Like most teams, Bangladesh can be worthy adversaries when playing at home. Not that long ago, visiting teams to Bangladesh hardly expected to be tested, but as England, Sri Lanka and Australia found out recently, Shakib Al Hasan and his men can be tough opponents. A battery of spinners on turning wickets can be difficult to overcome, a lesson visitors to the subcontinent are frequently forced to absorb.
The West Indies are enduring this lesson now. Set 224 to win the first Test at Chittagong, they fell 64 runs short, with left-arm spinner Taijul Islam snaring six wickets for a paltry 33 runs.
Facing the spin battery on this pitch was indeed difficult, but West Indies’ often inept and injudicious batting didn’t help their cause either.
Take Kieran Powell, for example. The tall left-hander recklessly ran down the wicket at a flighted delivery, the 16th of the innings as well as the first he faced. Aiming a big hit over mid-wicket, he was expecting turn from a ball that continued in a straight line. He missed, and was out stumped, embarrassingly. He was the first batsman in Test history to be stumped off the first ball he received.
Powell’s carelessness was hard to fathom. One can understand the batsman’s desire to wrest the upper hand early against bowling he knew would be difficult in the conditions. But surely he could have tried to assess the level of the threat before premeditatedly advancing down the wicket as he did. It is hard to recall a more wasteful effort.
Shimron Hetmyer batted well in the first innings and began aggressively in the second. But there was some rashness about the way he got out. Having made 27 from 19 deliveries with three fours and a six, he tried for another six over long off, but only succeeded in picking out the fielder in that area. It was a needless gift of a wicket.
It is the Guyanese left-hander’s normal approach, however, and if we laud the one that is lifted out of the ground, then we probably should not lament too much the one that lands down the fielder’s throat. But players in a team have a duty to try and figure out what benefits the team the most. Getting the runs in a rush, if possible, would’ve been useful, but evaluating whether the added risk involved was advisable was worth serious consideration also.
This is especially true since it was clear that the older the ball got, the more straightforward batting became. This was evident in the first innings. And it was particularly evident as the innings went beyond 20 overs, as Jomel Warrican compiled a reasonably comfortable 41. Survival was never easy, but the ball seemed to be turning more slowly and the elevated bounce of the new ball seemed less alarming as the ball aged.
Bangladesh appropriately armed themselves by playing four spinners. Tall 17-year-old off-spinner Nayeem Hasan impressed on debut, capturing five wickets in the first innings, and combating four spin bowlers on a wicket that turned from the first day was always going to be difficult for the visitors. Yet, from the time Shannon Gabriel’s incisive spell shifted the game slightly away from the hosts, snapping up four wickets late on the first day, the visitors signaled they were capable of competing.
They fell into early trouble in their first innings and required the services of Hetmyer and wicket-keeper Shane Dowrich to extricate them. Both batsmen were responsible for digging their side out of the hole in which they placed themselves, having lost five wickets for 88 in response to Bangladesh’s first innings 324. Both batsmen made their way to 63 runs apiece, but employed different methods to get there.
Hetmyer, to no one’s surprise, was aggressive, flashy, making his runs from just 47 deliveries. He struck five fours and four sixes, mostly with full-throated blows to the area between square leg and long on and by engaging the cut shot. He is an especially gifted player, fond of unveiling his wide array of attacking strokes. It is likely he will be an exciting player to watch for a number of years.
Dowrich, on the other hand, was more restrained. His strokeplay oozes class and his defence is sturdy. He is not averse to putting away most of his attacking strokes in order to construct the patient, watchful innings. Hetmyer’s approach is more exciting, but Dowrich’s methods are probably more reliable. The unplayable ball could always come along at any moment on the tricky Chittagong surface, but Dowrich was unbeaten at the close of the innings, having negotiated 101 deliveries.
The astonishing delivery did come along early in his second innings knock and he was dismissed LBW for five. Given the capacity he showed, however, in his first innings effort and in his 125 off 325 deliveries against Sri Lanka in Trinidad in June, the Barbadian looks like he could be one for the difficult situation. The West Indies would have done well with a few of those.
The West Indies would have done well with the services of regular captain Jason Holder too. The tall Barbadian has shown vast recent improvement as a player, and his batting and bowling was sorely missed.
Holder missing the series is a big blow for the West Indies, as is the suspension of Shannon Gabriel for the second Test after making physical contact with Bangladesh player Imrul Kayes.
Gabriel’s express pace accounted for five wickets in the game. There is no one in the visitors’ camp capable of matching his kind of pace and directness, and so his absence will be a huge gap to fill. Still, the West Indies’ greatest need is to get more runs out of its batting unit, especially those occupying positions at the top of the order. Fix that, and the West Indies could well win the second Test.
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