Since their debut in the format in 2000, Bangladesh have never been a Test side with a good bowling unit for foreign pace-friendly conditions.
But since the beginning of 2021, Bangladesh entered a new age in Test cricket as they started to focus more on their pace bowling unit and tried to come out of their all-spin attack formula at home.
And this paid dividends. The Tigers climbed Mount Maunganui courtesy of a six-wicket haul from Ebadot Hossain, and their pacers have continued to provide a tough time for the opposition batsmen away from home, an unforeseen phenomenon which would have been called impossible even two years back.
Yet, their performances at home are questionable, and so are the performances of pacers in the domestic longer version. This leaves a question lying, the pacers are improving, but on what ground?
Bangladesh have played more Tests away from home than at home since 2021, and the stats show how the pacers have been doing better overseas.
In this period, three Bangladesh pacers - Ebadot, Khaled Ahmed and Taksin Ahmed have picked up 18 wickets each. Khaled, in Bangladesh’s most recent horror show in West Indies, stood out and picked up 10 wickets in two matches, including his first fifer.
But that’s international cricket, where pacers have been continuously backed by head coach Russell Domingo and former skipper Mominul Haque.
The real question is how are the pacers doing in the domestic circuit, and should we really be asking whether they can do well in international cricket based on these performances?
In the most recent National Cricket League season, the country’s top-flight first-class competition, there was only one pacer among the top 10 wicket-takers. While players like Ebadot, Taskin, and Khaled could not play the whole season due to national team commitments, almost nobody else could shine.
The same thing recurred in the 2021-22 Bangladesh Cricket League season. There were only two pacers in the top 10 wicket-takers - Abu Hider Rony, and Shafiqul Islam.
In the final round of the NCL, only 13 frontline pacers played across the eight teams, and the number was seven in the final round of the BCL across four teams.
This lack of trust in pacers comes from the bowlers not being skilful enough, former Bangladesh pacer Tareq Aziz opined.
“As there is a lack of skill, teams do not want to take a risk. Players practice all day long, but they don’t get a match, so the development does not happen as it is supposed to, and thus you don’t have many quality players at the top level,” he told The Financial Express.
“We have the belief that wickets with help for pacers cannot be prepared here. So, every team keep more spinners in the XI. Quality pacers are still playing.
“To me, if the pacers can improve their skill set, they can make their own way into the teams. Conditions and environment come later, but I believe that lack of skill is the prevailing fact here,” Aziz added.
Veteran cricket coach and current cricket adviser of BKSP, Nazmul Abedeen Fahim, told The Financial Express that it was impossible to keep picking the players if they don’t do well.”
“Pacers have the responsibility of doing well with the new ball. Because if they don’t, it will obviously go to others. It’s impossible to grow a player in competitive cricket, to provide opportunities regularly despite not doing well. Bowlers must perform to keep their places,” he said.
While there is a common consensus that the pitches in Bangladesh are the only problem behind pacers not doing well, Fahim believes there are deeper problems.
“It's not right to say that pacers are not doing well at home just because the pitches are not helping them enough. But it’s also true that we have not done enough to change this realisation.”
“We have told them that higher levels cannot be achieved here. We also have some blame to share,” the veteran coach further remarked.
The pacers in the national team are receiving proper care as they have worked under the likes of Ottis Gibson and Alan Donald, but Fahim says the work must be done at the grassroots level too.
“We are reluctant on working with pacers in long term. When someone is doing well, we work with them; whoever does bad, we keep them aside. We don’t even focus much on those who are within the process. We only keep our focus on those 7-8 bowlers in the limelight.”
“But in other countries, they work with a large pool of players and keep their focus on them. Because you will always need players. And players will not come out of thin air, you have to prepare them. That is our weakness,” he explained.
Fahim, who coached national stars such as Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, and Mominul Haque in their early days, believes that Bangladesh could take a page out of India’s book, who have improved their pool of fast bowlers in recent years, and as a result, have found success home and away.
“India had a problem similar to ours, the lack of quality pacers. But they have put in the work, and have changed their situation, which we are yet to do. We need to create conditions where pacers will enjoy themselves, which means pace conducive wickets,” he said.
Fahim added, “When players play international cricket, we expect the highest level of performance from them. But the conditions required for them to thrive are in our hands, not theirs. They can try but the guidance, or facilities they need, must be provided. But we definitely don’t do enough.”
While Bangladesh have seen their pace-bowling pack grow in recent years, and have become a bowling unit capable of bowling the opponent out twice anywhere in the world, the question of what’s next keeps knocking on the door.
The Tigers might have a stable core right now, but if they don’t work in detail to create a pool to pick from, this success might only end up being short-lived, and maybe just a pretty fairy-tale for a country who have failed to find the formula with the red-ball even after 22 years.