Tigers in flux for 100th Test

If history is any indicator, the following five days for Bangladesh are not likely to be particularly happy at the P Sara Oval in Colombo, where Bangladesh’s 100th Test will start today from 10:30am Bangladesh time. 0-1 down in the two-match series against Sri Lanka following a 259-run defeat in the first Test in Galle last week, Bangladesh will have to win this match in a venue where they have only known innings defeats in three tries in the past.

The picturesque P Sara Oval was the site of Bangladesh’s lowest Test score when they were bundled out for 62 in their last match here in 2007. After the reversal in Galle, a venue where Bangladesh have much happier memories having drawn their previous match there in March 2013, things appear particularly bleak, not unlike the weather in Colombo yesterday.

“We had drawn a Test in Galle too, so records can go either way,” said Bangladesh skipper Mushfiqur Rahim during the pre-match conference yesterday. “But we didn’t think we would lose badly, as we did in Galle. We now have some idea about the Sri Lanka bowling attack, so we just have to improve our basics.”

Even without the unfavourable P Sara record, the turmoil in the dressing room with Mahmudullah Riyad’s axing and the subsequent indecision surrounding whether to send the veteran of 33 Tests home is not a promising sign of things to come. What appeared to be a settled team when the Tigers arrived in Sri Lanka is now one in flux ahead of a momentous Test match.

Judging by the practice sessions yesterday and the day before, there will be other changes to the team. Mominul Haque, who last hit a Test fifty in Wellington five innings ago, is also likely to sit out as he has not batted in the nets on Monday and was seen taking throwdowns on the sidelines yesterday while Mosaddek Hossain, yet to play a Test, headed to the nets with the first batch of batsmen, which included Imrul Kayes.

Imrul, who recently proved his fitness after a muscle tear sustained in New Zealand, is expected to come in in place of Mominul at number three and Mosaddek seems in line for a debut as Riyad’s replacement. On top of that, Liton Das, who took over the gloves from Mushfiqur in the first Test, was ruled out of the Test late yesterday with a small fracture on his left ribcage sustained while batting against a net bowler on Monday. That means that Mushfiqur will be back with the keeping gloves and Sabbir Rahman will be back in the Test squad, if the aforementioned changes are made.  

There is also likely to be a change in the bowling department. Bangladesh played the first Test with three seamers, resting left-arm spinner Taijul Islam. Going by the coach’s words when he said on Sunday that Taijul’s performance with the Kookaburra ball used in Sri Lanka was ‘different’ from the SG ball with which he took three wickets in an innings in India, the spinner may remain on the bench. The P Sara pitch, according to Sri Lanka skipper Rangana Herath and Mushfiqur, will have bounce on the first two or three days for pacers and will turn thereafter for the spinners. If Bangladesh do decide to go with three seamers, Kamrul Islam Rabbi — who was being put through his paces by fast bowling coach Courtney Walsh over the last two days — may replace Subashis Roy.

Then there is the weather. Showers are forecast for the morning and afternoon today and also on Day Two. If that is the case, then playing the extra pacer again will make sense as the wicket will break down less in the absence of continued sunshine, as had happened in Galle. 

“There are expectations about every Test. But Bangladesh cricket is in such a stage that they are expected to win a Test, ODI or T20I. This itself is a big achievement, which inspires the players to give their best on the field. We didn’t fulfil our expectations in the last game but we will give our best in the next game. Our main target will be to play consistently,” said Mushfiqur yesterday.

With so many moving parts, it will indeed be a special effort if Bangladesh are to pull off something special in this landmark Test.  

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