It is not news that Bangladesh have been abysmal in Tests, at least that is what the margin of their recent failures suggest. Since 2019, Bangladesh have played a total of six Tests and their best result in the longest format was when the rookie Afghans thumped the by 224 runs at home in September last year.
All the other five Tests saw the Tigers at the wrong end of an innings defeat, with the innings and 44-run humiliation in Rawalpindi against Pakistan earlier this month being the latest addition to the horrendous list.
That list might grow further if the Mominul Haque-led side cannot get back to winning ways in the lone Test against Zimbabwe -- considered one of the easier opponents they have faced in the past year -- starting from February 22 in Mirpur.
Bangladesh's strength at home has been spin. And although reliance on spin has at times backfired -- the thumping by Afghan spinners last year being a prime example -- it also bore fruit on many occasions. It was the spin ploy that did the business when the Tigers registered their best-ever Test result -- beating the West Indies by an innings and 184 runs in November-December, 2018.
Bangladesh's spin attack, be it at home or overseas, has mostly revolved around premier all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan. However, Shakib has missed a majority of Bangladesh's assignments since 2018 mostly due to injury. Since 2018, Bangladesh played a total of 14 Tests, nine of them without Shakib.
In eight of those games when Bangladesh were without their best player, Taijul Islam played the lead spinners' role. Aside from four of those matches in seam-friendly pitches overseas, where Taijul managed just five wickets, he remained the Tigers' best bowler at home and his return of 30 wickets in four games speaks volume of how good he has been at home.
Although Taijul's prowess with the ball did not see the team yield a positive result most of the time, it was mostly due to a failure as a team. The left-armer was the one to come up with crucial breakthroughs in most games and perhaps that was why Taijul was a bit irritated when asked why Bangladesh had suddenly lost their spin prowess in recent times in Shakib's absence.
"Maybe those of us who are spinners are not good enough. We're not like Shakib bhai and since things were going well when he was there, maybe that is the only answer," Taijul said after the Tigers' practice session at the outer nets in Mirpur yesterday. "We don't have spinners of that quality and that's why such results are happening."
In the past two years, Bangladesh were able to win three Tests, two under the leadership of Shakib. It is true that Shakib's presence impacts the team immensely because of wily spinner's ability to create pressure at one end and enable other bowlers to extract wickets.
And just as an irritated Taijul mentioned, Shakib's ability and the experience brought in by the top all-rounder in a sport cannot be replaced. Still, even without Shakib, and despite lacking resources, the Tigers had to rely on spinners, especially at home.
If the Tigers bank on spin, it will be Taijul who will have to play the leading role. The other two spinners in the squad are Mehedi Hasan Miraz and Nayeem Hasan. Miraz, who just returned from a finger injury, has not been in good touch for a considerable time. And although Nayeem goes to the Zimbabwe Tests on the back of some excellent domestic performances, the 19-year-old still lacks Taijul's experience in the format.
The Tigers have included a total of five pacers in their initial 16-member squad for the Test, which will later be trimmed to 13. While the squad selection suggest that the Tigers might not bank as heavily on spinners as they usually do at home, that only means the role and impact of spinners, even if it is not much, will greatly depend on Taijul's performance during the Zimbabwe Test.
Maybe those of us who are spinners are not good enough. We're not like Shakib bhai and since things were going well when he was there, maybe that is the only answer.