The intangible importance of fielding
There is a saying about Test cricket -- when nothing's going your way while bowling, tighten up the field and put pressure on the batters and something will happen. That, however, is an area where the Tigers have been generally lacking in their 20 years of Test cricket.
With the inevitable rust that sets in because of the long gap from the game, the challenge of correcting previous mistakes on the upcoming Sri Lanka tour will be steeper than usual.
The Tigers fielding department will play a vital role that is often overlooked, but it has been an almost silent cause for worry in many occasions. Considering fitness, almost all Bangladesh cricketers can be termed fit and agile, but there have been many instances when dropped catches exacted a heavy price, changing the course of games that could have been won.
In Tests, the slip cordon arguably plays the most important role, but Bangladesh are yet to find a true specialist in those positions.
Whether it's with the new ball or with an old cherry, bowlers have to peg away at batsman for long stretches and it is imperative that slip fielders gobble up any chances that suddenly come their way due to batsman error or a great ball.
After those periods when nothing seems to happen for hours, the thick edge against the run of play is gleefully accepted by top teams like Australia, England, India or South Africa. That shifts the momentum and more importantly, lifts the morale of the bowlers.
The picture is quite the opposite for Bangladesh, who have endured more than their fair share of wicket-less periods in Test cricket. Invariably, the edge that promises to end the hardship is dropped at slip, further deflating bowlers. The likes of Soumya Sarkar, Mohammad Mithun, Nazmul Hossain Shanto and Imrul Kayes were seen in the slip cordon in recent times, but unfortunately none have gained the reputation of a solid slip fielder yet.
In New Zealand last year, dropped chances in both the ODI and Test series cost the visitors heavily on a tour where an inexperienced fast bowling department were made to look more helpless.
Apart from the lack of specialist slip fielders, the poor approach and attitude from the fast bowlers towards fielding -- both catching and ground fielding -- has also been a big concern.
Although the Bangladesh team do have a couple of specialist close-in fielders in short leg and silly mid-off with Test skipper Mominul Haque and, more recently, rookie opener Shadman Islam doing a decent job.
Following a rather disappointing end to the 2019 ICC World Cup, Bangladesh fielding coach Ryan Cook gave a report where he focused on the areas of strength for each individual.
"One of the things we focused a lot on was the positions of the players in the areas of strength. We did that quite well in Sri Lanka. So those were the things in those reports," Cook told reporters last year.
However, he did mention that the Tigers' catching has remained inconsistent and required a lot of work. "I think it [catching] has been inconsistent. We had some really good catches in the World Cup and during the Sri Lanka series. But catching has to be consistent. And that's where we will be focusing on in the next couple of days. From the slip fielding perspective, we want to transform players in the squad, then we decide who needs to go. The guys who are best suited to the position, will go to that position," he added.
Fielding and wicketkeeping -- another indispensable aspect in Tests -- at times have disappointed in crunch moments.
The experienced Mushfiqur Rahim, in his last Test against Zimbabwe where he scored his second double-ton, played mainly as a batsman as the team management decided to hand over the gloves to Liton Das.
Many had opined that Mushfiqur should focus on his batting more in the longest format and sacrifice his wicketkeeping for the betterment of the team, and that to some extent worked well for the Tigers.
Liton has already showed some promise behind the stumps with his swift technique and his presence in the Test side. However, keeping the long Sri Lanka tour in mind, the selectors are likely to pick three wicketkeepers. Anamul Haque, Mithun and Nurul Hasan are among the frontrunners for the third spot.