Alok Kapali is an enigma. He is a batsmen with immense potential. He is also a bowler with immense potential. He can easily be included in the list of the best fielders going around in the world. Yet, he is not in the list of the most important players for Bangladesh. The reason is obvious. He hasn't performed. And now, people are against him being in the national team.
However, how many have thought about the mental side of a player before taking a decision on him. Alok Kapali came into the team as a leg spinner. At that time his domestic experience was two matches. 7 months and 4 tournaments later, he was Bangladesh's premium batsman. With no
Alok Kapali jubilant after the famous hattrick.
hundreds and one fifty he became the prime hope of Bangladesh cricket and people expected him to perform every time he went in to bat. No one considered his tender age, his inexperience and that he suddenly had to live up to the pressure of being Bangladesh's second best batsman (Ashraful was at that time suffering from the worst of forms). Most importantly, no one considered the fact that he himself didn't know his potential as a batsman. He only knew that he can bowl leg spin. It was only when he played well against Sri Lanka he was made aware of his batting potential which caused him to become a middle order batsman. Suddenly, inside one year he went through a lot of phrases which a raw batsman goes through slowly, month after month and year after year.
When a raw talent starts off, may be at the age of around 13/14, he first decides what he wants to be. Then he starts practicing on that and develop his abilities. After that he starts playing matches in the street, then at school level. By then he has got a pretty good idea of where he is better off playing in the batting order. Whether he is good as an opener, or number 3/4/5/6. This is a very important decision he makes, as that would set up his batting mentality which is needed to fulfill the role of the position he would be batting in. Gradually he starts climbing level after level. Plays for age group teams, domestic teams and A teams. During this period he may have a change in his batting position. More importantly during this period, he is learning. He is learning how to play long innings, handling pressure, batting in different conditions/situation and most importantly learning about his own game. After all this, he finally makes it to the international level. There, one of the two things may happen to him. Either he gets initial success and then goes though a slump or he starts of poor/moderately and then slowly starts flourishing. In the second case, almost everything is fine for the guy. But in the first case he would need to bring back all his experience and more importantly his learning in order to fight back. If everything goes well then he would comeback as a successful player.
Now, let go back to see Alok Kapali's case. He comes to the scene at domestic level as a bowler. Plays two first class matches and is then selected in the test team as a bowler. He was not even being considered as an all-rounder. Then he plays a good knock and is thus promoted up the order. Because he didn't consider himself as a genuine batsman, he didn't feel the pressure of batting higher up the order as he took failure for granted. Thus, he came up with some steady performances. His scores were consistently in 20s and 30s but they usually came at a time when the team was in trouble. Even the fifties he scored against West Indies came when Bangladesh were in trouble. And because he got runs when Bangladesh was in trouble, team management and fans started treating him as batsman. This caused him to think of himself as not only a genuine batman, but also one of the best in the country and from whom people expected consistent runs. This is where the problem started. He suddenly realized that he is a genuine batsman, something which he didn't consider himself to be.
Suddenly he realized that he needed to score big runs, play long innings and play somewhere in the top order. Until then he probably thought he would rather have to come late in the order and just contribute like any lower order would have to. Instead what he now had to concentrate was on his batting technique, strength, weakness, and other issues that a batsman would need to deal with. How will I score so many runs, where will all the runs come from, will I be able to face quality bowling for a long time without getting out?. These are few questions that must have gone through his mind as it would go through a school cricket playing batsman's mind when he would go to play his first ever match. Unfortunately he wasn't playing at school level at that time. He was playing at the highest level of the game. And that probably marked the start of his nerves taking over and causing him to fail badly in a few following series after the World Cup. He was then left out of the team after the Asia cup.
