Does ‘paddy field-like’ wicket help in the long run?
Following the World Cup debacle, the Bangladesh Test side won against New Zealand in Sylhet in conditions where home advantage was present but there was a bit for everybody, including batters. The propensity to hide behind results are all too prevalent in Bangladesh cricket and this time a Test series win – first against a big Test nation -- could be the antidote to World Cup's disaster, given the nature of the wicket prepared in Mirpur for the second Test.
A World Cup assessment committee was formed but only to question players and selectors, while the decision-makers, who are related to performance issues emanating from such wickets, were spared.
When talking about the Mirpur wicket in a video interview with a cricket website yesterday, one fan, disappointed by the fall of 15, said: "Sylhet's was not like a paddy field-like wicket. It was excellent."
The fan's frustration is quite understandable, and is perhaps shared by all fans and well-wishers of Bangladesh cricket.
The batters have so far found it difficult to get set in Mirpur. The ball often does not come onto the bat and new ball produces vicious turn, so much so that Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson, the two Kiwi pacers, bowled just 9.2 overs between themselves during the 66.2 overs of the Bangladesh innings that folded for 172. Their counterpart Shoriful Islam, the lone Bangladesh pacer, bowled just one of the 12.4 overs that Bangladesh bowled in New Zealand's first innings so far.
On one side, the home team's batters' performance does not exactly cry out home-advantage. On the other hand, the pace unit does not get proper acclimatisation for bowling long spells on more batting-friendly tracks at home, which in turn leaves them with skill and fitness gaps when playing away. For the spinners, when the likes of Mehedi Miraz and Taijul Islam can just bank on consistency, it does not push them to go the extra mile skill-wise and struggle in conditions where only accuracy is not enough.
This blueprint for this particular wicket was one seen in 2016 and 2017's wins over England and Australia in home Tests.
A 172-run first innings score does not spell home advantage. The approach needed is questionable too.
While New Zealand would get back to surfaces with true bounce and nip and seam for seamers, it will be the Bangladesh batters who would need to prevail on such surfaces if this blueprint continues. Mehedi Hasan Miraz argued on Wednesday that they were taking home advantage even though he put a counter-argument that they needed better wickets in white-ball cricket.
Even in the Sylhet Test where a better surface was present, Bangladesh batters often looked to 'hit out' to release pressure. This kind of strategy will not allow long-term growth.
Winning at home was important in this Test Championship cycle, Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha felt. He also identified that the players have different skillsets now to choose from but it appears from day one's proceedings that only one was being prioritised as 15 wickets fell on Day One.
Taskin Ahmed and Ebadot Hossain's injuries may have further put Hathurusingha and the team management on their way to another spin-friendly surface but for the rest of the pacers, it is not exactly a confidence boost as the soul-searching continues for what is ideal way of playing Tests. Against Afghanistan, Bangladesh prepared a wicket with help for pacers but it was not part of the World Test Championship and the management perhaps felt at ease of Afghanistan's suspect ability to persevere against pace.
While talking to this reporter, Mirpur curator Gamini Silva once said 'I have been happy for 13 years' about preparing a particularly bouncy wicket in an NCL game, suggesting that wickets are prepared according to requirements. For internationals, the standards appear to be different from NCL's. Only time will tell whether such a blueprint will help in the long run, given that it has not paid dividends so far.