Test cricket for me has always been a layered novel that unfolds at its own
pace and reveals the truth underneath, often about myself. An ODI is like a
well knit short story with a beginning, a middle, and the end â€“ and a 20/20
match is something akin to watching a crappy sitcom because thereâ€™s nothing
better to veg-out to. I prefer novels to short stories, but then again, thereâ€™s
always Haruki Murakami, and Jhumpa Lahiriâ€™s Interpreter of Maladies.
Never had much time to veg-out.
Having grown up in suburban DC and Paris, and later having spent the most of
my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was happily preoccupied with other
pastimes such as surfing, baseball and ice hockey. Cricket was slowly fading out of my life like a forgotten lover's kiss, until THE event of 1997 when my cousin Renata told me what just happened, and what was happening on the streets of Dhaka and every other place in Bangladesh.
That unforgettable jolt resurrected a family tradition and I havenâ€™t been able
to turn away since. I am not a cricket expert and do not claim to be one. Like
countless other Bangladeshis living and dying with the fate of our Tigers, Iâ€™m
learning to love the game - perhaps a little too passionately. Like most other
Bangladeshi Tiger fans, I too am exasperated with the lack of temperament and
consistency that prevent our cricketers from becoming the best they can be in
both forms of the game, and stagnates the development of our young cricket culture at this high level.
Mashrafe Mortaza and Shahadat
Hossain added 77 runs for the ninth wicket, Bangladesh v India,
1st Test, Chittagong, 4th day, May 21, 2007 Â© AFP.
The first test. The Boishakhi rain strikes again and the high anticipation
has less time to become anything other than a draw. Wasim Jaffer is unlucky
again; Mashrafe gets him with the first ball. Shahadat settles into the better
line and becomes a handful. Ganguly, our beloved DADA from the other
Bengal gets a 100. Tendulkar joins the festivities. Some good bowling from Zaheer Khan and the top half of our batting order collapses again. RP Singh surprises us all with his balanced bowling, despite the somewhat unsightly hairdo. The inevitable follow on looms over the horizon. Enter Mashrafe to reaffirm our
manhood. His skillful 79 saves the match. Apprentice Shahadat Hossain Rajib supports him with the bat. Oops, here comes the last day. The rain assisted draw. Then Dravid declares. A sporting declaration. Rohan Gavasker is baffled. Itâ€™s safe for us to go for it. The chances for actually pulling it off? Almost none. Almost. But we should try, right? Wow, it looks like weâ€™re going for it. The heart starts to beat faster, impossible thoughts saturate the mind. Those glorious uncertainties. Then it stops. We are baffled, and a lot more than just a little PO-ed. It was safe to go for it, so why didnâ€™t we? Sure we couldnâ€™t have won in all likelihood, but WHY DIDNâ€™T WE TRY??? It was safe to go for it. So much for that manhood. Then the consolation. Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Man of the Match. Manhood salvaged somewhat.
The second test. Shahadat and Enam out, Sharif and Rasel in. Dav and Bashar
try to defy WG Grace with a little persuasion from the curator. Where did they
find this guy? Wasim Jaffer unlucky no more. A ton, then retired hurt. Pretty
wife, sweet smile. Karthik close to a ton, then retired hurt. Heâ€™ll be back
to get his. Supportive wife. Dravid, a ton. Tendulkar, another ton. Dead pitch,
wickets not falling. Records galore. Then DADA falls and misses out on
the party, unlucky. Weâ€™re done for and itâ€™s only day TWO. The pitch was never
alive, and starts to decompose before we were told it would. Our turn to bat. Zaheer
officially gets his form back. We collapse. Follow on. Looks like another collapse.
Nothing impressive about the crane-like Sharma yet, except the freakish height.
The heat starts to open cracks on the pitch. Joy. Here comes the lanky Kumble
and the portly Powar with those red Oakleys to finish things off. Enter the
skipper to be to set the tone, not if Kumble can help it. Early flight back
home, all nice and reassured? Maybe not as soon as they think. More on this
laterâ€¦ Pilot canâ€™t deliver the other century. Here comes Mashrafe, ready to
shoulder whatâ€™s left of the fight. More heroism before the inevitable defeat.
Zaheer MOM. Tendulkar MOS. Umps, worse than ever. India wins series. Dravid
shows his class. Bye neighbors, thanks for the lessons. Still two days left.
