Bangladesh: Past, Present, and Future Vol. II
I have been waiting to write this article for a long time now. This is the third installment of a periodical review of our performance. The previous issue was penned just over a year ago. Both prequels ended with much optimism as they came on the heels of some big successes. The current article no doubt is different in that it comes at conclusion of some very big failures. There are, however, successes strewn about and reasons for hope.
When I first joined BanglaCricket some 3 odd years ago, there were only 335 members who registered before me. Today, we have over 5000 members, meaning we have had exponential growth for some time now. Thus there are many newer members who are not familiar with my series of articles that pop up from time to time. Basically, I try to pen them during gaps in our international schedule, and also at some sort of cross-roads of Bangladeshi cricket. The main objective is to give an overview, in fair detail, about our cricket, and then to predict and/or advise upon our future. Despite this being my most troubling article of this series, I am still nonetheless excited to write in part because it allows me to gather my personal thoughts.
Series by Series
The last articles ended with the home series against Australia in 2006. Much has happened since then, although barely 15 months have passed.
The African safari, with all its expectations, turned out to be a damper. Bangladesh played 28 ODIs in 2006, but of that sum, 20 were against minnows ranked lower than Bangladesh. Making a bad situation worse was the fact that all this happened during a World Cup preparation year. A series loss in Zimbabwe was quite disheartening, but didnâ€™t really prove to be the ill omen we initially thought. Bangladesh cruised its way to an 18 win, 10 loss for 2006 calendar year, by far the biggest victory count per annum we had ever experienced.
The World Cup 2007 provided some of our sweetest moments, but also showed blatant flaws in our game. An opening win against our most keenly awaited opponents paved the way for a Super 8 berth, the first second round voyage in Bangladeshâ€™s third successive attempts. A big win against top ranked South Africa proved that the India game was no fluke, but loses against England, West Indies, and Ireland --â€“ in most ways very winnable games --- left everyone scratching their heads.
Disappointments continued as Test cricket returned to Bangladesh, and our overall performance dipped considerably from the expectations of a team finishing seventh in the World Cup.
The script remains the same, but many of the actors have changed. Bangladeshâ€™s performance whether in Tests or ODIs can be predicted with blasÃ© accuracy. The bowlers will give it their all, produce some good breakthroughs despite continuous spillage from the fielders. Batsmen, after periodically dropping top 10 ranked batsmen in single digits during fielding, proceed to gift their wickets away while batting, thereby securing yet another innings defeat.
The period in question, 2006-07, saw mostly ODIs. There were marked improvements, even in the batting department, but inconsistency was as ubiquitous as ever. Our scoring rate has improved, notching 265 in an innings against Sri Lanka, going over 250 a few times as well in other matches shows clear indication of improvement. Since that historic win against India at Dhaka in December 2004, our ODI run rate per 6 balls is a healthy 4.52. By comparison our RR since getting Test status, and up to that match was a mere 3.81. But the problem remains scoring runs consistently. Scoring 251 against South Africa in the World Cup, and then being shot out for less than 150 in the very next match against a far weaker bowling attack is exactly the problem we have. In that match against England, we forced a team to bat 44 overs and lose 6 wickets just to chase 140 odd. Is that not terrific defense? With efforts like that, a team should win many ODIs. But the batsmen just cannot put together a strong performance more than once every 4 or 5 times.
Some would say we lack technique while others voice concern about our lack of temperament. The latter is quite true, and the former is not completely false either. But with Mushfiqur Rahim, Mohammad Ashraful, Aftab Ahmed, and even Mashrafee bin Mortaza, we have a fair amount of batsmen who can play with a straight technique and even dazzle the eyes with their strokes. I admit that the likes of Shahriar Nafees and Sakib al Hasan have some major flaws in their techniques, but so does Virender Sehwag. And it hasnâ€™t stopped him from scoring a triple century or of pummeling ODI bowlers to oblivion.
