You may be familiar with the CLR James epigram which features in the preface of Beyond A Boundary: “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”
I often find a total break from the game – in my case a week covering horse racing’s Cheltenham Festival – gives me renewed energy to enjoy cricket, and a hunger to delve into the unique CricViz stats that underpin a particular match.
In this case, I am drawn inexorably to Bangladesh’s maiden Test victory over Sri Lanka. Put in the shade as it invariably will be by the titanic continuing struggle between India and Australia (1-1 heading to a Dharamsala decider, by the way) I certainly feel it deserves some extra attention.
First of all, there is the sheer landmark nature of this result. In their 100th Test, this was only Bangladesh’s ninth win and their first away from home against a team other than Zimbabwe or West Indies. It also comes five months after their Dhaka win against England which followed a winless year in 2015.
Then there was the less than ideal background to the win: a heavy defeat in the first Test, serious pressure and rumours of an impending axing for the captain Mushfiqur Rahim, an injury to the wicketkeeper Liton Das and three other players dropped after the Galle setback.
WinViz suggests it was the Shakib innings that turned Bangladesh from underdogs to favourites
And finally there was the troubling scorecard late on day two in Colombo: Bangladesh up against it at 198-5 on day two, some 140 runs behind. WinViz had a Sri Lanka win at 62% with Bangladesh at 27%: not a hopeless position for the tourists but an unencouraging one.
It was at this stage that Shakib Al Hasan crafted one of the most important centuries of his career. A naturally exuberant player (his strike rate exceeds that of all top current batsmen other than David Warner) he elected to curb his instincts to some degree but still scored at a healthy rate.
He watched the ball onto the bat well: only playing and missing five times from 159 balls faced while producing only two outside edges. When attacking, he timed the ball well – indeed our analysis shows he mistimed just two shots, the second of which finally brought his dismissal on 116, an innings which turned a probable Bangladesh deficit on first innings into a very valuable lead of 129.
WinViz suggests it was the Shakib innings, alongside valuable contributions from Mushfiqur and Mossadek Hossain, which turned Bangladesh from underdogs to favourites. But sometimes the hardest thing in a Test match is to reinforce a dominant position, or to get the job done when you hold all the aces – particularly if you’re a team without much experience of winning.
The next part of the job was carried out by Bangladesh’s bowlers, led by the hugely exciting fast bowler Mustafizur Rahman, backed up admirably by Shakib’s resourceful slow left-arm stuff.
The key period came just after lunch on day four when these two bowlers operated in tandem and the draw had moved in excess of 50% probability on WinViz. Sri Lanka were 137-1, nudging into an overall lead – but suddenly Bangladesh found their bite.
The first breach came when Mustafizur had Kusal Mendis caught behind with a delightful delivery. It was the last ball of the over, and at 79.8mph it was the fastest too. Pitching on a fairly full, almost half-volley length – 5.9m from the stumps – it induced the drive.
All six balls in the over offered to swing away from the right-hander. But unlike two previous balls, which had carried on with the angle after hitting the wicket, this one straightened just enough (moving 0.9° degrees away from Mendis) to take the outside edge. Mushfiqur, the stand-in keeper as well as captain, gleefully accepted the chance.
Five overs went without a wicket before Mustafizur struck again. Continuing with a full length, he had Dinesh Chandimal fishing well wide of off-stump and nicking off. This was not per se a brilliant delivery, but an intelligent one, the sort with which Ian Botham used to take countless wickets. A tempting outswinger sometimes looks like it’s there to be hit. But Chandimal had not been at the crease long enough to play a relatively risky cover-drive and paid the price.
It was Shakib’s turn to get involved next: Asela Gunaratne lbw padding up for just seven. A misjudgement for sure, but again the bowler’s skills played their part: this ball drifted a fair bit, 2.5° into the right-hander who felt that on his initial observation he could afford to let this one bounce and turn away from him. The thing is the extra drift meant the ball was arrowing into the stumps and relatively modest turn away (2.6°, around half of the previous ball’s turn) meant it was straight enough to be hitting.
PlayViz recorded a -38 fielding score for the hosts
Shakib’s next wicket soon followed, a dismissal that reduced Sri Lanka to 190-5 (effectively 61-5). Bowling with a lovely rhythm, Shakib was getting some deliveries to turn really quite sharply, others to skid on without any turn at all. At times like these, batsmen often believe their best bet is to premeditate, and invariably out comes the sweep shot.
Niroshan Dickwella played one such sweep to a ball that turned a lot (6.6° in fact, putting it in the top dozen of Shakib turners for the innings). Also, the length was short of ideal length for sweeping, so the ball had time to turn and bounce before Dickwella’s bat made contact with the ball. Mushfiqur, who had a fine game behind the stumps, anticipated everything smartly to move across to complete the catch.
Sri Lanka fought on. The ninth wicket put on 80 to leave Bangladesh some kind of challenge, namely a target of 191. However the Tigers would not be denied and man-of-the-match Tamim Iqbal hit 82 (Shakib arguably had stronger claims to that individual gong). A memorable victory was achieved with four wickets in hand.
A final footnote: Sri Lanka have been poor in the field for much of the past six months and PlayViz recorded a -38 score for the hosts against a +52 aggregate for Bangladesh. The differential in batting was even more stark at +141 for the winning side (who had the clear disadvantage of batting second) against Sri Lanka’s -21. These indicators are very welcome for Bangladesh going forward while Sri Lanka’s side, still in transition following the retirements of so many key players of late, could find more roadblocks in their path.