Concerns over home advantage in new cycle
Bangladesh will embark on their journey in the third ICC World Test Championship (WTC) cycle with the series against New Zealand, slated to begin with the first Test in Sylhet today.
The Tigers have 12 Tests in the 2023-2025 cycle, with three series at home and as many away. Ahead of the latest WTC cycle, the home advantage factor was once again in discussion during stand-in Test skipper Najmul Hossain Shanto's press conference.
Home advantage has, however, been a double-edged sword in Bangladesh cricket for many years. Whether Bangladesh's home advantage factor actually work across their whole cricket schedule is a crucial question, given that they often feel like fish out of water in away conditions where good sporting wickets are in place.
More acutely, Bangladesh's record over the preceding Test Championships portrays an inability to take home advantage as well as their eight home Tests across two cycles yielded just one draw.
"I believe we are a team capable of winning at home, given the kind of bowling attack and batters we have. We need to slowly build the habit," Shanto said at the pre-match press conference in Sylhet yesterday.
However, Shanto was not keen on focusing on the home advantage factor ahead of the beginning of the cycle when asked about the wicket for the first Test.
"Don't want to say it's a home advantage. I believe whenever a side plays at home, they procure some advantage automatically. We will try to take those. In the first session it could be understood how the wicket is behaving," he said.
It signifies problems that Bangladesh skipper and team management usually face in Tests at home. If spin options are prioritised, they need to gauge the opponent's spin option too. The Tigers famously lost to West Indies after Kyle Mayers stormed in a spin-friendly wicket.
When Bangladesh played Afghanistan in their last Test assignment, Mirpur served a pace-friendly wicket and the Bangladesh pacers did their bit. It was a strategy that bore fruit because of Afghanistan batters' known weakness to red-ball pace attacks and the visitors' lack of pace threat.
The same cannot be said about the visiting New Zealand, who have five spin options to pick from: Mitchell Santner, Ajaz Patel, Ish Sodhi, Rachin Ravindra and Glenn Phillips. Their spin options may likely extract more purchase out of the wicket in the upcoming Test than Bangladesh's Mehedi Hasan, Taijul Islam or Nayeem Hasan. In Trent Boult and Tim Southee, they have pace quality as well.
"Our first priority is to win home matches, and [to show] how we can play well against any side," Shanto declared yesterday. But that bit of balancing act, especially in terms of pitches, is now necessary at home conditions, given the absence of Shakib Al Hasan or Tamim Iqbal in this series.
The balancing act would have to come from playing eleven selections too, so that both pacers, spinners and the batters can make their presence felt. Some degree of home advantage is "automatic", which Shanto stated. Overall, the Tigers' only friend will be the familiarity and not the pace-versus-spin priority which had hampered their previous Test cycles.