And cometh the moment of truth. A lot has been said so far about the preparation of the pitch and whether we should have a spinning track or not. I must concede that there is some merit to the idea, not because the English are poor players of spin?which they are not?but because we ourselves do not have the ammo to best use such a track. Having seen a lot of our spinners, I would say that both the bowlers depend much more on flight and guile than using the pitch itself. Instead, I would like to see flat tracks. Remember that Vaughan and Co have just finished a gruelling county season and the bowlers are still used to pitching the ball up and trying to use the seam while our bowlers have just finished our Pakistan tour which, aside from the Multan pitch, had pitches very much like the Dhaka pitches. I hope that Shujon wins the toss for a change, elects to bat and puts up a 400 plus score. The first innings of the first test is crucial for the series because if we let the English bowlers settle in, they?re going to get stuck for the entire series.
Another cause of concern is the number six position, which has become vacant after Ashraful got the chop. I am not getting into a debate as to whether Ash should have been axed or not. What I do find worrying is Mushfique Babu?s inclusion for the possible number six position. Mind you, I have a lot of respect for Mushfique as a cricketer and I would like to think that he does have a future in the Test team. But in order for him to press for a test spot, he would have to prove that a) he is a better batsman than Aftab Ahmed, his competitor for the spot and b) he is not just a stock bowler who can contain the batsmen (we have enough of them in the test team already) but actually can take top order wickets. Unfortunately Mushfique loses out on both counts and Aftab should win a spot.
Freddie Flintoff?s exclusion has given Bangladesh a real shot at bowling the English out. The only problem is that the English top order is a potent threat and in order for us to get to the lower middle order, which is the Achilles? Heel for the tourists, we must be much more effective with the new ball. Both Mashrafe and Tapash looked pretty innocuous with the new ball, especially Tapash. Tapash, who had really impressed me with his use of the seam and ability to move the ball either way, has definitely lost his confidence. His pace is no longer there and he?s simply not attacking the batsmen anymore. If Tapash doesn?t deliver the goods in the first Test, I would give Alamgir Kabir another chance. This guy is a genuine swinger of the ball and I think he would be a perfect foil for Mashrafee who relies more on pace and bounce.
Which brings me to yet another area of concern: our slip fielding. In test matches, you won?t be getting a lot of lbws, bowled outs or catches at the cover due to extravagant cover drives. What you would expect are slip catches and lots of them. But the batsmen might be edging them, but we still need to catch them and I haven?t seen a single Bangladeshi slipper ever since we gained test status. The problem obviously starts at the domestic level but what is really worrying is that we lack proper technique. A good slipper should have, amongst other things, great anticipation and good positioning. We have none of these qualities. How many times have we seen Shujon with his hands in his pockets even while an edge was coming right at him? It?s not a pleasant sight, I can tell you that. Unfortunately, there is no short-term remedy for curing our slip ailments. What we should do is hire Mark Waugh as a consultant during our off-season and have him run drills for at least a couple of months. No, I?m serious!
My last gripe is with our tail-enders. Not to take away any responsibility from our top order batsmen, but I think our tail-enders can definitely contribute more with the bat. It?s not easy to teach a batsman to bowl wicket-taking deliveries at the test level but I think it?s certainly feasible to teach lower order batsmen to score some useful runs, and especially when we have some batters like Mashrafee and Rafique who can certainly hold the bat. My opinion: Whatmore should give the lower order batsmen targets. I don?t think they should be told to hang around; instead, tell them to play to their strengths and give the ball a good whack.
Last but not least, the captaincy issue. Although this is by now a separate issue in it?s own rights, I would like to say that Shujon has done a splendid job marshalling his troops. I think he has a good sense of what to do on the field, is a very good communicator and really thinks about his field placements and bowler rotation. True, he has not performed as well as he might have but he has definitely improved over the past two series. What really impresses me about him is that the hurt he feels with every poor team performance is palpable on his face, his performance and how he communicates with his colleagues on the filed and off it. We need a guy who reacts viscerally as well as cognitively when the team is not performing well. Shujon should lead the team till either Hannan or Kapali matures into leaders.