What are Bangladesh’s Test bowling options?

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“There was a lot of talk about how the Khulna wicket was too flat where the bowlers weren’t able to take 20 wickets. We wanted to create an opportunity to take 20 wickets while at the same time let the batsmen play freely too. This is what the team management decided.”

These were Mushfiqur Rahim’s words after Bangladesh were thrashed by Pakistan in the second Test by 328 runs.

They were hopelessly outplayed, and once again the country’s shortcoming in developing quality pace bowlers was brutally exposed.

Mushfiqur Rahim chose to bowl on a pitch which had more for fast bowlers in the first two hours of play, than in the last two years. Still, Bangladesh went into the Test with just two pace bowlers.

After much criticism after the first Test at Khulna, the BCB’s decision to create a sporting wicket that offered something for the fast bowlers deserved some praise. How the team management ended up picking just two pacers is beyond me.

With Rubel Hossain out injured, Bangladesh was left to choose from the trio of Mohammad Shahid, Abul Hasan and Shahadat Hossain. In the end, they opted with Shahid and Shahadat.

When the self-proclaimed ‘Shahrukh Khan of Bangladesh’ got injured after just two balls, Mushfiqur had no choice but to rely on Mohmmad Shahid. Although he used the part-time military medium of Soumya Sarkar in the place of injured Shahadat, it was Mohammad Shahid who was lone man fighting. Even though Soumya has 19 wickets in 34 matches in First Class cricket with a five-for taken in November 2012, he’s certainly no more than an occasional trundler.

It was just shambles. After Bangladesh got hammered, Mushfiqur said had Shahadat not been injured, things could have been very different.

I somehow can’t agree with his view. Let’s take a look at Shahadat Hossain’s Test career in detail:

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The stats demonstrates that he had a fairly decent average from 2005-2010. The average of 48 is hardly a great one, but the fact no Bangladeshi fast bowler has ever had an average below 40, it was considered decent.

Yes he has a five-for at Lord’s but from 2011 onwards, his average stands at 122.75. Also during this time, he failed to get more than one wicket in a single match apart from 2014 against Zimbabwe.

The fact Mushfiqur stated that things could have been different if Shahadat had not been injured doesn’t make much sense.

It didn’t make sense either why Abul Hasan was even in the contention for a spot. Let’s take a look at his career summary.

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A Test bowling average of 123.66 and FC average of 51.91 is just as depressing as Jarrod Kimber’s sparkleponies (no offence Jarrod!). And the fact his bowling is showing no signs of improvement across all formats, the selectors’ decision to include him in the team is incredibly baffling.

Of course he has a Test century and his batting average sits at a staggering 82.50. However, his FC average of 21.05 suggests that century is nothing short of a fluke.

However it’s not all doom and gloom in the bowling department for Bangladesh. The youngsters like Taskin Ahmed and Mustafizur Rahman should give the Bangladeshi fans plenty of reasons for optimism.

Cricinfo summed it up succinctly. “Even before he was anywhere near making his international debut, Taskin Ahmed became an internet sensation. A video of his spell against England Under-19s in 2012 found its way to Youtube, and the sight of a Bangladeshi fast bowler ripping it past batsman and hitting the wicketkeeper’s gloves quite hard and high made people curious.”

A strong performance at the BPL 2013 and the domestic league ensured that it was only a matter of time he would be called up for the national team. He eventually made his debut against India and it was a debut he would remember for the rest of his life. His bowling figure read 8-0-28-5.

However, having struggled with injuries for the rest of the year, it wasn’t till the World Cup he was called up again. A successful showing followed by a decent performance at against Pakistan ensured that if managed properly, he will have a successful international career.

Having said that, there are still few issues regarding his bowling. Yes he has a decent line and length and bowls at 145kph on a regular basis, but to be a successful Test bowler, he must be more accurate with his bowling. He will need to learn to swing the ball a bit and also offer variation because he has often been predictable.

Given he is only 20 there is still plenty of time for him to rectify these issues. His FC average currently stands at a promising 29. But given the rigours of Test cricket and unless the BCB don’t want a repeat of the Mashrafee case, Taskin needs to have at least one full FC season under his belt before being considered for the Test selection.

