Bangladesh's steep legspin learning curve

Soumya Sarkar plays the reverse sweep BCCI

Among the few things Bangladesh didn't do well during their seven-wicket win over India in Delhi was to handle Yuzvendra Chahal. The legspinner finished with 1 for 24 from four overs, but as long as he was bowling, the Bangladesh batsmen couldn't quite settle down.

Chahal removed Mohammad Naim in his first over when the left-hand batsman skied a catch to long-on. Mushfiqur Rahim and Soumya Sarkar both survived close calls in his second over before Krunal Pandya dropped Mushfiqur in Chahal's third. Although they got two fours in his last over, it was clear that Chahal had then in his spin.

He will certainly feature prominently in team meetings in Rajkot and Nagpur, but Bangladesh's problems against legspin isn't limited to Chahal. Last month, Rashid Khan dictated the course of the one-off Test in Chattogram with his 11-wicket haul. Apart from two matches in the last 12 months, Rashid has been a constant thorn in Bangladesh's side, having taken 33 wickets at an average of 12.87 since 2016. Legspinners like Yasir Shah, Adil Rashid and Devendra Bishoo have also troubled Bangladesh in the last five years, often proving the difference between the two sides. Bangladesh even succumbed to newcomer Brandon Mavuta last year, when he took a four-wicket haul in Zimbabwe's historic Test win.

"Most team officials and coaches in domestic cricket pick multiple left-arm spinners in their line-ups, and explicitly discourage kids from bowling offspin and legspin"

Legspin has always been a missing link for Bangladesh in their step-by-step development as an international cricket team. A major part of the problem is the lack of legspinners within the system, which prevents them from having the right kind of practice against this type of bowler. The struggle only becomes apparent to the outside world when the likes of Rashid, Yasir and Chahal expose them at the highest level.

Back home, people in positions of power and authority are aware of the issue. Last year, chief selector Minhajul Abedin was so desperate to promote a legspinner that he got the aptly named Minhajul Abedin Afridi in for a tour game against Zimbabwe. The young legspinner managed to break into the Chattogram first-class side this year.

Aminul Islam, who took two wickets against India in Delhi, is being touted for big things but he is actually a batsman. He has hardly bowled enough in domestic cricket but because of a mandate by the BCB to promote legspinners, Aminul was pushed into the senior side prematurely.

Chahal, who saw Aminul bowl for the first time, somehow felt that this was an experienced domestic campaigner. "He [Aminul] did well in Bangladesh domestic cricket," Chahal said in Rajkot ahead of the second T20I. "He must have played 40-50 matches in the first-class level. He bowled very well. I think he bowled three overs, and took two crucial wickets."

In reality, Aminul has only played a single first-class game, a handful of List A matches and the Sunday T20I was only his fourth T20 game.

The clamour for legspin has also forced the BCB into strange decisions like sacking two coaches for not deploying legspinners in their XIs after a diktat to that effect. The BCB has also decided that each BPL side for the 2019-20 tournament must play a legspinner, local or foreign, in every game. Shakib Al Hasan had criticised this decision.

One of the main reasons for Shakib's displeasure was the way Jubair Hossain, a promising legspinner, was treated in Bangladesh cricket. After Chandika Hathurusingha had plucked him out of the nets for a berth in Bangladesh A and then the senior side in 2014, Jubair bowled pretty well against Zimbabwe that year. Hathurusingha was so adamant to pick him in the 2015 World Cup squad that he got into a quarrel with chief selector Faruque Ahmed.

Jubair went on to take Virat Kohli's wicket in the 2015 one-off Test in Fatullah, but while he was being taken seriously in the Bangladesh team, first-class and Premier League club sides ignored him completely. The Bangladesh domestic scene is heavily influenced by the ideals of one-day cricket, where a bowler is only as good as his economy rate. For this reason, most team officials and coaches pick multiple left-arm spinners in their line-ups, and explicitly discourage kids from bowling offspin and legspin.

This culture has affected the national team's development, and with more and more legspinners in bowling attacks around the world, Bangladesh became susceptible to this style of bowling. In the last five years, some of Bangladesh's top batsmen like Mushfiqur (18 times), Mahmudullah (13) and Tamim Iqbal (11) have been dismissed frequently by Rashid, Adil Rashid, Yasir, Bishoo and Mavuta. Mushfiqur averages 22.44 against legspinners, while Shakib, and surprisingly Imrul Kayes, have 40-plus averages, as well as a low rate of dismissals.

Now, even if it is a bit late and part of a desperate move, Bangladesh's batsmen will have the chance to face a lot more legspin in the nets and in competitive matches too, going by the looks of things in the NCL, the domestic first-class competition.

The emergence of Aminul will also provide another way outside of mere video footage to combat top-drawer legspinners. At this stage, Bangladesh's batsmen are focused on playing legspinners conservatively. So survival will be key against Chahal in the remaining two matches. If they can overcome him in this series, their next target, just in time for the T20 World Cup in 2020, should be to attack legspinners.

With inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman