On his first assignment as the Bangladesh head coach away from home, Steve Rhodes was hit with a reality check last year as Bangladesh faced the music in the West Indies and were bundled out for their lowest ever Test total of 43 runs in the first innings in Antigua.
The inability to adapt to seaming conditions was brutally exposed and seven months on, Rhodes faces a similar challenge in the Test leg of his second away tour in New Zealand following a disappointing performance from the batsmen in the 3-0 ODI series whitewash.
The Englishman will be eager to change the fortunes when it comes to what may be his favoured format in conditions that he arguably understands better than most of his charges. While he has often had to contend with other cooks in the kitchen when big personalities like regular Test skipper Shakib Al Hasan or ODI leader Mashrafe Bin Mortaza were in charge, this time, Shakib's absence through injury puts the onus on Rhodes to chalk out plans to lift the team out of the mire.
“No, that's gone [the 43 all out in Antigua], but I think playing games away from home, especially Test matches, is a big challenge for Bangladesh. I have been with the team for the last seven-eight months and this is the second one away and it's definitely going to be a challenge. We have been working a little bit with our bowlers who might hit the wicket a bit more. We can see whether that works as the likes of Khaled [Ahmed] and Ebadot [Hossain] are not vastly experienced, but you know they are a bit taller than the others and they do hit the deck.
“It will be interesting to see how they go and I am full of optimism. It does not matter to me whether they played a few games or not. I am quite excited by those sorts of guys and we need to hit the wicket. The other area is the batting, as we are working really hard for both batsmen and bowlers to cope with a little bit of bounce, which is key. The length ball in Antigua is not the length ball that you expect in Bangladesh. So at times, you have to play on both feet and cope with the bounce -- that's one of the things we have been progressing and working on in the last eight months,” Rhodes told The Daily Star in Hamilton yesterday.
According to the 54-year-old, the Test series against New Zealand will be more of a test of skill than one of character for Bangladesh, adding that adaptability would be the key.
When asked if there was any realistic chance for Bangladesh to even draw the three-match Test series, which the Tigers have so far not been able to do in New Zealand, an optimistic Rhodes did say that his side was ready to take up the challenge and that the Tigers were more prepared than in the past.
“I think it's unfair to ask me to predict where we would end the series, but I think one of the things is that progression will be the key. Can we do better than we did in the West Indies last time? I think definitely we can and we are more ready for that now but it is still a tough challenge. Just like it is for all the teams coming to Bangladesh and when we play four spinners and no seamers. It's one of the advantages of being home and when you are away you need to be well-skilled and have the ability to adapt your game to suit the conditions."
With Mushfiqur Rahim and Mohammad Mithun still recovering from their injuries, Rhodes informed that the latter was recovering well but the coach was still not sure about the wicketkeeper-batsman's participation in the first Test starting from tomorrow.
Rhodes, however, was reluctant to risk Mushfiqur for the first Test even if he proved to be 70-80 per cent fit. “No, if he is 70 or 80 per cent fit we still have to look at it seriously as it's not an Asia Cup final or a World Cup final or even a semifinal. We have got three Tests to play here and I am trying to make sure Mushy is available for as many of those as possible. It's a different sort of decision.”