A Test series in India is, almost inarguably, the toughest challenge in world cricket at the moment. It hasn’t been an easy task at any point in the 21st century – evidenced by the hosts’ proud record of having lost only two series on home soil since 2001, and none since the start of 2013 – but in the recent past, it has assumed a difficulty of gargantuan proportions, and volumes have been written on the same.
Bangladesh should have known better. They did know better.
Days before making their short journey into India, they had seen South Africa blown to smithereens. A side that had reached these shores ranked third in the world had ended a three-Test series with margins of defeat reading 203 runs, an innings and 137 runs and an innings and 202 runs.
And still, this is the Bangladesh we have seen, through five days of sorry helplessness. They can thank Mushfiqur Rahim – the one common thorn in the Indian flesh since 2007 – for having taken the day-night Test at Kolkata into a third day, else the Tigers would have had to make the trip back with the ignominy of having lasted a collective total of five days over the course of two Test matches.
Yes, India’s near-invincibility at home is beginning to touch fabled ground. Yes, Bangladesh had to contend with the absence of their two senior-most players. But for a team that, in this past decade, has lifted its credentials through a perceived ability to constantly punch above its weight, these last two weeks have been sordid, bordering on morbid.
There was enough of a gulf between these two sides even before this series started – India world number one; Bangladesh world number nine, with barely half the rating points their opponents had – but over five days of cricket at Indore and Kolkata, they have appeared to be playing in different galaxies.
India have averaged 56, posting totals of 493/6 and 347/9 the two times they’ve needed to bat; as of the end of day two at the Eden Gardens, Bangladesh’s average is 17.25. India’s batsmen have taken 81.5 balls, or 13.3 overs, between every dismissal; a Bangladeshi batsman has fallen once every 15 deliveries (yes, a wicket every two and a half overs). Despite having had only two innings, India have four men with over 100 runs in the series; remove Rahim, and not one Bangladesh bat has come close to tallying the same through four innings.
Where India’s batsmen have been efficient, the challenge for their opponents has been the fiery fast-bowling unit dishing out perpetually-hostile stuff to them. Such has been the sheer brilliance of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami, that Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have only been called upon to bowl a combined total of 53.2 overs so far – that’s less than 28 percent of the bowling done by the Indians.
Having won the toss and decided to make first use of the wicket on both occasions, Mominul Haque has instantly regretted that call both times, with the top-order back in the hut before most people would have started tuning in. But it’s not like they’ve fared any better the second time over either – Bangladesh’s average score at the fall of the third wicket this series is 23; put their four scores at three-down together, and it adds up to 94, which is lesser than what India have managed in each of their two innings (119 at the fall of the third wicket at Indore, 137 at Kolkata). Shift the goal-post a little further, and the gap widens – Bangladesh’s first five wickets average 89 runs, India’s 360.
As good as the Indian pace trinity has been, you have to ask the question: Could Bangladesh really have done no better?
As horrific as their batting has been, could the bowlers not make any better use of two responsive-enough tracks? Just look at the bowlers’ strike rates. India: Ishant 22, Umesh 30.6, Shami 31.6, Ashwin 42.4; Bangladesh: Al-Amin Hossain 45.3, Abu Jayed 46, Ebadot Hossain 78, Mehidy Hasan Miraz 162, Taijul Islam 318.
Really, how much of a difference would even be there in the presence of Shakib al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal?
The last of those three questions just posed – the one on the missing statesmen – might rile readers of a Bangladeshi bend of mind, but it’s not an exaggerated supposition. Because Bangladesh’s away past reveals how these horrors aren’t newfound at all, just slightly exacerbated.
Take aside the famous 2009 win in West Indies (against what was, realistically, a third-string side), and any games in Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh have played a total of 13 away Tests that have featured both Shakib and Tamim. They’ve lost 12 of those – five by an innings, four by over 100 runs, three by seven or more wickets. From Wellington in 2008 to North Sound in 2018, the Tigers have consistently failed to even do as much as compete on their travels.
What should bother Bangladesh cricket even more is that this insipidness away from home has also crept into their overall Test game; no one in the country would need any reminding of what happened in the last Test they played before coming to India.
The solitary victory in their 13-match away sample, at Colombo two years ago, had come during a period where Bangladesh finally appeared to be showing their ascent in the longest format – between October 2016 and August 2017, the Tigers had notched up three wins in seven Tests, beating England and Australia at home, before the win in Sri Lanka.
In 15 completed Tests since, Bangladesh have tasted victory thrice – twice over West Indies, once over Zimbabwe. But they’ve also managed to lose, at home, to Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. Much like their away losses in the presence of Shakib and Tamim, these recent defeats, too, have largely been no-contests: Five of their 11 losses in this time-period have been by over 150 runs, a further four by a margin of an innings.
When they were embarrassed by Afghanistan, both BCB president Nazmul Hossain and then-captain Shakib had called for a structural change. The same was echoed by coach Russell Domingo following the Indore Test.
“There's no doubt that the structure of the team needs change, otherwise the results are going to be the same,” Domingo had said.
“I need to sit with the selectors to plan the way forward. I need to identify the players that can take the team forward. If it means that we need to go with some new faces and struggle for a period of time, I don't think it is any different to what is happening at the moment.”
They’re going to be on the plane back from Kolkata to Dhaka very soon; that plane couldn’t come much sooner, and those changes – whatever they are – couldn’t come any sooner.
Unlike the past, when Bangladesh could legitimately complain about not getting enough game-time against the top rung of Test cricket, they are now part of a World Test Championship cycle where the tough challenges will come one after the other; over the next 18 months, Bangladesh have series lined up against Pakistan, Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
The Tigers aren’t expected to roar in the longest format. But if they don’t find a way to compete, they’re going to find it hard to hold on to the ‘Tigers’ tag they’ve so proudly held in their years in the sport.
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