In his preview of the upcoming 2-match Test series between Bangladesh and Pakistan, @Markhor writes about why the recent dismal performances by Bangladesh leaves little excuse for failure for Pakistan.
By @Markhor (23rd November, 2023)
The unforgiving treadmill of the international cricket calendar means there’s little time for Pakistan’s players to recover from their T20 World Cup semi-final heartbreak at the hands of Australia.
After draws to England and Australia in the mid-2010s, Bangladesh seemed poised to make the step up their long-suffering fans have yearned for in the longest form of the game. It proved to be a false dawn. Home defeats to Afghanistan and West Indies; an away loss to Sri Lanka; the ageing of their stalwarts Tamim Iqbal, Shakib-ul-Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim; and the shock Test retirement of Mahmudullah Riyad means Pakistan are overwhelming favourites to extend their undefeated Test series record.
Of course things are never so simple with Pakistan cricket, and there remains chinks in the armour that Bangladesh can exploit. The top order has been an automatic three wicket headstart for the opposition – with latest entrant Imran Butt turfed out after six unconvincing Tests that yielded only one fifty against a hapless Zimbabwe so Imam-ul-Haq returns after a long absence. The weaknesses of Abid Ali and Azhar Ali against bounce are unlikely to exposed on slow, low pitches in Bangladesh but four miserable outings in the West Indies means their places too hangs on a knife edge.
Even Pakistan’s star batsman and captain Babar Azam has experienced a lean time in Test cricket, promising much but failing to score a hundred in 15 innings since Feb 2020. Keshav Maharaj exposed a frailty against left-arm spin in South Africa’s tour of Pakistan earlier this year. With Bangladesh typically employing a spin-heavy attack, there will be no respite. Much will depend on Mohammad Rizwan, who has enjoyed a year to remember, and veteran Fawad Alam, in the midst of a remarkable “second innings” of an international career that looked to join many other what-if stories in the history of Pakistan cricket.
The bowling is without Yasir Shah, leading wicket-taker on the last tour of Bangladesh in 2015, due to injury. However he’ll be more than adequately replaced by Nauman Ali who despite making his Test debut at the ripe old age of 34, has been a revelation. A wily spinner relying on subtle variations of pace and length than raging turn, he’s also a handy lower-order batsman. The *second spinner* spot is less certain with Sajid Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Bilal Asif and Zahid Mahmood in contention – with an off-spinner likelier to get the nod depending on how many left-handed batsmen feature for Bangladesh.
55 out of 74 wickets taken by bowlers in the Bangladesh-West Indies series earlier this year fell to spin, so Saqlain Mushtaq as interim head coach is ideally placed to impart his tactical wisdom and experience on how to bowl on such pitches. Saqlain himself is auditioning for the permanent vacancy, and a win against Bangladesh on the back of a strong showing in the T20 World Cup will do his chances no harm.
As for Bangladesh, much depends on their captain and leading run-scorer since the start of 2020 in Mominul Haque. His on-field tactics and use of DRS, which was diabolical in the West Indies debacle, needs improvement if they’re to challenge the visitors. Mushfiqur Rahim’s recent spat with selectors over his exclusion from the T20 squad means the Bangladesh camp, still reeling from a dismal T20 World Cup campaign where UAE pitches ought to have suited them, finds itself deeply unhappy. There isn’t a dearth of promising youngsters in Bangladesh cricket as the U19 World Cup triumph highlighted – they simply need proper nurturing and exposure to a wider variety of pitches.
In a bruising week for cricket’s esteem with revelations of racism and lewd texting, the sport desperately needs a lift. Hopefully these two subcontinental rivals can do just that.