“Right now, there is the home advantage and there is Bangladesh advantage. It is giving the Tigers a few Test series wins at home but ultimately does it serve any purpose in accelerating their progress”?
No frontline seamer in the starting XI. Bangladesh for the first time lined up last week against the Windies in a Test match sporting an all-spin bowling attack. There haven’t been a lot of instances of two spinners taking the new ball in the first innings of a Test match. Sub-continental Test cricket stories are rife with instances of spinners running through visiting sides with sharp turn generating puffs of dust from the rough, but almost always there was a solitary pace bowler atleast fielding along the boundary ropes, sipping on some rope-side energy drink and watching the action.
Bangladesh, though, genuinely felt that this seamer was surplus to their requirements and in hindsight they were right. The spinners ran amok as the hapless Windies collapsed akin to a heap of stacked cards. The Tigers in the process registered their first ever innings win in Test matches with all 20 wickets going to the spinners.
It was a bashing win, one which home sides always hope to inflict on visiting sides. Bangladesh exploited their home advantage and registered a remarkable Test win. Yet, one question remains which will probably be unanswered even after an ambushing at Dhaka – are they really developing as a cricketing nation?
Bangladesh’s steady progress in the early years of Test cricket is perhaps underestimated and unacknowledged. They took to Test cricket at a time they were still setting up a proper first-class structure. It wouldn’t be off the mark to comment that they were lucky to play Test cricket when they did. Yet, they showed progress in the early years which is often not contextualised with those of other Test nations.
Bangladesh’s biggest successes have come against Zimbabwe and West Indies. But roll back to the time the others were taking baby steps in Test cricket and you see why the sub-continental side was perhaps progressing at a faster rate.
South Africa did not win a Test until after 15 years since they started playing. New Zealand won their first Test series after 39 years of playing Test cricket. India’s initial success came against two sides who hadn’t won any games of Test cricket – New Zealand and Pakistan. They first beat another side in Tests 19 years after they started playing. Some of these numbers are skewed by the scarce number of Tests played by new Test nations but the conclusion holds. Bangladesh were making steady progress and apparently of late, the progress has skyrocketed.
They have beat England, Australia and Sri Lanka aside from West Indies and Zimbabwe. But it would be silly to cite they have progressed based on the number of Test wins alone.
Until 2010, Bangladesh’s spinners and pace bowlers almost shared the workload at home, taking 174 and 137 wickets respectively at nearly similar averages. Since then, though, there has been a massive metamorphosis. The spinners have taken 370 wickets since 2010 while the faster bowlers have just taken 66!
Before you let that sink in, take a look at the respective numbers in 2018 – 97 and 9. You know which is which.
Plot a graph of Bangladesh’s spinners vs pacersin terms of wickets taken in each of their 61 Test matches at home and it gets way more interesting.
There have only been eleven instances of Bangladesh pace bowlers taking more wickets than spinners at home in a Test match. Now, this is excusable for the surfaces are supposed to be aligned to the spinners and there is no harm in exploiting a bit of home advantage.
That said, the numbers cannot be so distorted. The last time Bangladesh’s pace bowlers took more than five wickets across both innings’ in a Test match at home dates back to the 2014/15 series against Zimbabwe. They took seven wickets then.
In 2016, during England’s tour of Bangladesh, for the first time in their history, all 20 wickets were taken by spinners – this at Dhaka when the hosts beat England to level the series. This perhaps came off the back of some shrewd planning prior to the series to mask every defect they had and to over-exploit their spin advantage. They had played England in only ten Test matches since 2000 before the 2016 series. They hadn’t played Australia in more than 10 years when they tussle against them in 2017. The hunger to challenge the bigger nations was more than ever before.
In the first Test against England at Chittagong, Bangladesh’s spinners bowled 158.1 overs compared to the 28 by pacers. They still lost. The caravan shifted to Dhaka for the second Test and the pacers bowled just three overs. The spinners bowled 124. They picked up all 20 wickets and the series was levelled.
Then came Australia. The plot continued. The pace bowlers bowled a total of just 40.5 overs across both Tests. The spinners bowled 240.1 overs. They also picked up 41 wickets while the quicker men picked 6.
The transition was for the first time more evident than ever in that England series. The Shere Bangla National stadium was renovated in 2017 and the top six-inch soil was removed and relaid. It perhaps further aided the spinners. Since then, the Dhaka surface has been rated poor by match referees twice – against Australia in 2017 and Sri Lanka in 2018. Bangladesh don’t care as long as their spinners can turn it square and leave the visiting batsmen befuddled.
“I feel good when I see batsmen finding it tough facing every ball bowled by our spinners,” Shakib said after the series win against the Windies. “It energises the fielders too, as everyone then thinks a chance is on the way. I think everyone was on their toes when our spinners were bowling. Enough quality bowlers and pitches that help spinners have combined to give us a formidable spin bowling attack at home.”
The spinner have indeed thrived at home. You could put that down to the competency of Sunil Joshi the spin consultant or the incompetency of Courtney Walsh the bowling coach. Yet none of that has mattered more than the pitches. The difference in numbers between pace bowlers and spinners is more compelling than ever.
Pace bowlers have virtually gone missing at home contributing to just 236.3 overs since that England series at home while the spinners have bowled more than five times more. This ratio stood at just over two until that series, defining a period when Bangladesh decided to pull a curtain over their weaknesses and flaunt a golden tiara in the form of spin.
In terms of wickets, the spinners have taken 161 wickets from that series at home while the pacers have just 15. Nine of them have coming in 2018 when the spinners have taken 97 across six Tests at home. Never since their inception into Test cricket has Bangladesh played more Tests at home in a year. It is perhaps another sign that they choose to hamper their progress by obscuring their fallacies rather than address the real issues. They prefer playing at home and why not? Their new-found success hack works only there.
Right now, there is the home advantage and there is Bangladesh advantage. It is giving the Tigers a few Test series wins at home but ultimately does it serve any purpose in accelerating their progress?