Bangladesh have been playing Test cricket for nearly two decades now. But rather than improving, they have been on a slippery slope of late. Yes, they are without two of their most experienced players for this tour — Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan. Then again, Shakib played the one-off home Test against Afghanistan in September, a match Bangladesh lost by 224 runs. They are regressing as a Test side because they seemingly don’t put the long form on a pedestal.
If anyone tries his hand at a combined India-Bangladesh XI, even the die-hard Bangladesh fans will not react angrily to an all Indian line-up. Even if an extra batsman is added, Hanuma Vihari, who is not getting a game after scoring a couple of half-centuries and a hundred in the West Indies, will get in. Mushfiqur Rahim will get an honourable mention at best.
A pink-ball Test, however, poses a different challenge. Its unpredictability and the relative inexperience of the players from both sides with regards to playing a day-night Test could bridge the gap a bit, although it hardly puts the teams at par. Player by player, India are far superior.
Here are a couple of examples: Even without Jasprit Bumrah, the Indian pace attack comprising Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav is rated as arguably the world’s finest in any conditions. None of the Bangladesh seamers — Abu Jayed, Ebadat Hossain and Mustafizur Rahman (if he plays) — has bagged a Test five-for yet. The 11 players who turned up for the visitors in the first Test at Indore have 21 Test hundreds between them. Virat Kohli alone has 26.
Still, conditions for a day-night Test and the pink ball might leave the door ajar for Bangladesh. Even Kohli admitted that handling the pink ball at times could be pretty difficult.
“In general, if you haven’t played with the pink ball it will be challenging throughout the game. It would require more concentration, solid technique and more compact game compared to the red ball purely because in the longer format, the ball does a lot more than the white ball. And not having a great visibility and the ability to pick that colour make it even more difficult,” the India captain said on match eve.
When a player of Kohli’s pedigree says the pink ball could leave batsmen confused in terms of judging the off-stump, while the pace of the ball through the air is a bit disconcerting, lesser mortals would struggle even more.
“The decision-making has to be very precise, like the idea of off-stump… Even when we practised yesterday, we felt as if the ball is far but it hits you very quickly. The extra glaze of the ball is making it travel faster. It hits the hand hard. I was surprised with the fielding sessions; how in the slips the ball hit your hand so hard… It almost felt like a heavy hockey ball, those synthetic balls we would play with when we were younger… the throws took a lot more effort than the red ball do to reach the ‘keeper. And again, dip perception was very difficult when the ball was in the air so during the day, high catches will be very difficult. I think we have to be very precise and our skills will be tested in this Test,” Kohli said.
The majority of the Bangladesh batsmen don’t have techniques that a pink-ball, day-night Test demands. Maybe, a strong-arm approach would serve them better. A few agricultural boundaries, a couple of top-edged sixes, and there would be runs on the board. But to start with, their bowlers must raise their game. At Indore, they bowled boundary balls for fun. Here, conditions will make their job easier if they show discipline and try to keep the Indian batsmen in check. Dot balls build pressure. Bangladesh must stick to basics if they want to put the hosts under pressure.
And they must believe in their abilities. Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque’s body language at the pre-match press conference didn’t inspire confidence. He was asked if his team could cause an upset at Eden Gardens. “No, no, no,” he replied with a sheepish smile.
White ball priority
One of the reasons why Bangladesh have failed to grow as a Test team is that their structure and itinerary give precedence to limited-overs cricket. The pink-ball Test starting Friday would only be their seventh long-form fixture in the last one year. Going ahead, they will play a few more, thanks to the ongoing World Test Championship. But Bangladesh must make the game’s purest format their top priority if they want to become a serious Test nation.
“I can’t speak for another team, another board; how they look at Test cricket. But from our point of view, from the BCCI’s point of view, the only discussion we have had over the last two-three years is how we can have Test cricket right up there. And that takes the commitment of the board, firstly, and the total commitment of the players. If you look at how exciting as a team we have been over the past two-three years, it tells you why people come and watch us play as well. It’s a partnership of the board and the players,” Kohli said.
“If you look at our contract system as well, a lot of importance has been given to Test cricketers. So, all things have to coincide and every Test nation that has done that have teams that are playing strong Test cricket and their hearts and their minds are totally in sync with keeping Test cricket on top. You can’t just tell the players you have to be committed to playing Test cricket but contractually we are not going to do anything for you.”
Bangladesh, and a few other Test-playing countries, would do well to take a leaf out of India’s book.
This article appeared in the print edition with the headline ‘Not in the pink of health’
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