Mirpur spin beckons Tigers in decider
After a bat-dominated draw in the first Test in Chittagong, the question ahead of the second Test against Sri Lanka starting today in Mirpur will be whether Bangladesh can move past the handicap of Shakib Al Hasan's continued absence and switch to all-out attack in their search for a rare series win.
Bangladesh have reason to be confident as the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium is the venue where Bangladesh have registered two of their landmark Test wins not so long ago against England in October 2016 and Australia in August last year, both matches won with an attacking mindset on spin-friendly wickets.
In Chittagong however, the Tigers seemed to have opted for a batting-friendly wicket that eventually produced 1533 runs over five days for the loss of just 24 wickets, but noises from the home camp suggest that a continuation of that tactic is unlikely.
The only consideration that may hold back the home side from repeating that strategy would be the opposition's strength and ability to handle spin-friendly pitches as those are major components of Sri Lanka's strategy behind their home successes.
The pitch in Chittagong frustrated bowlers of both sides, but there were a few individual performances from the batsmen that will serve to boost the confidence in both camps.
Bangladesh however cannot afford to repeat some of the mistakes from the first Test, during which the slip catching was the biggest concern for the home side and the lack of a specialist slip fielder may well be felt during this Test.
Although there was praise for Bangladesh's comeback on the fifth and final day to draw the game, the Tigers' think tank are unlikely to opt for the same defensive strategy in the series decider after skipper Mahmudullah Riyad hinted that he wanted a positive result.
“We got out of a tough position in the first match. So this game is a great chance for us to win a Test series. I think all the players are thinking positively, which will help our outcome,” Mahmudullah told reporters in Mirpur after a training session yesterday.
If the Tigers go for a result on a dry Mirpur surface that is likely to offer a lot of purchase to the spinners, much like it did against England and Australia with neither match lasting till the fifth day, the team combination will be crucial.
Left-arm spinner Sunzamul Islam, who did not have a memorable debut in Chittagong, has been excluded from the squad alongside pacer Rubel Hossain. The inclusion of batsman Sabbir Rahman does give an idea of an attacking option as far as lower-middle order batting goes.
According to sources close to the team, the home side are set to make two changes from the first Test. Mosaddek Hossain was dismissed in an ugly manner in the first innings in Chittagong charging Rangana Herath at a crucial stage, and while he made up for that indiscretion with a patient, unbeaten eight of 53 balls to help draw the Test, he may have to make way for Sabbir.
Veteran left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak, who played his last Test in 2014 against Sri Lanka, is all set to take Sunzamul's place as reward for his recent brilliant performances in the domestic circuit.
Once again, Bangladesh are likely to go with one pacer in the form of Mustafizur Rahman while left-arm spinner Taijul Islam and off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz will have to play a crucial role in the absence of Shakib.
However, much like the successes against England and Australia, the batsmen will have to put their hands up and opener Tamim Iqbal, who has on many occasions been the guiding light in difficult situations, will once again have to take the responsibility alongside other experienced players like Mushfiqur Rahim and stand-in skipper Mahmudullah Riyad.
There is also a reward waiting for the Tigers if they avoid defeat as Bangladesh will jump to number eight in ICC's Test rankings for the first time. Bangladesh are currently just behind West Indies on points, while being equal to the Caribbean team on 72 rating points. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, are in sixth position with 94 points.
Bangladesh will also be eyeing just their fourth Test series win with the last one coming against Zimbabwe in 2014 when the Tigers won the home series 3-0.
The home side are well aware of the threat from veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath. The 39-year-old is just four wickets shy of becoming the most successful left-arm bowler in Test history as his current tally of 411 is second only to Pakistan legend Wasim Akram's 414 career wickets, and a spin-friendly Mirpur may be the ideal place to achieve the landmark.
Pacer Suranga Lakmal, who proved his worth even on a flat Chittagong pitch, will once again lead the pace bowling department for the visitors while Chittagong centurions Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva's form with the bat may also prove vital.