Bangladesh are on a roll. Back-to-back T20I series wins, historic wins at that. A 4-1 result against a superpower that dominated the first decade of the 21st century and a confirmed series win against their neighbours who are one of the most lethal sides of this era. Mahmudullah’s men are even likely to move up by two places from their current T20I ranking of seventh.
All of this sounds great if you are a Bangladesh fan. These bilateral series so near the T20 World Cup are a precursor of what is to come. So these victories should infuse the side with confidence to achieve bigger things later this year. But there lies the twist. The victories against Australia and New Zealand come with two giant asterisks.
The first is: how strong were their opponents? A depleted Australian side struggling with their own demons and a bench-strength New Zealand side. None in the side are actually part of the World Cup squad.
Second and more important: While Bangladesh have steam-rolled them, but what good have Bangladesh done for themselves with these matches?
Sure, their counterparts have fallen short on seven occasions and some of them have been totally one-sided like dismissing the Aussies for 92 and reducing the Kiwis to 60. For all the other wins, it was just two or three performances lifting the entire side.
As the T20 World Cup in UAE and Oman looms closer, there's no predicting if the conditions there will be similar to the ultra spin-friendly pitches at the Shere Bangla Stadium. Spinners accounted for a total of 68 wickets across the past nine matches which is 55% of the total wickets. It is the total opposite to the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, where pacers have claimed 71% of the wickets from 22 matches.
In the pace department, Bangladesh’s line-up is still uncertain. More often this year, they went with an attack of three frontline spinners, a part-timer and two pacers. The likes of Shoriful Islam, Taskin Ahmed, Shamim Hossain and Mohammad Saifuddin have been rotated irrespective of their form while Mustafizur Rahman has been overused ever since cricket resumed last year.
Since the last World Cup, Bangladesh pacers have claimed 160 wickets from 49 matches, with Mustafizur alone contributing 33% of those wickets. Though the 26-year old has consistently delivered, there are obvious signs he is stressed out moving from bubble to bubble. Last week, he opted out of BCB’s Test contract and will fly to the UAE in few days for the IPL where he will remain till November.
In the meanwhile, the questions over the opening combination remain a knot that tangles more on untangling. Since the last World Cup final, Bangladesh have tried nine different openers which also included experimenting with Mahedi Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim.
Soumya Sarkar has been shuttling between the top 4 positions for years now and with seniors, Shakib and Mushfiqur being indispensable at no. 3 and no. 4, he was ignored for the New Zealand series. Tamim Iqbal’s decision to withdraw from the World Cup only increases pressure on Mohammad Naim and Liton Das who have managed just three fifty-plus opening partnerships in 20 innings together.
It’s a big task considering Bangladesh have been the second-worst batting side in the powerplay for the past five years with an average run rate of 7.7 and strike rate of 127.7. They have also lost a wicket every 17.5 balls – the least for any top 10 sides.
In the last two series, the spine of their middle-order – Mahmdullah, Shakib and Mushfiqur – didn’t get the chance to flex their batting prowess due to the low-scoring nature of the pitches. Mushfiqur in particular has endured a bad return to the side after missing the Australia series due to quarantine issues. The experienced batter has two ducks from the four matches while scoring just 36 runs. What’s more worrying is the 32-year old’s struggle against the inexperience of Ajaz Patel, Cole McConchie and Rachin Ravindra.
Shakib has played the role of an aggressor, which has brought middling returns, leaving skipper Mahmudullah to hold the batting together. Nural Hasan, who has been recalled after a gap of four years for wicket-keeping duties, haven’t had much impact batting in the lower-order. Hasan's inclusion also meant leaving out Sarkar who can keep wickets but suffers when he bats lower than number three.
Ever since the New Zealand tour earlier this year, Bangladesh seemed to have stalled on fine-tuning their combinations. They still have a gap of five weeks before the tournament begins, during which they will be without IPL participants Mustafizur and Shakib. Mahmudullah’s men have a good chance to test the waters before taking on the big sharks as they will face minnows in Scotland, Oman and Papua New Guinea in the first round.
Getting past the first round to the Super-12s might not be difficult. But, the real test will begin a week into the World Cup. And therein will lie the answer to whether Bangladesh got anything out of tailoring the tracks to reap the benefit of home advantage. Or whether they just shot themselves in the foot.