While concentrating mostly on its test match performances, Bangladesh's ODI performances have not received its share of attention. It is assumed by most that improvement in test matches will automatically result in improvement in ODIs.
It is a wrong impression and not backed by facts. ODIs and test matches are quite different from each other. In ODI, absence of win equals loss. In test matches, you can show improvement without winning because inability to win is not synonymous with loss. In tests, one can show improvement by taking first innings lead, taking the matches to fifth day, drawing the matches etc, which BD have started to do lately.
BD's test match performances are looking up without a corresponding improvement in ODIs because the parameters to judge improvements in tests as mentioned above are not available in ODIs. There is just one yardstick in ODIs for judging improvement and that is victories in ODIs.
For the last three decades, it is their prowess in ODIs that have enabled aspiring nations to achieve test status. That is how SL got test status in 1980s, Zimbabwe in 1990s and BD in 2000. The form of cricket that has helped earn test status cannot be neglected after gaining the test status. Like BD, SL and Zim struggled in test matches in the early years but they continued to be competitive in ODIs. In fact their ODI performances improved after gaining test status. SL went on to win the world cup in 1996 whereas Zim reached the super six stages of the next two world cups. Their success in ODIs kept them in the right frame of mind in their chase for test wins which they achieved in due course.
Unlike SL and Zim, BD seems to have neglected ODIs after gaining test status. The ODI performance, after gaining the test status became worse and wore such a dismal look that BD did not have a single point in the ICC ODI table till this year. Now they have a paltry two points which is nothing when you see that Kenya have as many as 28 points. Zimbabwe have 62 points, whereas all other test teams have more than hundred points each in the ODI table.
Every time BD participates in ODI tournaments, the supporters hope that it will win against at least one major team. Their hopes are based on improved performance in tests. Their hopes are invariably dashed because improvements in tests have no correlation with improvement in ODI as discussed above. Instead of living on empty hopes, the matter of ODI performance calls for serious and candid introspection.
If we examine the ODI performance then we see that BD team enters an ODI match with a crippling handicap viz. fear of chasing. It is difficult to recall when it was the last time that BD sent the opposition to bat after winning the toss. This negative mindset about chasing means that they give up hope as soon as they know that they will have to bat second. If fight does not go out of hand at that stage, it certainly does so when they begin the chase which is typically in the region of 250 to 300 runs in 50 overs. The target so overwhelms them that the top order collapses and instead of going for the chase, BD struggles to bat out the 50 overs. Their target is not what the opposition set for them, rather they target a total that will make the margin of defeat look "respectable". No margin of defeat in ODI can ever be called respectable if the chasing team does not reach close enough to the target.
Statistically Bangladesh should have to chase in 50% of the ODIs. In effect it means that BD gives a walk over to the opposition in 50% of the ODIs they compete.
Batting first on winning the toss is a decision that major teams make based on the conditions. On good batting pitches, they bat first. On pitches offering assistance to bowlers, teams winning the toss prefer to chase. Bangladesh's preference to bat first may be a sound decision on occasions but it portrays lack of confidence in chasing considering that they invariably chose to bat first irrespective of the conditions. They bat first because they feel that they can delay the inevitable by taking first strike. They also entertain the hope that if they manage to put up a decent total, they may be able to defend it on a good day. In the last 4 years since Bangladesh gained test status, there has been just one occasion when that hope came true when BD managed to defeat Zimbabwe by 8 runs during the recent tour to Zimbabwe. That is the only ODI match BD has ever won after gaining test status. On all other occasions when BD batted first, they failed to put up a decent total that could challenge the opposition. The highest target that they set was 271 against Zimbabwe and even that, unfortunately, turned out to be not challenging enough for Zimbabwe. Against other major teams, who have vastly superior batting line ups, targets set by BD have been such that the opposition have cantered home to victory with many overs and wickets to spare.
Because the opposition team find the chase comfortable, they go about it at a relaxed rate and do not attack the BD bowling more than required. This gives an illusion to the BD supporters that their bowlers kept the opposition batsmen in check. In effect, by batting first, BD manages a so called face saving defeat because the bowlers and batsmen both are under less pressure from the opposition and their figures look respectable on paper even if their performance falls short of being match winning. Batsmen have no pressure of chasing and bowlers escape stick because the target set by the batsmen is not challenging enough for the opposition batsmen to go after them.
This face saving arrangement is alright for an emerging cricketing nation aspiring for ODI status. A team that already has ODI status needs to do better than just being satisfied with face saving defeats.
How long can Bangladesh avoid facing the truth that they suffer from "Chasophobia"? Sooner, rather than later they will have to come to grips with this glaring weakness and address the issue head on instead of ducking it as they have been trying so far without success. If the team needs psyhological assistance on any one issue, then this is the issue. The team must develop faith in their batting while chasing. Batting second brings more pressure and the tigers need all the assistance they can get to learn to handle this pressure. After all, all other ODI teams live with this pressure. If BD players consider themselves ODI class then they better start following suit. If they gain confidence in their ability to chase, it can only have a positive impact on their ability to set targets as well.
Perhaps, Bangladesh will improve by playing one day matches against better teams provided the difference in calibre is not too much. Unfortunately the major teams are far too ahead of BD at the moment and playing against them might not help improve BD's ODI performance. In addition to playing against major teams in ODIs, BD will do well to play against major 'A' teams where the differences in calibre may be more manageable. There should be no ego involved for the BD to play against A teams because it is only the one day matches that are involved, not five day matches. If BD has any qualms in playing A teams in one dayers, they should look at what Kenya has been doing. They are improving their ODI skills by playing against A teams mostly. They are hosting a triangular one day tournament in August 2004 which will also involve A teams of India and Pakistan. One is sure that they will gain more by way of improvement and confidence by playing A teams. They have no ego hassles playing A teams. And do not forget that Kenya also has ODI status. In fact they are far ahead of BD in ODI table. So, it will be helpful for BD to emulate Kenya rather than suffer from ego problems. Improvement in ODI is the aim and they must devise clearcut strategy to achieve the aim without allowing extraneous considerations to come in the way. Playing with A teams is a very good way of improving one day playing standards.
Top teams have a success percentage of around 30 to 40%. Bangladesh should aim at a success percentage of 20% ( i.e. 1 win in every 5 matches) irrespective of batting first or second in those matches. Aim any lower and Bangladesh will continue to struggle in ODIs.