Bangladesh: Past, Present, and Future Vol. I
This article is basically a critique of an old article I wrote about two years ago titled â€œWhere We Were, Are Now, and Will Beâ€. While following a similar path, the analysis is updated to the current time and situation.
It seems like a good time to reflect upon while we pass through a lackluster time without much action.
At the time of the old article, Bangladesh started to take heart from the cavernous performance in the 2003 World Cup a year ago. Dav
Whatmore had been appointed as coach, Khaled Mashud was axed as skipper and Khaled Mahmud was called upon to the throne. Almost
immediate improvements in the Test arena were met with the continuation of abysmal failures in the limited overs circuit. Mahmud met with
similar fate and the present captain Bashar was promoted to skipper in February 2004.
Bangladesh seemed to be finally moving in the right direction. Bashar won on his ODI captaincy debut ending nearly five years of losing streak.
Mohammad Ashraful seemed to gain consistency after he was dropped for the October 2003 home series against England. Bangladesh earned
her first real Test draw against the West Indies. Things finally started to look very much promising.
Of course, in 20-20 hindsight, that article was full of hyperbolic optimism, outright ignorance and projections which never came to pass (such as
Mushfiqur Rahman becoming a solid all rounder â€“ jeez, what was I thinking). Here now, I present the second chapter in the â€œWhere We Were,
Are Now, and Will Beâ€ saga (under a less verbose title). A veritable epic continues.
Series by Series
Bangladeshâ€™s next engagement was the 2004 Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and expectations were at a fever pitch. Alas, it was a disastrous series,
with only Javed Omar, Ashraful, and rookie SLA Abdur Razzak Raj providing comfort if any.
The Champions trophy and the home series against New Zealand were really painful to follow, with the only positives being Nazmul Hossainâ€™s
energetic bowling and Aftab Ahmed taking 5-31 against the Kiwis in an ODI.
The India series marked the end of a hectic calendar year as well as the return of Mashrafee bin Mortaza. Mortaza emerged as a phoenix and
bowled with fire. But perhaps the biggest surprise was Ashrafulâ€™s storybook 158* in the Chittagong Test. Ashâ€™s century and Mashrafeeâ€™s return
sparked a fairly competitive ODI series and the first ODI home win.
2005 started with a bang as Bangladesh achieved a maiden Test victory against Zimbabwe and battled from 0-2 down to beat them for the first
ODI series win as well.
The England series was a lesson in futility but not without rewards of its own. Behind Ashrafulâ€™s bat, lay a thrilling 5 wicket win against defending
World Champions Australia and Shahriar Nafees proclaimed his arrival as a legitimate opening batsman with some fine knocks in the Natwest
The tour of Sri Lanka the following September was regarded by all as the worst ever series for Bangladesh. Probably Bangladeshâ€™s newfound
success led to too high expectations of serious contention.
A home stretch at the beginning of 2006 saw the unearth of the rookie pace sensation, Shahadat Hossain. Doubts about his maturity and ability
were finally put to rest as he claimed the first Test 5-fer for a Bangladeshi fast bowler on home soil (and just the 2nd 5-fer anywhere). A victory
against Sri Lanka, a 4-0 whitewash of Kenya, and 2 days of thrills against Australia completed the series. In the end, Bangladesh were left
wondering heart-wrenching â€œwhat ifâ€™sâ€ and will have to wait at least a year to play the next Test match.
The two years old article made the assertion that Bangladesh were definitely on the right track and that a huge leap had been made. It also
emphasized that there would be serious challenges ahead in the quest for cricketing superiority. The boring routines of the Asia Cup, Champions
Trophy and New Zealand series that were to follow sealed the foresight. Of course, those performances were followed up later by steady and real
The ODI team has pulled off victories against India, Australia and Sri Lanka. To dispel thoughts of our minnow status, Zimbabwe and Kenya have
been treated to a combined 7-2 thrashing (albeit at home), suggesting that God did not create all minnows equal.
