In the absence of two stalwarts -- Test and T20 skipper Shakib Al Hasan and opener Tamim Iqbal -- the first Test against Zimbabwe in Sylhet from today will be a test for stand-in skipper Mahmudullah Riyad to maintain the momentum mustered during the whitewash in the preceding three-match ODI series.
The longest version of the game is a format that Bangladesh are yet to master. In their previous series they were all out for just 43 runs -- their lowest ever score in Test cricket -- in the West Indies in July this year. The challenge for the batsmen, who have crossed 200 in only three innings out of 12 since the start of the South Africa tour in September 2017, will be to turn the tide against Zimbabwe and continue that trend against West Indies, who will be Bangladesh's next home assignment after the two Tests against Zimbabwe.
Despite it being a home series, head coach Steve Rhodes hinted on Thursday that the team management wants improvement in Test performances abroad.
Although talk about next summer's World Cup in England has already begun, Mahmudullah said the team management is more keen to start well in the first game at the Sylhet International Stadium.
“Obviously we all know about the World Cup, which is just around the corner, but we are still going to play Test cricket, [a format in which] we were unable to do well in the West Indies in the previous Test series. I think it's a great opportunity for us so to use our home conditions and win both Tests, which is our first target.
“At the same time we have quite a few smaller goals and if we are able to achieve those we can do better in Test cricket. At the moment we are only thinking of the first Test -- the World Cup is a different format and we will think about it when required,” Mahmudullah told reporters yesterday.
Shakib's absence as batsman and bowler has thrown possible team combinations wide open, with left-arm spinner Nazmul Islam, pacer Khaled Ahmed, batsman Mohammad Mithun and Ariful Haque are awaiting for their debut.
But according to Mahmudullah, the team management is not willing to experiment in the first Test and look to form the best possible side considering the prevailing conditions.
“Shakib has always provided a balance to the team and as he is not there we had to look for an extra batsman or an extra bowler. When Shakib is there we don't need to think about the team combination. But the absence of both Shakib and Tamim is a good opportunity for the others, including me. It is important how we utilise the opportunity -- that is the thing to look for and I think we should take this challenge.
“We may not experiment that much in the first Test and we are willing to play with the best eleven as the first game is very important. Whether it is Tests, ODIs or the T20Is, the first match is always important. We believe that when we start well it helps us to continue the momentum for a long time. So I am hoping that we will form the best eleven,” he said.
Meanwhile, local pacer Abu Jayed, who already made his Test debut in the West Indies and performed well, will be looking to continue in that vein along with fellow Sylhet pacer Khaled if he gets his first cap today.
Mahmudullah was confident about the abilities of the pace duo and was also hoping that wicketkeeper-batsman Liton Das continues his good form and lends his free-flowing strokeplay at the top of the order.
"Jayed performed quite well on the West Indies tour and I think he has a claim to a place. Khaled is a good young prospect for Bangladesh -- he has pace and can also swing the ball. Now we have to see how they are performing. Let's see what combination we come up with."