That marked the start of new process in his career. Selected for one match then dropped in the other. With every selection his role also changes. If one day he was selected as a batsman then the next day he was a bowler. For any one this would cause suffering of an identity. For someone who had already changed his identity once, it was dangerous. Now he is back in the team again. As what? Judging from his batting position and the use of him as bowler, we can deduce he has been brought back as an all-rounder who can chip in with both bat and ball. Even then their is a question that would be going through his mind. Which is the more dominant role for me?
"I bat at 7 so I will not get many overs to bat in ODIs, so should I play aggressively and get out or should I play my normal game? What exactly would be good score for me to determine my performance. What is a satisfactory average. Also I bowl 6 to 7 overs in every match and is used as the forth/fifth or at times even sixth bowler. So what is my role there? Am I supposed to be a stop bowler or a wicket taker?"
In the last test match he played, he batted at seven and didn't bowl which meant that he was selected as a genuine batsman. How many genuine batsman bat at that number in test cricket today? Moreover, how much do they average?
Just before writing this piece I read a statement made by Brett Lee in Cricinfo where he talked about him playing better because now is knows his role in the team. Thus, until Alok Kapali is made completely aware of his role in the team and then given time to firstly understand and learn about the role and there after perform it, he will always come up with inconsistent performances. At times with bat and at times with ball.
So what could be the best role for Alok Kapali? In my opinion he is a genuine all rounder. An all rounder who can easily bat at number 6 for in the test team and can easily be the fifth bowler of the team. Bangladeshi and subcontinent pitches are turning pitches. Bangladeshi bowling attack off late is performing better. However many a times they have oppositions in trouble and then let them recover with easing pressure, not massive scores like before, but decent scores. A genuine fifth bowler may at least give them extra opportunity to restrict there opposition. Also he can easily bat at number six and score consistently.
However, to expect him to average in the late 30s or 40s may be irrational. Even Andrew Flintoff doesn't average that high. His batting average is 33.11 and bowling average is 31.71 in test matches. This will also allow Bangladesh to use three pacers in conditions where it may be required and still have two spinners. And if they are playing on spinning tracks, with him they have third spinner without needing to sacrifice a batsman. In ODIs he can be used a fifth bowler who can bowl 10 overs. And contribute well lower down the order as he did In the victory against Sri Lanka.
Determination will take him long way.
Having said all that, it also needs to be said that he has a weakness in his batting. When he comes on, he initially struggles against spin badly. MacGill, Murali, Paul Adams, Danish Kaneria and also Gareth Batty are top in the list of bowlers who have dismissed him. It should also be noted that most of his success has come against pace oriented teams like Pakistan/West Indies or in pace oriented condition like South Africa. With Bashar batting at five in ODIs and Aftab (only batting at number three in this series against Kenya) doing well in finishing games off like he did against Australia and Sri Lanka, the number three slot remains open. I have a temptation of using him at that position like the way Pakistan uses Shoaib Malik. All in all, I am trying to say that Alok Kapali has the making of being a genuine all rounder for Bangladesh in both forms of the game. May be our Andrew Flintoff, may be not as powerful as him but at least effective as him. After all, the few good knocks that he has played has come when Bangladesh were in trouble (his 19 against Sri Lanka was also crucial).
To make my fantasy of turning Alok Kapali into our Andrew Flintoff come true, few things should have to happen. First, the selectors should realize his potential. Second, he should realize his potential. Third, he should be defined a role in the team. Fourth, allow him to play in that role for a substantial period of time (he may have been given enough chances but never been given the exact role; batsman? bowler? all-rounder? what sort of batsman? what sort of bowler? and even Andrew Flintoff took 4 years to establish himself though he knew he was an all-rounder with county experience ); domestic cricket should be used in parallel but he should not go back to domestic cricket and forget international cricket. Fifth and last, make him feel certain about his position. Fear of being dropped for one match and get selected for another really makes a player lose confidence and faith in himself. Make him feel comfortable and realize unnecessary pressure. The most important point of all is, he needs to play/live and enjoy his role in the team. Only then we can see his natural talent and ability flourish.
We will wait for that day.