Mirpur - Having got one must-win game out of the way, West Indies are facing another in order to draw level with Bangladesh in the five-ODI series. One wrong step in Mirpur today could make the final match tomorrow a dead rubber and consign West Indies to a series defeat, a backward step after their recent success in international cricket.
West Indies made amends for their poor showing in the first two matches in Khulna by changing their approach to batting. In Khulna, the batsmen were guilty of trying to hit out every time they were bogged down. In Mirpur, however, Samuels led the change, by battling more than batting on a pitch that had irregular bounce and lots of turn. West Indies now need their other batsmen—Chris Gayle, Darren Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Darren Sammy—to follow the Samuels way. The visitors also had another positive in the third match—Sunil Narine finally found form on this tour with a four-wicket haul.
Gayle has made just 54 runs in the three ODIs so far but that could be bad news for Bangladesh, with the West Indies camp confident that he is just one big innings away from returning to form.
"I think at some point in the next few days Gayle will get a big score, I'm sure he will," West Indies' assistant coach Toby Radford said. "Chris Gayle has played all around the world, he is a fantastic player. He'll know his own strengths and weaknesses."
To have their most experienced cricketer go through a lean patch with the bat has been disconcerting for the team. West Indies have so far let Gayle be himself, the opener not practising on optional training days on tour, but they would require him to score big in the next two days for them to have a better chance of winning the series.
For all the optimism in the West Indies camp, the 14 scratchy minutes he spent at the crease on Wednesday evening suggested that it could be a hard road back. The usually domineering Gayle had to play out a maiden in the first over of the game bowled by Sohag Gazi, the rookie offspinner who has dismissed him three times. He was also tested by Mashrafe Mortaza and, after hitting him for a boundary, was done in by a slower ball. He had, at that time, made only 4 off 12 deliveries faced.
The slump in form has also brought down Gayle's average for the year, from 54.60 in six games before the series began to 40.87 after three games here. He had made 35 and 15 in the first two ODIs in Khulna and looked uncertain against spin. The bowlers have bowled to a plan, tying him down and preventing him from getting into any rhythm. Gayle prefers hitting boundaries to find his touch and, to counter that, Gazi has usually deployed a defensive field, especially ensuring the straight boundaries are always covered.
More worrying for West Indies is the fact that Kieron Pollard is also struggling against spin, getting out twice to Abdur Razzak and once to Naeem Islam. Pollard has been out bowled twice, completely misjudging a Razzak arm-ball in the third game. The struggle has restricted his big-hitting abilities, an area he has worked on over the years and has continued doing so in Mirpur—despite the danger posed to those milling around the Academy ground on Thursday morning.
"It is a practice we follow all around the world," Radford said. "Whenever we play one-day cricket we try to get into the middle of the pitch just to get boundary range, practice six-hitting, fours and just knocking the ball down the ground.
"For someone who hasn't spent a huge amount of time in the middle in the last couple of weeks, it's good to get in the middle. It is one thing practising in the nets and another when you've got a bit of space around you and you can picture the field."
Towards the latter part of the third ODI it seemed even Marlon Samuels' best efforts might not be enough, until he launched into Rubel Hossain in the 45th over. Gayle's impact hasn't yet been felt by Bangladesh, and West Indies are waiting for him to impose himself on the series. It would help his team if he batted at just walking pace too—but even for that he would need to make adjustments to his game and gameplan.
Bangladesh are leading the series 2-1, and despite their struggle in the previous game, they scored 227, an indication of their increasing comfort levels in ODIs. They will be heartened to see the bowling unit put up a fight. A worry, though, is the form of Rubel Hossain, who looked rusty during a five-over spell that cost 42.