Our main problem is psychological. The inevitable reversion to the same old mistakes repeatedly is what letting us down. Malingaâ€™s yorkers, or Zaheerâ€™s in-swingers are not what beats us, contrary to what many may believe. Ashraful hits a hundred but the innings before or after, pulls a short ball when the opponent captain has placed 3 fielders square of the wicket. Nafees having played well the match before, and after edging 3 balls to the slips, still insists on going for an expansive drive as far away from his body as possible. Sakib pretends that he never remember scoring a crucial half century the previous innings and somehow gets out trying to convince us that footwork is not important.
You get the point.
On to the bowling front. The bowlers, be they quick, medium pace, or left arm spin do an honest job. They produce real chances, and more often than not, some fielder is caught napping on the job. You must feel pity for Bangladeshi bowlers. Itâ€™s hard to bowl when youâ€™re defending 150 in either form of the game, so when Mashrafee has seen his bowling averages head towards the 40s, it isnâ€™t a lack of form or technique. Rather itâ€™s a lack of batsmen in the team that contributes towards a figure of 25-3-150-1. You canâ€™t take wickets if the opposing batsmen know they donâ€™t need to take chances because after batting for only 2 sessions, with 8 wickets in hand, they still lead by 50 runs in the first innings.
Notable performances (or lack thereof)
Rasel has, over the past 12 ODI matches starting with the World Cup, taken 17 wickets at the impressive average of 26.71. His economy rate has been 4.17 runs per over. Moreover, he has often taken the first wicket of the innings. All but one match was against minnows, and Rasel has really proven his worth in the side.
Mashrafee bin Mortaza
In the past 9 Tests, Mashrafee has picked up a paltry 16 wickets at an astronomical average of 57.87. Clearly, the lack of pressure created on the opposition which I have explained before has limited his effectiveness.
In the last 5 Tests, all in 2007, the once relied upon bowler has a bowling average of 93. Is it age, is it the lack of pressure created by sub par batting? My guess is a combination of the two, with perhaps age being a larger factor than the other bowlers.
40.76 â€“ That is Ashâ€™s career batting average against Sri Lanka in 9 Test matches. The team with perhaps the best bowler of all time, the same one in which Bangladesh struggles so mightily regardless of the situation, is the one against whom Ashraful seemingly thrives. That average is boosted by 3 centuries, 2 of which were scored in Sri Lanka.
Rajibâ€™s stats against India read 5 wickets at an average just over 21; against Sri Lanka 19 wickets at 36.21. If you exclude his debut match against England, and the 2 Tests against Australia, Rajib has a quite impressive stats of 24 wickets @ 33.08.
Every prognosis has a course of action
So we know that our problems are mainly psychological vis a vis our batting. Our bowling problems stem from the fact that the batting woes virtually render any pressure non-existent. We also know that we have batsmen who can play with a good solid technique yet other key batsmen are found lacking in that regard. Here is what we have done but went against the team.
During the lead up to the recent Sri Lanka series, much talk centered around new captain Ashrafulâ€™s assertion that Bangladesh had specifically practiced batting. I believe he mentioned that the team spent an hour batting in the nets everyday. This I believe is enemy number one.
Almost everyone has complained about our domestic first class leagues. To me, while that is a very crucial aspect of our infrastructure, it is not the reason why we were bundled out for less than 200 the last 4 times we opened a Test match. We hardly have any batsman in our team who averages 40 plus in the National Cricket League. This means our batsmen do the exact same thing in our domestic first class cricket that they do against India or Sri Lanka: gift their wicket away and lack temperament to play long innings.
Why else should a batsmen like Mohammad Ashraful, with his otherworldly talent, average only five more in FC cricket than in Test cricket? It would be understandable had he averaged 55 in Tests and 60 in first class, but he averages 25 in Tests and a mere 30 in first class. This only shows his reproducibility in making mistakes in both domestic and international level. If he doesn't develop the maturity, creating a stronger FC structure would mean that Ashraful wouldnâ€™t even have a 30 average in FC cricket.
The lack staying ability in the middle is the most significant factor for our lowly performances in Test cricket. If batting for an hour in the nets is standard practice for our boys, can anyone wonder why our batsmen usually score 20-30 runs (which takes, hmm how interesting, about 1 hour) in the average Test innings?
