14 August 2020 10:35 AM

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ROHIT SANKAR | 21 NOVEMBER, 2019

Sheltering the Team at Home isn’t Good for Bangladesh or for Cricket

‘In the last seven months we have played only two tests’


We need to talk about Mominul Haque. And that involves talking about the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chattogram. Which in turn involves talking Bangladesh cricket, and cricket in Bangladesh.

Only two batsmen have scored over a thousand runs at the stadium in Chattogram. Mushfiqur Rahim is a no-brainer, but the other, Mominul Haque presents a surprise. In just nine tests played at Chattogram he’s scored six centuries, amassing 1,056 runs at an average of 75.4.

Haque has eight test tons in all, and one more will bring him to the top of the list of Bangladesh batsmen with the most test centuries. At 28 years of age that’s no mean feat, and it is perhaps what prompted Bangladesh to thrust the test captaincy upon him.

At Indore as Bangladesh won the toss, Haque barely blinked before opting to bat first. On normal days in the subcontinent this is a familiar script. But at home India have transcended this norm. As their pace bowlers ran through the Bangladesh lineup, one wondered if the captain’s call had been a tad hasty.

“When you take this decision at the toss and things don't go your way, these questions will definitely come up,” Haque said at innings’ end. “Because we were bowled out cheaply, it was probably a bad decision on my part. It was totally my fault. I think if I had batted for longer with Mushfiq bhai [Mushfiqur Rahim] we would have posted a bigger total.”

Would a different decision at the toss have changed the complexion of the game? Unlikely. Bangladesh away from home have been mediocre at best. In 19 years of playing test cricket they’ve only ever won four matches away, twice in 2009 against a second-string West Indies side, once in Zimbabwe, and once against Sri Lanka in Colombo two years ago.

Barring that last win, the rest almost seem inconsequential.

What can explain the team’s poor record overseas? Perhaps in an effort to win test matches at home, Bangladesh have impaired their growth in international cricket. Their home wickets are tailored for their spinners to thrive and intimidate visiting teams.

That hasn’t always succeeded, but Bangladesh aren’t mere pushovers at home anymore. But it shows in away tests as well. With customised wickets at home their spinners automatically become vulnerable to conditions abroad.

Since 2015, Bangladesh pacers have only taken 10% of wickets at home. But the same spinners who clock such impressive numbers falter and fall well below the radar overseas. This is reflected a bit in the batting department too, with Haque being a glaring example.

In home tests the left-hander averages 55.3, plummeting to 22.9 overseas. All of his eight centuries have come at home, six of them at Chattogram. His low scoring rate overseas underlines his tentativeness when playing outside his comfort zone.

This is a telling instance of the state of Bangladesh cricket. Slowly climbing their way up the test ladder, they have worked over a talent pool by denying them the opportunity to grow. Take the Chattogram ground itself - in 19 tests Bangladesh have won just twice at the venue while losing 11 matches. Haque and Rahim have thrived but without the match results they would want.

After the innings defeat at Indore, Haque cited his team’s lack of test experience as a difference between India and Bangladesh.

“We’ll have to play a lot of test matches. If you see in the last seven months, we have played only two tests. We don’t play tests like other teams. I think this is the main difference” between the two sides, Haque explained to the press.

Similar issues have plagued Indian cricket in the past. But India have moved away from the subcontinental stereotype. By building a strong core group of players and dispelling their overreliance on spin at home, India have started winning tests abroad.

It’s a template Bangladesh could follow, and should. Will their young star captain be the one to lead them from the front in this quest?
 

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