Still, less than humble performances against a tired Australian team in the ODI series cast serious doubts about the consistency of the Tigers. In
short, the batting remains fragile yet potentially explosive and the bowling becoming more and more disciplined.
Starting with the batting department, we see that Bangladesh has at least on paper, made vast strides since 2004. A team which was praised for
playing 50 overs and/or scoring 200 in ODIs and managing 250 plus runs in Tests is now expected to score 250 in ODIs and 350 in Tests.
Indeed, Bangladesh managed only five instances in Test cricket with 300 or more runs up until mid-2004. In the last two years alone, they have
scored at least 300 on 6 different occasions. This speaks volumes of the immense improvements.
Bashar: Finally Leading by Example?
Captain Bashar is known for a few interesting things: scoring at a high rate regardless of the circumstances, scoring bushels of 50s, hooking and
pulling as if there is no tomorrow and general carefree stroke play. But has the skipper finally started to lead by example, as a leader and senior
batsman should? I dug up the following statistics. This is Basharâ€™s ODI batting stats for his career.
Nothing new there. We always knew Bashar for all his superiority in Test cricket among the compatriots. However, he is just an average batsman
in ODIs even by Bangladeshi standards.
Now take a look at his stats over the last year or so:
Bashar has definitely upped his game. Even if we ignore the two 'not out's, Bashar still sports an average of over 27 runs in those 17 innings, far
more than his career average of 21. Bear in mind that even that 21 average is skewed by his performance in the last twelve months, without
which he averaged just 19. In fact one can see a lot of poise and leadership in his manner of batting. In the famous win at Cardiff, Bashar played
sidekick to Ashrafulâ€™s match winning hundred. Almost an identical effort was involved in the mammoth 175-run 4th wicket stand between Bashar
and Rajin Saleh to clean sweep Kenya in the 4th ODI. And of course Bashar was again the second fiddle to Shahriar Nafees in that magical
T1D1 at Fatullah. In all these cases, Bashar was not the dominant member of the partnership. Yet he was just as crucial, perhaps even more so.
Yes, folks, at the young age of 33 our captain has finally figured out what it is to lead by example. Being experienced, he guides his more talented
little brothers to big centuries while holding things down at the other end.
Ashraful the Enigma
Mohammad Ashraful is, without a doubt, the most well-known cricketer in the history of Bangladesh. His debut century from a hitherto unknown
player, propelled him to soaring heights. But soon it was painfully clear to even his most zealous supporters, that Ashraful with all his talents, is
just as inconsistent as everyone else. Perhaps more so. Ashâ€™s colossal struggles culminated in then new coach Dav Whatmoreâ€™s first big
decision to drop the boy wonder for the entire England series at home in the late 2003.
That so-called â€œAshraful Treatmentâ€ has since been rarely applied. But the most pressing question is â€œDid it work?â€
Analysis of Ashâ€™s stats before and after that England series is not encouraging. While a statistical boost is evident, it is so minor that it cannot be
considered a true improvement at all. Even from a purely qualitative point of view, consistency is lacking just as badly as it was before.
Ashrafulâ€™s ODI batting before England series 2003:
After England series 2003:
So while there is a statistically significant improvement, his current batting average is still in the low 20s and nothing to beam about.
His statistics in the Test cricket are also similar. He managed to pick up four 50s and 2 centuries in the 18 matches after being dropped, but his
average remains at just 27 with more ducks (5) than 50s.
Of the remaining top order batsmen, the most Test worthy is Rajin Saleh. Saleh manages to stay at the crease and has a solid batting technique.
Add to that his mental and physical toughness, speed on the field and between the wickets, and selfless fielding, it is not difficult to see why heâ€™s
a favorite of Whatmore and so integral to this team.
Shahriar Nafees has impressed with his ton against Australia and his overall batting average of 33+. I really feel that he is one answer to the
opening question that has plagued Bangladesh for so long. On the other side, Javed Omar has managed to secure a place in almost every
starting XI and I have a feeling that this is somehow holding us back.
