Shakib-al-Hasan has kept Bangladesh's tradition alive © AFP
Shakib-al-Hasan has kept Bangladesh’s tradition alive © AFP

Growing up, Bangladesh cricketers seem to love to be left-arm spinners. Abhishek Mukherjee explores the phenomenon.

If one has to find imprints sticking to mind that characterise Bangladesh in their relatively limited international experience, a major one would be their penchant for producing, and thereby, fielding left-arm spinners. After the obligatory opening overs, and besides a few short breathers, these spinners would take over both ends and keep on bowling continuously, many times marathon spells due to the inability to pierce the quality opposition batting. Sri Lanka’s most potent off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was so amazed to see the crowd of such bowlers in the Bangladesh Premier League in early 2012 that he told a local newspaper that the country needed variety in its bowling. “I am telling Bangladesh that you can’t make do with left-arm spinners only, get some variety.”

We may not know why cricketers in the country choose to prefer left-arm spin as their skill-set. But we do know that that mode of bowling forms their major source of bowling attack. This, when it isn’t so popular in other parts of the cricketing world — evident in an analysis by a distinguished scribe in which he describes there wasn’t much charisma to it — allowing Bangladesh to monopolise the domain.

In the period from 2000 to 2008, when Mohammad Rafique, Abdur Razzaq, Enamul Haq jr, and later Shakib-al-Hasan, ‘led’ their side’s bowling in large phases, only Daniel Vettori and, to an extent, Ashley Giles bowled equally long spells and, more importantly, assumed a role of equal significance for their attack.

Bangladesh didn’t play too many Tests in this period, largely due to the reluctance by their more experienced counterparts to engage in a series. Two random scorecards in this period confirm the intuition: against England in Chittagong in 2003, left-arm spinners bowled 60 out of 135.3 overs in the first innings, and 43 out of 67 overs in the second; against the same side at a more seamer-friendly Lord’s, in 2005, they bowled 41 overs out of 112 in the first innings, and 74.5 out of 135.3 in the next.

In a three-match ODI series between Australia and Bangladesh in 2008, Shakib bowled 26.4 overs, the second-highest in the series, in conditions facilitating the likes of Mitchell Johnson to dominate.

But this was a time of dormancy for left-arm spin. From 2002 to 2010, left-arm spinners averaged between 36 and 45 in Tests. But the arrival of Rangana Herath, Abdur Rehman, Pragyan Ojha, Sulieman Benn and Monty Panesar tweaked the scenario. In 2011 and 2012, the effectiveness and quality of these spinners showed in the average coming down to 29. The last year was also successful for left-arm spinners, with an average of 33 (largely due to Herath) but it was the fourth-most prolific in terms of overs bowled: 2316.3, after the Bangladesh and New Zealand-led stats of 2008, 2004 and 2010.

As we await Bangladesh’s ODI series against India, a glance at Bangladesh’s squad assures that the tradition of left-arm spin has been passed on well by their predecessors: Shakib, now among the most influential limited-overs all-rounder, and Arafat Sunny, also of some quality, are part of the spin arsenal of their side.

Light on what the tradition is, is shed by this fact: since the start of the millennium, in all forms of international cricket, Bangladesh have fielded the most left-arm spinners in the world (16) followed by Australia (15). But in terms of overs bowled, they outdo their nearest competitor, New Zealand, by a huge margin: 9712.4 overs to 5857.3.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @bhejafryyy)