The return of Shakib Al Hasan to Test cricket is a huge boost for the Bangladesh team. He last played for his country against Australia at Chittagong in September 2017, a game his side lost by seven wickets. His contribution, like most of his teammates, was minimal in that game, but in the previous game in Dhaka, he was largely responsible for Bangladesh’s thrilling 20-run upset win, making his team’s highest score, 84 in the first innings, and capturing 10 wickets in the game.
Clearly missed in the four games for which he was absent, Shakib has been appointed captain for the upcoming two-Test series versus the West Indies. His record is impressive: In 51 games, he has made 3,594 runs at an average of just over 40, and his left-arm orthodox spin has brought him 188 wickets at 32.37. He is easily the best player in his side, one of the best in the game, and his return to the team significantly enhances their chances of having a successful tour.
Shakib, along with the aggressive Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah and Mominul Haque, are expected to score the bulk of the runs. There is some talent there, but they are unlikely to find runs easy to come by in the Caribbean.
But as happy as the visitors are with Shakib’s return, they’ll be almost as downcast at the absence of the promising Mustafizur Rahman. The left-arm pacer hurt his left big toe in May while playing for the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Though he is yet to fully recover, he has been surprisingly included in the limited-overs squad to challenge the West Indies after the Test series, an indication of how desperate the selectors are for his return.
The visitors’ main fast bowling threat should therefore come from Rubel Hossain, the pacy, though slightly unreliable, seamer. The other members of the pace bowling unit are mostly untried or untrustworthy at this level, and so the visitors will be depending heavily on spin for the majority of their wickets. They are better served in that area, and will be relying on Shakib, another left-arm orthodox practitioner Taijul Islam and off break bowler Mehidy Hasan. All are capable of delivering tidy spells and there’s also the part-time offerings of Mahmudullah for support.
Spinners have thrived at both the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua as well as the Sabina Park in Jamaica in recent years. Yasir Shah took six second innings wickets in Jamaica when Pakistan triumphed over the West Indies just over a year ago, and Ravichandran Ashwin captured seven in Antigua when India crushed the home side by an innings and 72 runs in June 2016.
Yet, if the just-concluded Sri Lanka series is anything to go by, it is seam that will be the most effective weapon at the Caribbean. The grassy surfaces in the Sri Lanka series offered pace, sideways movement, and bounce that was often uneven. The seamers, who kept the ball full and on a good line, thrived.
Those like Shannon Gabriel, who did that and bowled at high pace, thrived even more. The Trinidadian bludgeoned his way to 20 wickets in the three games against the Sri Lankans, and if the wickets are anything like they were against Sri Lanka, it is difficult to envision the Bangladeshi batsmen prospering in such conditions.
In the last game of the Sri Lanka series at Barbados, the first day-night Test held in the Caribbean, Jason Holder bowled the best he ever has. His 6’7” frame means that batsmen facing him will always have steep bounce to contend with. An ability to elicit outswing was somewhat neutralised by a tendency to pitch short or too wide of the off-stump. In Barbados, he got everything just about right, was exceedingly threatening, and collected nine wickets in the game. He will want to keep that vein of form going against Bangladesh.
One concern for the West Indies’ selectors is the poor bowling form of Miguel Cummins. The Barbadian had a poor series, taking only three wickets which he got in the first innings of the first Test in Trinidad. Keemo Paul, the 20-year-old Guyanese fast bowler, has been retained in the squad and ought to replace Cummins. He is an exciting prospect, having a bit of ability with the bat as well, and should become a very useful player at the international level.
West Indies’ main worry will be their batting, especially the top order. Devon Smith recently forced his way into the side, but his weaknesses as a batsman were cruelly exposed, which should lead to him making way yet again, this time for good perhaps since he is already 36. This means that Kieran Powell will be asked to open the innings, which will, in turn, open up a spot for the thrilling strokeplay of Shimron Hetmyer.
The young Guyanese is brimful of talent and the series will be all the more exciting to watch should he get going. More runs are definitely required from Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope and Roston Chase. They all underachieved in the Sri Lanka series, although they should find things easier against the Bangladeshi bowling.
Despite Bangladesh’s higher standing in the ICC Test ratings (eighth compared to the West Indies’ ninth) the series is likely to come down to the visitors’ batting failing to cope with the home team’s fast bowling. The West Indies easily swept Bangladesh aside the last time they visited the Caribbean in 2014. Things shouldn’t be much different on this occasion.