One might say that other nations do not spend ages batting in the nets, and I would say perhaps not. But they donâ€™t need to. They have all the facilities and culture to do without that. They play top level first class cricket, and once in the national side, they do not become the teamâ€™s savior at the age of 16 or 17. They have the coaching, the training, and proper grooming from the earliest age. The system make them ready and tough enough for international cricket. Unfortunately our players do not enjoy such smooth transitions and fail to cope with the immense pressure of top level cricket at a very early age .
Do it in a hard way
What I suggest is this. Take all our top order batsmen, all who are in our core team of 20 or so, this includes the Tushar Imrans and Alok Kapalis. Make them bat in the nets or indoors for 3 hours at a stretch. Make them do this three times a week (e.g 3 hours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). Instead of spending 2 hours a day on fielding drills, make the batsmen practice what they suck at, and what they are primarily paid to do: SCORE RUNS!!!
Secondly, BCB needs to find a full time coach as soon as possible. It really boils my blood to see that Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka all have full time coaches, despite Bangladesh being the first team to "lose" theirs. What the hell are those overpaid, BCB buffoons doing? Richard McInnes stunned me, when he told BC that he was waiting for BCBâ€™s offer! Its been what, 3 months since we knew Whatmore was finished, does the BCB need a little more time to draft a contract. What a waste!
Thirdly, BCB needs a permanent, or semi-permanent bowling coach. We have money, so that is no excuse. Nimbus gives us nearly 12 million USD per year, World Cup revenue for a team like Zimbabwe is reportedly in the seven digits, so indigence is not an issue. We need a guy like Andy Roberts or Wasim Akram to coach our fast bowlers. Even if it is just for 6 months, do it. We could also use a spin bowling coach for Enamul, Razzak and Sakib.
Fourthly, and more important than a bowling coach, we need a batting coach with a proven track record. Again, while permanence is desired, even a 6 month contract would be a huge boost.
Fifth, strengthen the domestic first class and limited overs setups. This has already been discussed and all I will say here is the following. We need to clean up the â€œpicnicâ€ cricket Bulbul talked about. Teams should have a fixed roster from one season to the next. Players should play for their home divisions, and should be paid a significant amount in order to keep the NCL competitive. To prevent national team players from cruising through the season, perhaps incentives and/or fines should be instituted for their domestic performances.
The above also includes, not rushing to include Under 19 players into the national team. A few years ago, we really didnâ€™t have a choice, but things have changed and gotten better.
What the Future Holds
Reportedly, Bangladesh and Pakistan have agreed to join Kenya in a 20-20 tournament as preparation for the 20-20 World Championships, to be followed by the 20-20 WC. Ideally, I would rest Mashrafe and other key players for this tournament.
Lets trial some of our young players, and see what they can do in the wackiest form of the game yet. Few take this seriously, and I see no reason to act to the contrary.
Which brings us to the end of the calendar year.
Bangladesh head to New Zealand for a full series in December, with ODIs first up and the Test series starting in January. This will be a big series to see what our boys have learned in all the time off.
I really expect Shahadat Hossain and Enamul Haque Jr. to make their marks on Bangladesh cricket.
South Africa come for a visit in February, and according to the ICC FTP, India will join for a tri series.
April brings on the next edition of the Asia Cup, the first tournament of its kind in 4 years. This should be a good opportunity for Bangladesh to gauge where they stand amongst their Asian superiors.
Bangladesh also visits Australia in July-August, has the ICC Champions Trophy in September, scheduled to be held in New Zealand in October, tours South Africa in November, and hosts Sri Lanka in December. All this means that Bangladesh are looking at 12 Tests in 2008, and at least 10 (if the Sri Lanka Tests happen to fall in January of the following year) and 27 ODIs, 30 if you include the 3 to be played in New Zealand this December.
Yes folks, 2008 is packed. For now, lets hope our boys get some time to reminisce about the successes of the World Cup and the failures of the India and Sri Lanka series. Much work is ahead in the coming 18 months. As for we the fans, we need to get our rest as well, for its quite tiring to stay up all night and watch our boys play. 2008 will see many sleepless nights.