No country for leg-spinners
Is there reason to be critical about Bangladesh's performance in a nervy seven-run win against a feisty Afghanistan? On the face of it, not much apart from a few dropped catches, wayward bowling in patches and above all a cautious approach, which is understandable since the Tigers were playing their first one-day international after a gap of almost one year in Mirpur on Sunday.
But think of one outstanding bowling performance from the opposite camp. Young leg-spinner Rashid Khan took two wickets for 37 runs, the best bowling effort for his team and the second best bowler in the match after Bangladesh's champion all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan.
The young Afghan leggie with an open-chested action bowled those googlies with great effect, hurled a few beautiful leg-breaks and mixed his variation that included the top-spinner with authority. His biggest forte was bowling in good spots constantly and only delivered a few full tosses when he erred in length.
However, this is not about how well he bowled in the first ODI or what an asset he can be for Afghanistan in the future. We do not even want to be critical of the discomfort he caused for the now vaunted Bangladesh batting line up. Top batsman Mahmudullah Riyad was beaten on a number of occasions by Rashid's leg-break, opener Tamim Iqbal was also not comfortable facing him, Mushfiqur Rahim played all over a Rashid googly only to be clean bowled, Sabbir Rahman failed to read a few of those googlies before being adjudged leg before. Sabbir might consider himself a bit unlucky as the ball hit on the flap of his thigh pad; the dashing right-hander might also be wondering why he was batting at number seven.
But our concern is that the art of leg-spin has been a neglected phenomenon in Bangladesh's domestic cricket. True, we have cracked the code of playing top quality fast bowlers; we have now got a number of pace bowlers coming though the system, we have got a lot of finger-spinners but if you look at our domestic cricket you will hardly find a big turner or a leg-spinner. Slow bowlers rather than big-turning finger-spinners dominate the scene, where leg-spinners are downright rarities. And if you do not play leg-spin in domestic cricket, you are destined to face a lot of problems while playing international cricket even if you are a good batsman.
Although since the arrival of Chandika Hathurusingha there have been efforts afoot to ensure a well-rounded education in the system, picking a leg-spinner in the main team is still not a prevalent practice at the club level, district or divisional levels. It may sound harsh but the ground reality is that if any young player desires to be a leg-spinner, he will hardly find a team. And even if a team includes a leg-spinner he is considered as a bench-warmer throughout the season. Leg-spinners may at times prove expensive especially in the shorter formats of the game, but if you are to be a complete package as a team, leg-spinners or big turners are necessary artillery in your repertoire.
It was not long ago when Bangladesh struggled against leg-spin on a slightly different wicket that helped turners. The classic example was Bangladesh's second Test against Pakistan at Mirpur last year, where our batsmen were clueless against Yasir Shah. During the World T20 in India last year our batsmen were at sea against New Zealand leg-spinner Ish Sodhi.
We do not want to blame our players for being uncomfortable against top quality turners. It is a shame that they do not get the opportunity to play leg-spin in domestic cricket which would have allowed them to be better prepared for international assignments.
It is about time our board gives a long hard look into this serious issue by promoting leg-spinners like it is promoting fast bowlers at age-group level and make sure they get enough opportunity to play domestic cricket.
Bangladesh will travel to New Zealand in December for a full series; they will then embark on their maiden one-off Test in India, where true spinners are considered a virtue. They will most probably travel to Sri Lanka after that where turners rule the roost. And if turners put the otherwise healthy Tigers in a spot of bother, do not blame them. Blame the system.