Batsmen to find remedy for swing, pace, and bounce
Published: 05:14 PM, 26 February 2019 Updated: 05:20 PM, 26 February 2019
Whether the Hamilton Test starting later this week is competitive or not will depend to a large extent on Bangladesh's batsmen: can they handle New Zealand's swing, delivered at pace, and the bounce? Their 3-0 loss in the ODI series has certainly come as a blow, and injuries could well take away more experience from the batting line-up.
Shakib Al Hasan is still recovering from his finger injury and it is likely that Mushfiqur Rahim will also be sidelined because of injuries to his ribcage and finger. A batting side that depends largely on four senior batsmen - Tamim Iqbal and Mahmudullah the others - having the unit halved isn't ideal, especially in a country where Bangladesh have mostly struggled.
So far on this tour, the new ball, which usually grows in potency when Trent Boult and Tim Southee have it in their hands, has tormented the visitors. Boult took six wickets in three consistently good performances in the ODIs, while Southee took a six-wicket haul in the third game, the only one he played. They will lead the Test attack too, with Neil Wagner and Matt Henry around to help.
Bangladesh have looked comfortable when the ball has stopped swinging, and reduced Boult's effectiveness, but the new red ball usually swings for a longer period than the white ball.
In any case, Boult has usually made sure that not much of Bangladesh's batting have stuck around long enough to make a difference. Bangladesh were 42 for four in the ninth over of the first ODI in Napier, and had lost three wickets in the second ODI in Christchurch by the 13th over. It was similar in the third ODI in Dunedin, where they slipped to 40 for four by the tenth over too.
Tamim, the top-order mainstay, has had his worst ODI series (minimum three innings) in the last seven years. Within five days of a superb 141 in the Bangladesh Premier League final in Dhaka, Boult had him caught behind with a late away-swinger in Napier before Henry burst one through his forward prod in the second game. His choice of shot in the third game, charging Southee in the second ball of the innings, was a failed, and faulty, approach to disturb the bowler's length.
Liton Das and Soumya Sarkar too didn't contribute much at the top, and found annoying ways and times to get out. Liton didn't look out of form but his footwork in the first game wasn't up to the mark and he didn't read the situation well in the second game either. Sarkar, meanwhile, was extravagant as he threw away two good starts, especially so in the first game when his continued presence at the crease might have put the home side under some pressure.
Coach Steve Rhodes, who at the start of Bangladesh's home season had stressed on the need for improvement in overseas conditions, pointed to swing as the concern area for the batsmen.
"I think in Test cricket, since West Indies [in July 2018], it was obvious some areas in which we need to work on," Rhodes said. "We have been doing it ever since. We need to play well off both feet - front and back - as well as cope with the ball bouncing. It won't be different here. There will possibly be a little bit more swing. Those conditions are different to Bangladesh where the wicket is flat, slow and low.
"The batsmen have been working on these areas for the last six months, not just for this series, but we do realise that if we want to play well away from home, we need to cope with the ball that bounces and moves."
Bangladesh's better performers in the ODI series are mostly, unfortunately, absent. Mohammad Mithun, whose half-centuries in the first two games salvaged some pride for the team, is still recovering from a hamstring injury. And Sabbir Rahman, who made his maiden ODI century in the third game, is back home playing domestic cricket.
But Mithun and Sabbir, and to some extent Mohammad Saifuddin, showed how runs are there for the taking after the swing goes away. If circumspection is mixed with aggression smartly, it is perhaps possible to bat long periods in these conditions.
A great example is Bangladesh's batting in the Wellington Test in 2017, when Tamim and Mominul Haque did much of the hard work on a blustery opening day. Shakib and Mushfiqur then built on the foundation, hitting 217 and 159 respectively.
On a previous occasion in Hamilton, during the 2015 World Cup, Tamim had played out a probing opening spell from Boult and Southee, which laid the platform for Mahmudullah's century and a big score from Bangladesh.
One key difference this time, however, is Bangladesh's preparedness (or the lack of it). While in 2015 and 2016-17, they adjusted to the unfamiliar conditions in Australia and New Zealand with extended camps in the region before the tours commenced, this time many of the players had not even recovered from the long flight when they played the first ODI.
There has not been an official complaint about the scheduling back home, especially about the BPL, which was shifted from November to January, but it is clear that the team wasn't given the best chance. Lack of runs has eroded confidence too. But memories of good batting days and a healthy respect for the conditions might yet bring Bangladesh some success in Hamilton.