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Bangladesh prove spin-to-win isn’t their only formula for success at home

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Shoriful’s rise, Mustafizur’s consistency key gains from their T20I series win over Australia

That Bangladesh are potent at home is no secret. It’s not a revelation either that an Australian side missing their key batters have been steamrolled 4-1 on slow, turning tracks. And neither is it shocking that Shakib Al Hasan was the best player of the series.

But the facts that would give the Bangladesh management much joy are the other unheralded aspects of their series win. At the top of the pile would be the returns of their pace bowlers.

In any bowling condition, let alone on conditions that are considered spinner friendly, for your pace bowlers to outbowl an opposition pace unit consisting of Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc – Nos. 2 and 8 on the ICC ODI rankings for bowlers – is impressive.

Mustafizur Rahman‘s use of the cutters, the wide yorkers and the slower balls earned him praise from his captain, of course, but also the opposition camp, with some going as far as calling it “unplayable.”
Shoriful Islam, too, went the Mustafizur way with how to bowl on decks that kept slowing down as the series progressed, and together with his senior bowler, took 14 wickets at an economy of 4.77 between them.

Starc featured in just two games. Whether Starc was ineffective or rested after two matches is a debate for another day, but his economy of 8.71 in a series where the average batting run-rate was less than six tells you that bowling according to what one can extract from the surface is more important than just pace and new-ball movement.

Shoriful learnt that as the series progressed, and his numbers improved after a nondescript start. Mohammad Saifuddin, who played just the last game, showed with his figures of 3 for 12 that adaptability is key to success.

The other positive for Bangladesh was their young brigade. Remember that while Australia did not have their strongest batters, neither did Bangladesh, with Liton Das and Tamim Iqbal nursing injuries, and Mushfiqur Rahim missing out due to quarantine rules. Leave their experience aside, but on batting credentials alone, them not being in the team put Bangladesh’s batting line-up on a similar pedestal as Australia’s depleted batting unit.

And so new solutions have emerged. Although nobody made great contributions from either side, there was enough in those innings – that needed graft, application and patience – from Mohammad Naim, Afif Hossain and Nurul Hasan to be proud of. Naim’s scores of 30, 28 and 23 in such a low-scoring series ensured Bangladesh did not lose both openers early on most days. Pushing on to make more runs after getting in would be his next challenge.
Afif and Nurul were heroes in what was the closest contest of the series where Bangladesh slumped to 67 for 5 in a small chase. Mahmudullah, the captain, said after the match that the Bangladesh camp felt they had thrown away their winning advantage in the 122 chase, and felt relieved that the youngsters completed the win.

Perhaps the young brigade in Afif and Nurul do not carry baggage or scars of close Bangladesh defeats, but their inch-perfect strategy of playing out Adam Zampa, Ashton Agar and Hazlewood, and instead going after the out-of-form Andrew Tye showed their cricketing maturity. It was the ability to graft out a win in that game – when 1-0 became 2-0 and not 1-1 – that gave Bangladesh the mental edge to eventually win 4-1.

While teams around the world are expected to change their playing XIs in the lead up to building their final squad shortlist for the T20 World Cup, Bangladesh made full use of the vacant positions by giving their “second-choice” spinners and batters a complete run.

In Mehidy Hasan Miraz’s absence, Nasum Ahmed and Mahedi Hasan showed they are not far behind in the pecking order with success both with the new and older ball. Their success upfront allowed Mustafizur and Shakib to strangle the Australia middle and lower order later in the innings.

What someone like Mosaddek Hossain – who has played 56 white-ball internationals – can do for Bangladesh is well known by the management, and therefore the extended run received by Afif and Shamim Hossain showed that the team is proactively looking far out into the future. The four (or five games) on the trot for these players gives Bangladesh a clear picture of what their World T20 squad should look like, with a few of them even keeping seniors like Soumya Sarkar out of the XI for prolonged periods.

Overall, Bangladesh are in a good zone. Their morale is high after wins in Zimbabwe and against Australia. Mustafizur has regained that mojo that was missing for the past 24 months. And when the missing senior batters return, they’ll know that the younger lot have the skills to drag the side out of tricky positions.

It will, however, be crucial for Bangladesh to not ride on the high of beating Australia in a bilateral series for too long because, for them, the World T20 is approaching faster than their opponents.

Both Mahmudullah and Shakib said on different occasions this series that their world T20 rankings don’t do justice to their skills, and the reason for them saying that is because Bangladesh are not direct qualifiers into the Super 12 of the World T20. They still have to come out of a group that includes Oman, Papua New Guinea and Scotland before they can look to slay the bigger teams.

Playing top teams before that qualifier tournament, though, can only help. There was enough in the Australia squad for them to be challenged, and there will be enough in the New Zealand squad that arrives later this month for five T20Is, albeit without the IPL-bound players. It’s fair to call Bangladesh favourites for that contest too.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx

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