Yesterday was the last day of the first test match between Bangladesh and Pakistan held in the Khulna Sheikh Abu Naser Stadium. After the resounding victory in both the One Day International Series and the sole T20 match, the whole nation had their eyes set on this test series. This year has been a dream journey so far for the tigers and a test victory against the former world champions is a worthy target.
The first day of the test match went smoothly and it was particularly gratifying seeing the same team that plays aggressive cricket in the One Day matches, slow down and adopt a more patient approach.
Over the next few days though, the match seemed to slowly slip out of their hands. There are two lessons embedded in the way the Bangladesh team lost the edge they started with.
A test squad needs to be more balanced.
A deep batting order, with a wicket-keeper batsman, is great for ODIs, but it does not really work well in the test format. The top and middle orders are supposed to focus more on building a big innings and not on rushing to score runs. If this works out well, there is less for the lower order to do.
We should start thinking of having a specialist wicket-keeper and using Mushfiqur Rahim purely as a batsman. It is already stressful in the ODI format to stand behind the wicket for 50 overs during bowling, and then having to come out to bat again.
In the five-day version, this becomes exponentially more difficult while considering just the physical demands of the undertaking. Letting Mushfiq off keeping duties in the test matches might help him bat better, while helping us find alternative keepers suitable in the short format games.
Next, we need a more aggressive bowling line-up.
In the ODI format, bowlers can often settle on simply being economical with allowing runs. Not only does this keep the opponent team’s total within a moderate range, but also forces their batsmen to take risks, and in the process, give away wickets.
However, strategy must differ for a test match. The batsmen are not compelled to take any risks, and it is now dependent on the bowlers to bowl more aggressively. For fast bowlers, this requires a greater degree of fitness as well as nifty tricks with the old ball.
Generally, this also calls for a diverse bowling attack with a good variety of spinners. Taking this into consideration along with not using all our best batsmen, we end up with certain heuristics for selecting our test squad.
While on this topic, there is certainly scope to venture into a further possibility: Test, ODI, and T20 are all very different formats, with the first being the most different.
It is often not just unfair, but also detrimental to expect the same athletes to perform in all these formats. While ODI and T20 share more similarities than differences, maybe it is time that our cricket board at least looked into the possibility of setting two largely non-overlapping squads for tests and short-format games.
It would be difficult to have completely different teams, but it should be possible to have a few batsmen who have not performed well in one format but are better suited to the others. For instance, someone with a low strike rate but consistent average might be better suited for a test team.
To many this may seem a bit presumptuous, something that only big teams have done so far. Yet the big teams have set the precedent, especially Australia, as there is some understandable merit to the strategy.
As the proverb goes, “To be as the master is, do as the master does.” To perform like the champions, we must prepare like the champions.
We are no longer minnows in any format of the game –the first half of 2015 has seen to that.
If we want the world to admit that Bangladesh is now a major player, we need to embrace it. It is time to dream big, plan, and strategise accordingly.
The whole world has witnessed the rise of the Tigers. Let us give them something more to look at!
Hammad Ali is a freelancer and an adviser for Bangladesh Math Olympiad Committee, Society for Popularisation of Science in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Open Source Network.