'Fizz will make them work hard'
Midway through the captains' press conference yesterday, on the eve of the first Test between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in Galle, Mushfiqur Rahim quietly made one of the strongest statements of his tenure.
There were of course the usual lines trotted out about the team being ready to 'face hard times', and how their past performance at the Galle International Cricket Stadium – when, four years ago, they racked up the country's highest Test score and Mushfiqur himself made his first Test double-century -- will lend mental support and provide self-belief.
But building upon the comparison between now and then, Mushfiqur said: “They don't have a lot of the senior players who were around the last time. We have players who played in that match. Overall, both sides have a chance to produce a result in their favour.”
This was quickly followed by words on how strong Sri Lanka are at home, and how well they did against the mighty Australians recently. But the point was made, even if subtly. On an away tour to a Test nation that has routinely thrashed them, Mushfiqur said that Bangladesh can win the opening Test. For most other Test nations it is a routine utterance, but for a team that has won just eight of their 98 Tests so far, it was a big shift.
Before the England series last October, neither coach Chandika Hathurusingha nor captain Mushfiqur would utter a word about winning, even though they went on to score their first win over England in Dhaka after almost winning in Chittagong.
There is reason for that confidence, although the results say that Bangladesh have lost all of their three away Tests this year and, going back to the England series, lost four of their last five overall. But there are reasons to be confident in those three away losses as Bangladesh competed for four days in each of those games, before losing the plot on the last day.
“We are ready to face a hard time, and I hope we can be competitive for the whole game, and not just three or four days,” said Mushfiqur, in reference to the aforementioned reversals.
Another source of confidence may be the bowling line-up he is likely to have at his command. For the first time he will have the two Bangladesh youngsters together who took the world by storm upon their arrival to the bowling crease.
“It is a huge advantage. We have Mustafizur now with Shakib [Al Hasan] and Mehedi, who have done well together already,” Mushfiqur said. “The type of bowler he is, Mustafizur will make them work hard on this wicket. Many of them are going to play him for the first time, which we have seen is difficult for any batsman.”
The heat, which Mushfiqur said is worse than in 2013, will also play a part and Mushfiqur seemed to be hoping that it contributes to breaking up of the wicket, presumably so that Shakib and Mehedi can spin their webs effectively.
“The heat might help break down the wicket faster, but if the batsmen apply themselves, there are plenty of runs available.”
Overall, even with the keeping gloves being taken away from him for now, Mushfiqur seemed in confident mood ahead of a hard away Test. If the confidence is to be proved well-placed by the end of the week, his team will also have to apply lessons learnt in the first two months of this year.