially for the seamers. It is during these moments were they must be disciplined and stick to a good line and length, forcing the batsmen to make a mistake.

The problem is, it is tough to see them taking 20 wickets in this Test. Their vigilance has to cause India to make mistakes.

Partnerships in the second innings

Bangladesh have proved to themselves that they can bat long and build an imposing total. The next challenge is to do it twice in the same match. Essentially this is also a case of reading a match situation well in order to build momentum. In the last two games, Bangladesh lost their heads. Trying to hit out in the face of a deficit and with a good chance of a tie, given some defensive application, was utterly brainless.

It will be interesting to see what effect Tamim Iqbal will have on Bangladesh’s potency. He can certainly score quickly and put real pressure on India’s spinners but it will be a question of whether he can curb his attacking instincts for when it isn’t there to be hit. Building a big partnership in the second innings will be one of his crucial responsibilities. One wicket in India, and the wheels can come off very quickly for a visiting side. Thus it is down to the openers to set the tone.

Mehedi Hasan

This is perhaps the crux of the match. England piled much significance onto how well Rashid would perform in India, and Bangladesh will be doing the same with their specialist spinner. Quite a bit of pressure for a lad of only 19 years.

Playing India in India after just four Tests is a big ask. He needs to take his time and not let the run flow dishearten him. India may well target his spin, looking to hit him out of the attack and this is where his mettle will be tested.

The problem for Bangladesh is that it’s hard to know how effective (if at all) their seamers will be on the Hyperabad pitch. Shakib Al Hasan will take wickets but they will need their up and coming star to play a good game if they are to be within touching distance of India.

Staying in it

The margins for error are minimal. India are so dangerous. They have ability to bat you out of a contest in three sessions; that’s how good they are. Even with excellent spinners, there is no guarantee of success. If the track doesn’t turn, Bangladesh may be at the mercy of Pujara, Vijay, Kohli and Ashwin.

Another problem will be that if India bat first and bat long, Bangladesh will be facing slightly trickier conditions in their first innings. They have to stay patient and take the pitch at face value. If, like in New Zealand, the pitch isn’t doing much, they need to be taking the game to India. On the other hand, if there is turn they need to be more cautious. It’s all about reading the game in order to stay competitive. Bangladesh failed to do this during the crucial phases in the Kiwi Tests.

What will also be pivotal is the fielding. Bangladesh cannot commit the cardinal sins of Wellington and Christchurch. They dropped a ton of chances, and many of them were straight forward. India will punish mediocrity in the field. Just ask England.

Scope for the future

This contest is the first since the ICC moved closer to implementing a structured Test league, which will start in 2019. Soon enough, Bangladesh and India will be much better acquainted in the Test realm with games being organized once every two years between the top nine Test nations. And the proposed system of fixtures may favour Bangladesh.

The idea involves playing all eight sides once, either home or away in a Test series. The series lengths may vary and the amount of Tests could be as little as one match. If India were to play Bangladesh in only one game, it would mean that all the points for the series are available in just one match, as opposed to being spread across two or three.

Bangladesh could benefit heavily from that, as they would fancy themselves to pull off a one Test giant killing, which is much more manageable than beating India in say a three Test match series.

Thus this match has plenty of significance. Should Bangladesh stand up and take the Test the distance, we could be treated to an early glimpse of the thrills that behold us in 2019.