Although they failed to win either one of their Tests in New Zealand or the recently completed one-off Test against India, Bangladesh will be buoyed by their recent progress in the long form of the game. They will be hoping to take this momentum well into their upcoming series against Sri Lanka, who were whitewashed 3-0 in their most recent series against the might of South Africa.
As recently as last year, Bangladesh registered their maiden Test victory against England, thanks to the spin twins of Shakib Al Hasan and teenage sensation Mehedi Hasan, along with excellent contributions from Tamim Iqbal with bat in hand.
Then in New Zealand, Shakib was both the hero and villain, registering Bangladesh’s top Test score in the first innings with a spectacular double century before playing an inexplicably strange and unnecessary pull shot to engineer a second innings collapse that Bangladesh never recovered from. It resulted in a seven wicket win for the Kiwis, who again chased successfully for a nine wicket win in the second Test following another collapse from Bangladesh.
Their hosts Sri Lanka have been equally inept in the face of batting collapses. They seriously struggled with the bounce of South Africa’s decks and the sheer pace of their bowling attack, crumbling embarrassingly on a number of occasions on their tour. Their young and inexperienced batting lineup, now without the star power of Mahela Jaywardene, Kumar Sangakarra or Tilikaratne Dilshan, has been forced to recall veteran Upul Tharanga. Tharanga, who recently captained Sri Lanka in a Twenty20 series against Australia, looked reasonably at ease as a late inclusion in the South African tour and will again play a key role in the middle order in the absence of the injured Angelo Mathews.
Mathews is a big miss, and the most senior man in the team, spin spearhead Rangana Herath, will be tasked with taking up the reigns of Sri Lanka’s captaincy whilst Mathews is recovering. Mathews sustained a hamstring injury in South Africa during the second Twenty20 and missed the Australian series and will sit out of the Bangladesh tour also. Herath will know his overs will be key in dismissing the Bengalis- he is Sri Lanka’s wicket machine with the ball, having taken 28 vital Aussie scalps for the hosts when Sri Lanka stunned Australia 3-0 late last year.
After impressing with some stunning performances against Australia in the Twenty20 series, Asela Gunarante and Niroshan Dickwella have been included in the Sri Lankan side.
With Sri Lanka’s recent troubles against pace, Bangladesh could feel their attack is a serious proposition of claiming 20 wickets on tour. Taskin Ahmed and Subashis Roy strongly impressed the seasoned New Zealand commentary team, and while they are a few paces short of South Africa’s searing speed, they are certainly nippy. They will also have the services of Mutafizur Rahman, who returns from a hamstring injury sustained while representing Sussex in England.
If the pacemen are able to extract a bit of movement from what is usually a docile Galle surface, they have the ability to embarrass Sri Lanka and expose some of their deficiencies against pace once again. If the pitch begins to wear as is sometimes characteristic on day five in Galle, Mehedi Hasan and Shakib will come to the fore and will need to exploit the rough, but this will be a more difficult challenge, as some of Sri Lanka’s young brigade of batsmen, including Dhanajaya De Silva and Kusal Mendis, have proved more than capable of dominating against slow bowling.
Bangladesh scored almost 550 in New Zealand thanks to Shakib’s 217 and will be hoping to make similar hay on a Galle track that was their friend the last time they toured. The match was drawn after Mushfiqur Rahim registered Bangladesh’s maiden double century. He was ably supported by veteran Mohammad Ashraful, who scored 190, and Nasir Hossain, who scored an even century as Bangladesh totalled 638 all out. Mushfiqur shapes up as an even more important figure with bat in hand, given that he has been asked to give up wicketkeeping.
Like the previous wicketkeeping captains Kumar Sangakkara and Andy Flower before him, Mushfiqur has been asked to step down from wicketkeeping duties to focus solely on his batting given his recent form and importance to the team with bat in hand. Rahim leading from the front with the bat may prove an important key to Bangladesh’s success, with Liton Kumar Das asked to keep wicket in his place.
With Bangladesh’s batting order looking more secure than it has in a long time, the key to their success is perhaps how well their seamers can exploit a fragile Sri Lankan middle and top order and whether their spinners are bold enough to pursue attacking lines.