Anyway. Now to other observations.
Our top five batsmen in particular have a history of not harnessing their compulsions,
whatever those may be, and nurture their natural talent through the disciplined
cultivation of sound technique. They do not seem to value their wicket as much
as they need to, all too often collapsing into the grim realities of yet another
broken promise, and dragging the top half of the batting order with them deep
inside the proverbial hole pretty much impossible for the lower order to claw
out of. Yet Mashrafe fights on â€“ another story for another time.
The question is why? Are our expectations too high, too unrealistic?
Are we being too impatient? Being a younger cricket culture, are our
players too inexperienced at this level, especially when it comes to the all
important psychological aspects of the game? Or are they, if we focus only on
the young guns of the team, too young and too far from the expected peak of
their careers, say around the age of 28? Possibly, maybe.
Are they simply not good enough? We know that they are.
If the question instead is how? How does for example, Muhammad Ashraful
Matin, by far the most talented batsman we have produced to date, play a flawless
knock and then can be duped into throwing it all away, again? Being as experienced
as our young captain-to-be is, does he not value his wicket? Does he not care?
Does he need a shrink, or two? Before going any further, Iâ€™d like to
skip back and revisit his delicious and heroic 41 ball 67 from the last Test
Bangladesh's first Test
was also against India.
With time already ticking towards the inevitable familiarity of yet another
innings defeat, and perhaps motivated by not having the opportunity to go for
it during the dying moments of the first test match â€“ irrespective of the
slimmest possibilities to actually snatch victory from the jaws of high improbability
â€“ he brushed aside Zaheer Khanâ€™s great delivery from the nightmarish first innings,
and played a short yet operatic knock composed of twelve beautifully controlled
4s and two better executed 6s that told the world that we will NOT fade quietly
into the evening sky, because thatâ€™s simply NOT what Tigers do. He left the
ones that should have been left alone. He defended when he had to. He rotated
the strike. He put away the bad ones and manufactured strokes from the not so
bad deliveries. His deft aggression that afternoon will not be forgotten, and
the ecstatic gamut of pure elation and pondering the impossible will come back
to reverberate and linger deep inside our collective heart, every time
it is remembered by those of us privileged enough to witness the little epic
while it lasted. The well deserved swagger vanished from the body language of
Indian bowlers faster than raindrop on the scorched concrete walkways just outside
the stadium. Just when the promise of the early flight home seemed just a few
more moments away, our crown prince appeared and they unexpectedly found themselves
lost in a field of lost children â€“ all except one. The great Anil Kumble. Ever
the relentless artist of incessant calculations, he kept on thinking, planning,
probing, and making little, critical adjustments until that perfectly ambiguous
50-50 delivery to a batsman whoâ€™s seeing everything early, and has ample time
in his hands to do whatever he desires with whatever thatâ€™s bowled at him. Ashraful
could have nudged it along for an easy single, or drive it hard with the lower
percentage shot that may get him out. Trapped by the master into overestimating
himself just that little, he made the other choice and went low and hard. The shot didnâ€™t dip as fast as it could have, and Tendulkarâ€™s acrobatic catch, just millimeters above the dry Mirpur grass bristling the back of his able hands, did the rest. The classy Rahul Dravid and his mixed bag of genuine promises, revitalized by excellent performances all around, got to return home early from the much needed morale boosting tour. The wounded pride was licked well as all hard work paid off once again.
How does Ashraful get induced into making the wrong choice when he has
to make the right one for himself, the team he is going to lead into that better
future, and the 150 million Bangladeshis waiting for their hero to deliver the
impossible? Maybe, just maybe because: 1) we donâ€™t play enough 4-day
and limited over matches, enough matches to teach our batsmen the finer points
of staying out there in the middle long enough to build a useful innings, playing
each ball according to its merit, and learning to value their wicket by making
higher percentage choices; 2) the domestic cricket we do play, does not have
the quality to sufficiently prepare our batsmen before they face bowlers from
obviously better quality cricket systems from older, more seasoned cricket infrastructures
and cultures; and most importantly, 3) our selection process needs a better,
more systematic and transparent approach to identify talent, allow it to evolve
and grow in confidence through a series of incremental steps, and help turn
that talent into consistent performances.
To be continuedâ€¦