At his best, during a very impressive Test career spanning 81 matches in which he scored 5462 runs at 48.76, Thilan Samaraweera was a batsman who wore oppositions down to score his runs, build one big innings after another.
Now the Bangladesh batting coach, Samaraweera has very little time with his boys between the end of day four and the start of day five in the one-off Test against India. In that time, he will do well to give everyone a crash course in being Thilan Samaraweera – it’s most certainly Bangladesh’s best chance of getting out of the short tour with honour intact.
When play ended on the fourth day on Sunday (February 12), Bangladesh had reached 103 for 3 in a chase of 459, with Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar and Mominul Haque, the top three, back in the hut. In the middle were Mahmudullah and Shakib Al Hasan, one going through a rough patch and the other in excellent form but prone to throwing his wicket away. Not ideal.
“I am not coaching myself to the others. If you bat like me, you can’t maximise the players,” laughed Samaraweera, before adding, “This pitch is luckily a better pitch for me, but the most important thing is the first hour. We have to get through that because if we give momentum to the Indians, then we are in trouble.”
Samaraweera joined the Bangladesh team as Chandika Hathurusinghe’s assistant before the two-Test series at home against England late last year, and has overseen a win over England as well as the terrible meltdown in the second innings of the Wellington Test. That, he would be hoping, doesn’t happen on the morrow in Hyderabad.
“I think the biggest concern is our second-innings batting – we blow away quickly,” he said. “The biggest thing is when they play more and more Test cricket, they will get more mental awareness. When I spoke to a few batters in the England series, some had never faced reverse swing in domestic cricket. So it’s hard. I can tell them to have a look at the shiny side (of the ball) but they have to feel it to do that.”
It’s all in the mind, stressed Samaraweera more than once, arguing that the batsmen were not technically deficient. But he rued the fact that Mominul – his favourite – was dismissed late on the fourth day.
“Anyone from the top seven can anchor the innings, but Mini (Mominul) is the biggest man, he is a solid No. 3 for the last two three years … unfortunately he got out. He is one of the best Test batters for our team, because he has a solid game plan and he has guts,” pointed out Samaraweera. “We have another four-five batters left. We need not one batsman but as a group we have to build partnerships of 60-70-80.
“We have lost three wickets to three good balls. You have to understand how good those spinners are in those conditions. Also (Umesh) Yadav. One of the best reverse swing spells I saw on the (third) morning. I think Riyad (Mahmudullah) and Shakib have to get through each hour. That spell – it can happen only in one hour, it never happens that for six hours a bowler can do it. It’s those blocks we have to get through. At the moment, Riyad is a little bit under pressure – hopefully he will get through the first half an hour or one hour.”
About Shakib, who was criticised roundly in the Bangladeshi media after a reckless shot left Bangladesh up the creek in the first innings, Samaraweera opted for diplomacy. “Balance is the key. He should play his shots, and if he executes, then that’s a good shot. But honestly, he is successful playing like that. Sometimes there is pressure and you do silly things – hope he learns from it.”
If Mahmudullah and Shakib can get a page or two out of their batting coach’s book, and Mushfiqur Rahim can pull off a repeat of his first-innings heroics, maybe Bangladesh will have a chance of salvaging an unlikely draw despite the odds stacked against them.