Test cricket resumes in Bangladesh after nine months with Pakistan taking on the home side in the first Test in Chattogram’s Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium. For Bangladesh, it is the start of the 2021-23 World Test Championship cycle. It is a pretty challenging one for them given they are playing three Asian nations at home - Pakistan to start with followed by India and Sri Lanka. Facing better sides of spin bowling can dilute their home advantage.
Pakistan, in the other camp, are aiming at their first series win of the cycle. They flunked their first opportunity, losing the first Test against West Indies in one of the most exciting Tests of the year. However, they came back to win the second Test and level the two-match series 1-1.
No Mahmudullah, no Shakib, compromised batting depth
The last time Bangladesh played Test cricket, they were restricted to 132 for six by Zimbabwe on Day 1. From there on, they went on to post 468. Mahmudullah, batting at number eight, was involved in two massive lower order partnerships, himself scoring an unbeaten 150.
Mahmudullah has now drawn curtains from his red-ball career for Bangladesh. There is also no Shakib Al Hasan who failed to recover the hamstring injury that he picked up in the T20 World Cup. Both hold an experience of 108 Tests in between them. Bangladesh have played only four Tests without both of them since 2008 and have won only one of them, against Zimbabwe in February, 2020.
Their absence also compromises their batting depth. They have picked some promising fresh faces from first-class cricket but the luxury of having a solid batsman like Mahmudullah at eight is unprecedented. And not to forget, they will be also without Tamim Iqbal (64 Tests) and their only speedster in the true sense of the word, Taskin Ahmed. Hence, the hosts have a significant void to circumvent. The batting onus falls heavily on the skipper Mominul Haque and Mushfiqur Rahim.
Opening woes for Pakistan
Babar Azam, Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan form a formidable middle-order for Pakistan alongside a deep batting line-up. However, they are crippled for runs in the top-order, especially from the openers. In Tests since 2020, Pakistan openers have averaged 27.3, better than only Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and West Indies. This year, that number is 26.5. They have opened with Imran Butt and Abid Ali through all their six Tests this year.
The selectors have now decided to look past Butt who averaged only 17.8 across his six chances, with only one 50-plus score. Dropped for this tour, he is replaced by Imam Ul Haq returning to the team after two years.
Players to watch out for
Azhar Ali had a lean run in 2018 and 2019. He averaged 27 in those two years combined. The pandemic break helped and Azhar returned with better form, averaging over 40 in 2020 and 2021, but only marginally so - 41 and 42.6 respectively. Aged 36 with the experience of nearly 90 Tests, Azhar is at a stage where he needs to churn out runs consistently, especially when he plays only one format. He would like his annual averages to move to the other end of the 40s. He has a decent record in Bangladesh, registering three 50-plus scores in six innings. He would like to build on it to strengthen his spot in the side.
Mehidy Hasan Miraz last played T20Is in 2018. There isn’t much ODI cricket of late which means Mehidy also has one format to ply his trade. In Shakib’s absence, he will also be the leader of the Bangladesh attack. He also adds to their batting depth. Hence, his all-round skills will be key for the hosts.
Bangladesh: Saif Hassan, Shadman Islam, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Mominul Haque (c), Mushfiqur Rahim, Liton Das (wk), Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Nayeem Hasan, Taijul Islam, Ebadot Hossain, Rejaur Rahman Raja
Pakistan: Imam Ul Haq, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam (c), Fawad Alam, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Faheem Ashraf, Nauman Ali, Hasan Ali, Sajid Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi (from the 12-man squad announced)