Bangladesh and Pakistan meet each other for their first Test in five years at a time when both teams are at a crossroads. Bangladesh have had a woeful 2019 and are desperate to start off the new year with an improved performance. Pakistan, on the other hand, have just broken through by playing their first Test at home since 2009, and are also looking to establish themselves for the rest of 2020.
Their 263-run win over Sri Lanka in their last Test in December saw plenty of individual performances among batsmen and bowlers. Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah all picked up wickets while there were hundreds for Shan Masood, Abid Ali, captain Azhar Ali and Babar Azam. It also involved a major fightback, which would be the most appeasing factor for Misbah-ul-Haq who is also trying to settle on his dual role of team coach and chief selector.
Pakistan’s bowling attack is their strength, led by the steady and accurate Abbas who opens the bowling with Afridi. Naseem brings extra pace and Yasir Shah adds more experience to the bowling attack, and will be especially handy on a pitch which may be batting-friendly for most of the Test match.
Bangladesh also don’t have a great record against legspin, which is just one of their many problems. They lost each of the five Tests they played in 2019. They are without two of their best cricketers on this tour. And they have to operate with the worst pace bowling attack in recent memory.
And yet, all of this could still an opportunity. Tamim Iqbal has returned to the Test side, and having scored a record-breaking triple-hundred in a first-class game last week, he will bring experience and confidence to the Bangladesh top-order. And sure, they are without Mushfiqur Rahim who held the middle order firmly for the last nine years, but that gives Mominul Haque, in his second series as Test captain, a chance to make a statement about his leadership quality. It is also also a chance for Mohammad Mithun, Najmul Hossain Shanto and Liton Das to cement their spot.
While there are opportunities available for the batsmen, Bangladesh’s biggest concern is their bowling attack. Taijul Islam is their most skilled bowler, while Abu Jayed offers a bit of control. Ebadot Hossain has often blown hot and cold, but is said to be improving since the BPL and to round off, the team management is likely to pick Rubel Hossain, who has the all-time worst bowling average for anyone who has bowled more than 3,000 balls in Tests, for his first game in 18 months.
Bangladesh will be very eager to make the right turn at this crossroads.
Pakistan WDLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Abid Ali easily qualifies for one of the best debuts of 2019, having struck two centuries in his first three Test innings. Both those knocks were against Sri Lanka in Pakistan’s last series, where he batted so sensibly to get his Test career off to a superb start. Now, however, there will be added expectation on the newcomer, which is only natural in a player’s second series.
Mominul Haque had a baptism of fire in India where he made his captaincy debut. He made only 44 runs in four innings, including his first pair, in the Kolkata Test. But with the wretched 2019 over, Mominul has a chance to make a fresh start as he looks to salvage a Test side also lacking in form.
Pakistan have plenty of options in their bowling line-up after they included offspinner Bilal Asif and allrounder Faheem Ashraf but they probably won’t be tempted to change a winning combination.
Pakistan (likely): 1 Shan Masood, 2 Abid Ali, 3 Azhar Ali (capt), 4 Babar Azam, 5 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 6 Haris Sohail, 7 Asad Shafiq, 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Mohammad Abbas, 10 Naseem Shah, 11 Shaheen Afridi
Bangladesh coach Russell Domingo revealed his top seven in the departure press conference in Dhaka. Depending on how they view the Rawalpindi pitch on the day before the Test, they would either go for a three-man pace attack, or both spinners – Taijul and Nayeem Hassan.
Bangladesh (likely): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Saif Hassan, 3 Najmul Hossain Shanto, 4 Mominul Haque (capt), 5 Mohammad Mithun, 6 Mahmudullah, 7 Liton Das (wk), 8 Taijul Islam, 9 Rubel Hossain, 10 Abu Jayed, 11 Ebadot Hossain
Pitch and conditions
The forecast for these five days is better than December when most of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka game was washed out. The pitch is likely to favour the batsmen although Bangladesh are anticipating a lot more bounce than they get at home.
Stats and Trivia
Pakistan have not won a Test in Rawalpindi for 23 years, having lost three of the last four to Australia (1998), Sri Lanka (2000) and India (2004).
The last Test match between Bangladesh and Pakistan in Pakistan took place more than 16 years ago and it was a heart-breaker for Bangladesh. Inzamam-ul-Haq maneuvered the home side to a one-wicket win in Multan.