Test cricket in Bangladesh is in many ways almost a throwback to the Indian era of the 1990s. Devoid of fast bowlers, they rely heavily on spinners to get the job done on black soil pitches, which are often on the slow side. Tourists don’t have to think long about what to expect in Bangladesh. You get what you expect, but once on the field it doesn’t get any easier for the opponent.
As India struggles in their pursuit of 145, one should note that it is not an easy pitch to hit in the fourth innings. The most successful chase at the stadium is England’s 209 against Bangaldesh in 2010, South Africa’s 205 against Bangladesh in 2008 and Pakistan’s 103 in 2011. And it’s the spinners that do the most damage.
Mehidy Hasan, Taijul Islam and Shakib Al Hasan may not have the cunning and composure of Ravichandran Ashwin, Nathan Lyon or Ravindra Jadeja. Nor are they in the mold of their predecessors Mohammad Rafique and Abdur Razzak, who operate within constraints. Instead, the trio possesses the right arsenal to match the circumstances, which aren’t the easiest to adapt to. Despite having an overcrowded pool of spinners – especially of the left arm variety – they are still a bit old fashioned in the sense that there is no mystery to any of them.
But ask all touring hitters what it’s like to face the spinners of Bangladesh. Time and time again, with men packed close together and a chatty wicket-keeper – be it Mushfiqur Rahim or Nurul Hasan – resorting to an overreaction every time a batsman chooses to release a pitch that closes is near the stumps or when one of them has just the right amount of spin to take the ball away from the bat, they can hear the decibel levels rise around them.
That abundance of “ooohs, aaaahs, ekta ball (one ball)” from the huddled men around the bat can sow a lot of doubt in a batsman’s mind. And in circumstances where they’ve literally grown up and are confident enough to take on any team, they don’t rely so much on run or dip. Instead, they operate on a line where batsmen have no choice but to play.
Ever since India last toured Bangladesh (2015), the hosts have had memorable test wins against England and Australia at Mirpur. And in each of them, their spinners were the architects.
“They are very precise in their own circumstances,” Sridharan Sriram, who coached Bangladesh at the recent T20 World Cup in Australia, told The Indian Express. “They know the proper seam angles they need to bowl in those conditions and know the pitches blindfolded. So the key to their performance at home is that they read their conditions quite well and know how to adapt to them quickly.”
The slow throws are a challenge for touring teams, due in part to the unpredictability of the bounce. The trajectory of the spinners keeps varying, and if someone isn’t patient enough and starts firing early, the ball can take forever to arrive and someone will look crazy. If a batsman thinks he’s gotten used to the pace and adjusts accordingly, the spinners can slip that odd faster pitch that doesn’t spin and continue with the corner and hit the toad or the stumps. And to complicate things, their spinners also rely on different seam positions, making the challenge a mystery to crack.
“They are restrained in the way they bowl in those conditions. They undercut, slip the odd and even turn the odd. That kind of ball flight (low) and seam position suits those conditions better than anywhere else in the world. They are black soil wickets, the ball stays low, grabs, turns slowly and a few just slip. There is a lot of natural variation that takes place off the surface. The pitches are similar to what you’ll find in Kolkata – where the water doesn’t hold great, so it dries quickly. If a single one hits a lawn, it just slides on. If it hits a dry area, it will sit, stick to the surface and straighten. That kind of seam position with a forearm trajectory is a good way to bowl on those pitches,” Sriram explained about what makes the Bangladesh spin unit click in home situations.