Javed should not be thrown out of the team altogether, but should come in only in the direst of circumstances. I would favor playing the two
Nafeesâ€™s in Tests as Iqbal has looked pretty good before he plays a dumb shot and itâ€™s a matter of time (and perhaps a flat pitch) before Iqbal
scores big. In one-dayers, I would favor opening with Rajin. Of course, there may be times and conditions where Rajin might become ineffective
at the top slot and in that case we might have to either tough it out or call for Javed.
Out of our current core batsmen, only Aftab Ahmed looks completely out of sorts in Tests. However, he should continue to play as experience will
hopefully fix the problem. Besides, we have no other batsman who could do better. And if Aftab clicks, as Gillespie found out in England, he can
be as destructive as any batsman in the world.
Moving on to the bowling side of the game, this is our strength and has been so for some time now.
The Three-Headed Monster
I strongly feel that we have our pace trio settled for the foreseeable future. The Mashrafee-Russel-Shahadat combo I feel would match up quite
well with the West Indian (Edwards-Taylor-Collymore-Collins) and Indian pace attacks (Pathan-Munaf-Sreesanth-Agarkar). Of course, I believe
that our quicks are already better than the Sri Lankan speedsters (Vaas-Maharoof-Malinga-Fernando).
Mashrafee provides nearly everything from pace to swing to accuracy to aggressiveness. With his modest pace, Russel, however, may not be
suited for Test cricket - which is probably why we almost always see the employment of two spinners. He may be the prototypical ODI pacer,
however. Then of course, there is Shahadat Hossain Rajib. He may yet overtake Mashrafee as our best quick, and the mere thought of that just
one year after his atrocious debut, is proof of how much and how quickly Rajib has matured. He bowls with aggression, has all the necessary
tools of a genuine fast bowler, can get reverse swing and has been putting the ball in all the right spots as of late.
I would like to mention one cause for concern which has only briefly been mentioned in the forums: Mashrafeeâ€™s bowling in the ODI slog overs.
Masri has been taking a beating and it seems that this is his only kryptonite. The biggest example of this has been the 60 plus runs he went for in
his last 4 overs against Sri Lanka back in February. If Masri does not improve his slog overs bowling, we can have Russel and / or Rajib to see
off the slog overs. Both of them seem to be able to keep it tight. In this scenario, we also gain some good pace bowling in the middle overs
where things become all too predictable with us. Instead of letting the opposition milk Rafique, Rana & Razzak for runs, why not have Mashrafee
come and finish off his 10 over quota in a middle overs spell? We have long clamored for Bashar to insert Mashrafee into the attack for a brief
spell and I think this will work well.
Rana Vs Razzaq
Our spin bowling begins and ends with Mohammad Rafique, the best cricket player Bangladesh has ever produced. It seemed that over the last
few years he was effective only in Test matches. With a maiden 5 wicket haul against Kenya and a 14 run spell from 10 overs against the feared
Aussies, it appears that the old dog has learned some new tricks.
In the limited overs form of the game we have two primary contenders for the role of 2nd spinner. Both SLAs, Manjural Islam Rana and Abdur
Razzak bowl well enough and have plenty of years left in them. But who is better? Obviously we canâ€™t play both of them, even on the turniest (I
think I have coined a new cricket term!) of pitches. So who will better serve the team? I dug up some stats for both players excluding some teams.
I excluded Zimbabwe (Rana picked up a ton of wickets against them and they are probably not as weak against spin any more), Kenya (Rana got
no chances to play) and Hong Kong.
Razzak has marginally better stats against the Test nations - an average of 33.88 at an economy rate of 4.27 runs per over. Rana has an average
of 35.57 and an econ of 4.33 rpo. So the statistics are pretty close, in fact too close to make the call. Therefore, I will let the readers decide their
position on these two players, bearing in mind that Rana is perhaps the most under-rated player in world cricket.
Credit: All statistics courtesy of cricinfo.com