“Test cricket is the ultimate goal for any cricketer. I have started my ODI and T20I career, but I am looking forward to Test cricket, but I have some fitness issues. I am working hard to improve my strength in my knees so that I can make my dream come true this year. If not this year then next year is a must,” said Taskin himself.

All the team management needs to do now is not rush him into the Test team, give him at least a season or two of First class cricket before drafting him in the Test side.

The same goes with the 19 year old Mustafizur Rahman. He had a dream start to his international career. He made his debut in the T20 game against Pakistan in April where he literally stifled the Pakistani batsmen. His match figure stood at 4-0-20-2.

What was even more surprising, prior to being called in for the only T20 game against Pakistan, very few people had heard about him. But he made his mark with style, bowling accurately at 140kph, and barely giving anything loose.

Early signs are encouraging. He has every tool to become a successful international bowler; good pace with a decent line and length, movement in the air and off the deck, and bowling smart. The team management needs to be careful with him before throwing him in the longer formats of the game. The BCB has ruined many raw talents by throwing them in the big scene over the years. They can’t afford to make the same mistake again.

However, if managed properly, we could see Taskin and Mustafizur leading the Bangladesh pace attack in the foreseeable future. But who could Bangladesh turn to before drafting them in the Test side?

The first name that comes into mind is Robiul Islam. He has been Bangladesh’s best Test fast bowler of the last five years.

His numbers speak for themselves but every now and then BCB’s decision-makers go astray of the numbers. The selectors every so often looked for a fast bowler who could bat a bit. Abul and Shafiul have often fit that bill but they have also been deemed as one-hit wonders.

Robiul doesn’t quite fit that ‘excitement’ bill and therefore doesn’t make the selectors feel that they need him. Since he is a Test specialist, his performances are viewed with some cynicism, because he didn’t hit the mark in the limited-overs formats, a bit like Mominul Haque’s treatment in spite of scoring prolifically in Tests.

However, Robiul remains the only fast bowler to be Man-of-the-Series in the history of Bangladesh cricket in the Tests which came against Zimbabwe in 2013 where he took 15 wickets. Fast forward two years, Robiul is out of Bangladesh cricket’s cognizance.

It may be Robiul’s poor batting, his persistent injuries and the time he takes to pull through. He has been overlooked after bowling one bad over (in Harare in 2011) and one mediocre spell (in Gros Islet in 2014). He has played nine of the 23 Tests since his debut, and hasn’t played one since September 2014. His fault in Gros Islet was that he didn’t take full advantage of a grassy wicket. He did end up taking 2 for 63 at an economy-rate of 2.42.

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These stats demonstrate that Robiul has a far better average in Test cricket amongst the current Bangladeshi lot. An average of 39.68 is not a great one by international standard by any means but compared to Rubel Hossain’s 76, Shahadat Hossain’s 52 and Abul Hasan’s 123, it is definitely a very good one.

The fact Robiul is not being given adequate time and consideration, has meant Bangladesh are missing out on a genuine strike-bowler. Like all the other fast bowlers he needs a bit of time to find his rhythm. It is also sometimes forgotten that because he is considered a Test specialist, he is one of the few players who will always have to bear long breaks in international cricket.

The other one that comes into mind is Nazmul Hossain. Let’s take a look at his stats:

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He’s only played two Test matches so far, but barring T20, he has a decent average in all formats of the game. Also, he always maintains a decent line and length with his bowling whenever he has been called upon. He was hugely impressive in the Asia Cup 2012 where he bowled a terrific line and length. But since the Asia Cup final, he has not been called upon to play an ODI, let alone a Test.

He has played almost 50 First Class games and the average of 30 suggests that he is well equipped for the longer format of the game. Yes injuries have kept him out for the most part of 2013 but the selectors are equally to blame for not giving enough consideration after he recovered. He is one of the few Bangladeshi pacers who can contain the batsmen – a skill which is not common among his peers.

So the BCB’s obsession with power-hitting must stop. By obsessing with the power hitting tailenders, they have totally forgotten about the likes of Robiul Islam and Nazmul Hossain. Mohammad Shahid has impressed in the recently finished Test series against Pakistan and looked solid in the domestic league.

Bangladesh must try the trio pace attack of Robiul, Nazmul and Shahid and stick with them, before turning to the youth, and drafting the youngsters like Taskin and Mustafizur in the Test side.

But not before the time is right.


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