When we try to hide the reality we often come out with an excuse that belies logic. So when stand-in Bangladesh captain Mahmudullah Riyad said that the positive intent from the batsmen did not work against Sri Lanka at a post-match briefing after the home side’s massive 215-run defeat in the second Test at Mirpur on Saturday, it served as a popular idea that most of us entertained. He also blamed the bowlers for not bowling in the right areas in patches, allowing the Lankans to score some free runs on a challenging wicket.
We do not have a problem with accepting his second observation as a matter of fact. But his invented notion of ‘positive intent from the batsmen’ is completely misleading and a concerted effort to hide the harsh reality.
Let us have a look at Bangladesh’s two innings in the second Test. They scored 110 in their first essay and 123 in the second. The two Bangladesh innings lasted a combined 75.1 overs, eight balls more than Sri Lanka’s second innings. Although the visitors scored more runs than Bangladesh in both innings and consumed more overs, the Test itself failed to provide quality cricket overall. This is a wicket that offered bounce and turn but more importantly it offered true bounce and good pace. And if you are a batsman with good technique and temperament, it was a wicket on which you could make a big statement.
So, batting on this wicket for 75 odd overs in two innings and scoring fewer runs cannot justify the so-called ‘positive intent’. When you come out to bat you come out with two purposes — to occupy the wicket for as long as possible and score runs the hard way or dominate the opposition’s bowling and score quick runs.
Now the question is: when you have your opposition bowled out for 222 runs on the opening day of a Test match, which tactic will you adopt? You will definitely not come out all guns blazing unless you do not trust your ability to graft.
Here is a classic example of what graft is all about and as the saying goes you can learn it even from the kids. The tiny tots of Rajshahi Division grafted their way to 96 all out in 81.3 overs against Barisal Division in a Young Tigers U-14 National Championship game at the Shaheed Sheikh Kamal International Cricket Stadium in Cox’s Bazaar on Sunday.
What the Rajshahi boys did was follow the instructions of their coach, whose only mission was to test their skill and tenacity. One Shifaet Mohaiman scored a 102-ball 25, Masud bin Farid scored a 72-ball 9, and Sadman Hossain played 114 balls and scored 6 runs. Tawfiqur Hasan negotiated 43 balls without scoring. They might not have played on a tougher wicket like Mirpur, but one test they have passed with flying colours was their tenacity and trust in their defence. For context, the opposition were 26 for 6 in 18 overs at stumps on the opening day.
This is what the senior Tigers lacked. They did not trust their defence and did not show the tenacity to occupy the crease. When you are not sure about your defensive ability and lack the necessary technique, you resort to the so-called ‘positive batting approach’ primarily to drive your fear away. This was exactly what happened when Bangladesh batted in both innings.
Reckless is a popular word most of us used while describing Bangladesh’s batting in the second innings. But if we look at those dismissals, we can be convinced that not a single batsman threw his wicket away or resorted to reckless batting. Tamim Iqbal paid the price of playing outside the line of the delivery. Imrul Kayes and Mominul Haque edged behind the wicket while playing on the front foot. Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah Riyad paid the price of coming down the wickets to get to the pitch of the ball. Sabbir Rahman also came on the front foot and edged to close in-field.
The common thread in all the dismissals was that they tried to play premeditated front-foot shots without judging the delivery, when they really should have played late as the only unpredictable aspect was the extent of the turn. Liton Das was the only batsman undone by a delivery that kicked up from good length.
It was a concerted effort from the Bangladesh team management to play safe in the first Test in Chittagong. It was also a collective decision to play hard in Dhaka. But the only difference was the players were not up for it mentally and technically. They did not play positive cricket. They were too scared to be exposed to the harsh reality.