The Bangladesh cricket team is about to embark on another difficult mission, a three match ODI series against England. The recent one-day performances of the two teams suggest that England will win easily. The tourists hinted as much when they thrashed the BCB Development side by a 167 runs on Wednesday. However, despite the fact that it recently won a three match NatWest Challenge against Pakistan and the NatWest Trophy also featuring Zimbabwe and South Africa, the England team is not the best one-day team in the world and in my view, Bangladesh has a lot to play for.
The Bangladesh teams needs an effective strategy and a balanced XI capable of carrying it out. England’s strength lies in its batting, of that there is little doubt. Players like Trescothick, Solanki, Strauss, Flintoff and Blackwell will take the attack to the Bangladeshi bowlers. They will be supported by the more orthodox Vaughan, Collingwood and McGrath. The Bangladesh team’s strategy should focus on two fronts, containing England’s top order and getting a good start from its own.
The England team is full of aggressive and hard-hitting batsmen who will want to get their team off to blistering start and maintain a high strike rate. However, what it lacks is a batsman in the mould of Bevan, someone who can come in down the order and maintain a good strike rate without needing to score too many boundaries. Bangladesh should look to contain the inexperienced English top-order by starving them off boundaries with some disciplined bowling and good fielding. If they can do that, the top-order will get itself out as it has a tendency to do. Of course, it is not easy to keep batters like Flintoff quiet, but even Flintoff starts to get fidgety when he can’t open up and hit a few over the top. Bottom line is: the Bangladeshi bowlers can’t afford to bowl too many boundary bowls; they will get severely punished. Bowl a good line and invite the English batsmen to make the shots.
Also, the team needs a bowling strategy for the slog overs. Too often, we find that our team restricts the opposition to under 200 in 40 overs only to give away 80 to 100 runs in the last ten overs. This is something we have to address. It happens largely because our captain likes to use the most economical bowlers on the day to bowl the slog overs. Since our most economical bowlers on any given day are the spinners, they get to bowl the slog overs and invariably get hit for a few sixes. This practice has to stop. Identify the best bowlers to bowl the slog overs before the match starts and plan the bowling in a way as to give them the slog overs to bowl. In my view, the best bowlers to bowl at the death are the pacers, especially Mashrafe, but since he is injured, Tapash and Mushfiq will have to do. The captain can take on the role for himself if he thinks he can contain the batsmen in the last ten overs, but he has to stop this practice of bowling different bowlers in every match. Against Pakistan, a hapless Rajin was asked to bowl the 48th over!
Having said all that, what will ultimately decide how well Bangladesh does in these one-dayers is their batting. The England team will score a lot of runs. Our bowlers can limit them to within 250-270 with some disciplined bowling as opposed to letting them score over 300. But even a score of 265 is a lot against Bangladesh, given our recent performances in one-day cricket. The Bangladesh team will have to bat extremely well and put up scores of 250 or more if it is to give England a run for their money. However, I don’t believe that the way to score a lot of runs is to fill the team with batsmen. Rather, I would have two openers who can get Bangladesh off to a good start and have follow-up batsmen who can build on it. Also, it is important in one-day cricket to have bowlers who can contribute with the bat, and this is where Mushfiq and Monjurul Islam Rana can play an important part. However, lets start from the top.
Hannan is guaranteed to take the first openers spot. Nafees Iqbal and Moniruzzaman are currently in contention for the other. I can’t comment on whom among the two ought to be picked as I haven’t seen either bat, but whoever gets the nod will have to get Bangladesh off to a good start. The openers will be spared from facing Harmison and will get to face the much slower Anderson and Kirtley. Anderson has been very successful in England colours so far, but one has to remember that he has only played in Australia, South Africa and England. On the more placid Bangladeshi pitches, he may find things a little more difficult. I don’t support the idea of sending one of the middle order batsmen, Bashar or Rajin, out to open the innings. We ought to be able to find two specialist openers to go out and open the innings and let our middle order batsmen bat where they are most comfortable.
The number 3 position is usually Bashar’s but this is the one position where the management might want to experiment a little bit. Personally, I wouldn’t mind promoting our captain up the order to three to see how well that works out. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, Sujon can usually be counted on to score a 20 or 30 run cameo in one-dayers, and I feel that a quickfire 30 early in the Bangladesh innings when the team is around 25 for 1 will have a greater impact than when the team is 140 for 7. Secondly, Sujon might do better with some added responsibility with the bat, he has recently complained that he can’t be expected to score too many runs at number 8, especially since he usually finds himself batting with the tail. And lastly, losing Sujon’s wicket doesn’t leave Bangladesh too much worse off after the way he has been batting in recent times. If it works, it will provide Bangladesh an early boost and if it doesn’t, it won’t leave Bangladesh any worse off. And as far as pinch-hitters go, Sujon is more capable of playing the part than a bowler like Rafique.
Numbers 4, 5 and 6 pick themselves. Bashar will drop down to 4, followed by Rajin and Kapali. If I had my way, Bashar would always bat at 4, in Tests and ODIs. I think that Rajin and Kapali will also be most effective at 5 and 6 respectively than at 4 and 5. The problem with our middle overs batting in one-dayers has been that we have not taken nearly enough singles in the past. This is something that hopefully Whatmore is beating into our middle order batsmen. From the 15th to the 40th over, our batters need to take a lot of singles and keep the scoreboard ticking. Getting bogged down in the middle overs because the boundaries are hard to find is the dumbest thing our batters can do. Take 4 singles every over and the occasional boundary will keep us going along comfortably at 4.5 to 5 an over.
Khaled Mashud will bat at 7 and Mushfiqur Rahman and Manjurul Islam Rana are my picks for 8 and 9. Although Rana is a late inclusion into the team, his performance in the practice game was encouraging. In one-day cricket, a bowler’s potency as a wicket-taker is not important and Rana proved that he could bowl economically in a match where the English batters made hay in the sunshine. Rana also impressed with the bat, scoring 47 runs of 66 balls and his batting ability will be a plus for Bangladesh lower down the order. The last two spots in the team go to Mohammed Rafique and Tapash Baisya. If Rafique fails to be fit for the first one-dayer however, young Jamaluddin might get a chance to make his ODI debut.
England is better and more comfortable defending a total than in chasing one. If Sujon wins the toss, he should bat first in each and every match, especially with two games being day-nighters. I think it is quite clear that nothing I have suggested in this article in terms of strategy is outside ordinary thinking. Bangladesh will just have to do the basics well and get the England team to adapt their strategy accordingly. We can’t play into their hands by allowing them to score 300 and then getting ourselves into a hole by losing early wickets and not scoring runs in the middle overs. It’s simple really: they have to get off to a solid start, take singles in the middle overs and keep wickets in hand for the slog when they bat, maintain discipline and field like their lives depend on it when they bowl.