Mominul erred in deciding to bat first, to drop Fizz from playing XI

Mominul Haque couldn’t have had a more disastrous debut as Test captain. On the first day, nothing went right for him. But the main reason his captaincy under the most critical scrutiny was the decision is to opt to bat first on a pitch which had a greenish tinge on it after winning the toss in the Indore match against a powerful five-member Indian bowling line-up comprising three pacers and two spinners.

Was Mominul right in his decision? In his defence, the 28-year-old captain told a presser after the first day’s play that he was being criticized to bat first just because the Bangladesh batting flopped so badly. His indication was that the visitors’ batting held off, not a word have been spoken or written against his choice. In a way, Mominul is right to say so because nothing succeeds like success and success has many fathers and failure none.    

Generalization apart, questions will continue to be asked. Why did Mominul choose to bowl first? Was his reading of the pitch wrong? Or did he not properly assess the batting strength or limitations of Bangladesh which are without two of their most accomplished batsmen Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal? Mind you, Bangladesh included an extra batsman to bolster their batting and preferred to leave out ace pacer Mustafizur Rahman from the final playing eleven for the Indore Test. What was the calculation behind it?

Dropping Fizz was not Mominul’s sole decision but that of the Bangladesh team management as a whole. True, Fizz was a big let-down in the three-match T20 series which India won 2-1. But would it not have been correct the left-arm paceman in the Test which is a different ball-game altogether particularly when it was clear even before the match that the Indore pitch was lively on the first day and would remain so even on the second day on Friday?

Ironically, it was Indian skipper Virat Kohli who had, at a pre-match presser, pointed out that Mustafizur Rahman was a “threat” to Indian batsmen as the experienced bowler knew their strength and limitations. It is inexplicable why Fizz was not included in the team against a formidable Indian batting.

While India are playing with five specialist bowlers—three pacers and two spinners—Bangladesh have fielded four--two pacemen Ebadot Hossain and Abu Jayed and two spinners. The gamble of playing an additional batter backfired badly.   

Mominul explained the decision to include an extra batsman saying it stuck to Bangladesh’s traditional template of team-composition which has four bowlers. No template is cast in stone and the strategy hinges on a study of local pitch condition and the rival team’s make-up. Clearly, Mominul’s inexperience is showing.  

Indian spinner Ravichdran Ashwin on Thursday termed as a “brave decision” Mominul Haque’s electing to bat first after winning the toss. 

“Personally, I thought it was a very brave decision. We expected them to bowl first,” he said.

Kohli, too, said he would have bowled first on the surface as his seamers would be very effective on the pitch. The Indian captain was vindicated as his pacers streamrolled Bangladesh batsmen to bundle them out for 150. The Indian pace trio of Mohd Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav took seven of the Bangladesh’s ten wickets. Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar said the pitch “is a little grassy and there will be some carry for the bowlers. There's some deceptive dampness due to the onset of winter, but as the days go on, we won't see much of it. I think India will still want to bat first."

As Ashwin himself pointed out that it is never easy to bat on a surface which has life and which is damp on the first morning.  But the Indore pitch was not a batsmen’s graveyard. That is what Indian top-order batters Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara demonstrated by putting on the first day after the early exit of Rohit Sharma.

The batting of Mominul, Mushfiqur and Liton Das clearly showed how proper application and grit could have helped Bangladesh to put up a semblance of a fight against the Indian bowlers, something appreciated by Ashwin.  In fact, Bangladesh had looked like making a recovery when Mominul and Mushfiqur, helped by dropped catches, were batting together. Mominul said the Indore pitch was far from being unplayable “or else, Mushfiq and myself would not have scored the runs. So, he was clearly not happy with the performance of the other batsmen of his side.