â€œFuture is important but not at the cost of presentâ€, an interview with Habibul Bashar
Habibul Bashar could walk away right now and easily command a prime position on the pantheon of Bangladeshâ€™s cricketing greats. He is our most capped Test player. He is our highest run scorer in both forms Tests and ODIs. He is our most successful skipper ever. And until very recently, he was our most consistent batting threat on the Test arena.
Today he finds himself on the sidelines. A lengthy off-patch led to his departure, first from the ODI side and recently from the Test team as well. Mention his name to cricket followers and you are bound to get a heated discussion on whether he has passed his prime and should retire or whether his unquestionable class will find a way through the slowing reflexes and changing coaching regime.
No surprises though that the man who so often fought a sole battle with the willow refuses to call it a day. He has dedicated himself to fitness and focused on forcing his way back to the national set up; heavy scoring in the domestic leagues seems to portend good things.
Recently Bashar made some time to provide an interview with BanglaCricket editor Khondaker Mirazur Rahman. With the same minimal fuss that characterized his batting at its pomp, he shared his thoughts about the fight to get back to the side, captaincy, age factor of Bangladesh cricket, Dav Whatmore and the future of Bangladesh.
BC: Selectors have dropped you from the last Test against South Africa and havenâ€™t considered you for ODI series against Pakistan where you have a very good record. Is this the end of the road for Habibul Bashar?
HB: I donâ€™t think so. I will be back, I am not finished yet. I have had a difficult period over the last one year. Itâ€™s part of cricket and I have to accept it. I have a lot of cricket left in me and I will fight to get my place back in the national team. As a batsman, scoring runs is my only goal and I am quite happy with my recent form with the bat in the Dhaka Premier League.
BC: You were known as Mr. 50 for your consistency in Test cricket, you scored consistently in ODIs in the build up to World Cup 2007. What went wrong after that?
Basharâ€™s poor run of form has cost his place in Bangladesh team
HB: I was enjoying my cricket, both as a captain and as a batsman, but the focus was always on the team. We had a very young team and leading a young team in a big tournament like world cup is always difficult. We achieved our goal in the world cup, but unfortunately my bad time with the bat coincided with the good time as a Captain. I always believe a captain should be judged on the basis of team performance and not on his individual batting or bowling. A captain can have a bad time; no one is infallible. I was surprised to see the level of criticism despite our historic success in world cup.
I tried hard to regroup after the World Cup, but it didn't work well. I know age is not on my side but I am feeling well, the reflexes are fine, and I am regaining my confidence. I have no plans to retire from international cricket for two years at least. I want to score as many runs as possible to earn my place back and that's what I am doing right now.
BC: The Bangladesh team is increasingly becoming younger with time, with not many senior players around to guide them. Do you think this is an ideal scenario for an international team?
HB: It's far from ideal. I think we are in a crucial phase for Bangladesh cricket. Most of our domestic performers are young and we have to select from among them. But we have brought too many young players into the national team without proper grooming. You cannot expect consistency from a team with an average age of 22. We must revisit our policy in the interests of the young players and the country.
BC: You are the first Bangladeshi to play 50 Tests. Your comment on this achievement.
HB: It is a great achievement for me. When I started playing cricket, I never imagined that I will be able to reach the 50 Test mark. I have always tried to contribute as batsman and batted according to the requirement of the team. I never played cricket for records, but I am happy to take them as they come along the way. I am thankful to cricket board, my team-mates and my family who helped me over the years to reach the milestone.
BC: You have captained Bangladesh in 69 ODIs and won 29 of them. On the other hand, under your captaincy Bangladesh managed only one win and four draws in 18 Tests. Why is there such a difference?
HB: Test and ODI are completely two different ball games as you know. Our â€œyouth brandâ€ of cricket suits the ODI format better than Tests. The fearless attitude shown by your youngsters and the audacious stroke-play associated with it can lead to an ODI win on any given day. This is how we have won against Australia in Cardiff, India in Trinidad and South Africa in Guyana. On the other hand, Test cricket requires patience, application and consistent performance throughout 5 days. One or two good sessions does not ensure a positive result.
We have made the job more difficult by selecting a young and inexperienced team for Test cricket. We have always tried to look at the future combinations. We should have realised that the future is important but not at the cost of the present. We must learn from our mistakes. Now that we have a talented bunch of young players, we should keep the core team intact for the next few years.The valuable experience gained by a player through playing Test cricket should not be wasted by too much chopping and changing.
The main reason we failed to repeat our ODI successes in Test cricket was because we have not able to put enough runs on the board. We have failed as a batting unit on most occasions. When you don't put enough runs on the board, the bowlers don't get enough runs to bowl at and the captain doesn't know what fields to set - whether to attack or defend; everything looks lacklustre. Thatâ€™s what exactly happened over the years.
BC: You were offered the Captaincy role during a very difficult time for Bangladesh cricket. Bangladesh was on an epic losing streak (in ODIs as well as Tests). What made the turn-around possible?
Habibul Bashar led the turn-around after Bangladeshâ€™s dismal show in World Cup 2003
HB: After our dismal performance in 2003 world cup, we needed some good performance to prove our credential as a Test nation. My first success as a captain was against a full strength Zimbabwe side at Harare in 2004 which was my first game as Bangladesh captain. [Editor's note: Bangladesh won it's first game since 1999 against Zimbabwe on March 10, 2004] I must give credit to Dav Whatmore who worked very hard to make the turn-around possible. I enjoyed a very good relation with Dav and we shared our thoughts to lift the spirit of the Bangladesh team. With our â€œteam firstâ€ approach we effectively turned a losing side into a winning outfit. The team spirit within the team was very high which played a pivotal role in our success.
BC: You worked with Dav Whatmore for four productive years. Your comments on him as a coach.
HB: He gave optimism and discipline to a team that had not won a single match for four years. He understood our team chemistry very well and he made individual cricketers' lives easy. He allowed us to play our natural game and appreciated even very simple achievements. I personally rate him as one of the best in the business.
BC: Whatâ€™s the role of a Captain in a team like Bangladesh? Did you enjoy the job?
HB: A captain has a huge role. Apart from some of the well defined responsibilities while on the field, the most important task of the captain is to gel the team together. In many cases a captain alone can make a significant change in the way a team approaches the game. In a young and inconsistent team like Bangladesh, the job is far more challenging and requires a lot of patience and man-management skills. As a captain I had to work hard to help players get through the bad times and keep their motivation up.
I enjoyed every bit of my captaincy. It was more enjoyable because Bangladesh managed to beat some noteworthy opponents. Those are happy memories.
BC: What would you rate as your biggest achievement as captain?
Habibul Bashar is the first Bangladeshi to score 3000 runs in Test cricket
HB: That we have managed to earn respect of the opponents, especially in ODI matches. In our early days, every team took us for granted and trust me it is not a nice feeling when you are not taken seriously. Now, a match against Bangladesh is no longer considered a walk in the park and that is my biggest achievement as the captain of Bangladesh. For example, when we defeated India in World Cup 2007 and progressed to the Super Eights stage, every team had a different look at us. It probably made our job difficult, but it also helped us to enjoy the game. We felt counted. We have not yet achieved the same in Test cricket. I hope Mohammad Ashraful will be able to take the team forward and Bangladesh will be respected as a team regardless of the format of the game.
BC: International cricket has been a bumpy ride for Bangladesh since their introduction in Test cricket. Whatâ€™s the way forward?
HB: Cricket is very popular in Bangladesh. We have a very strong fan base and there is lot of passion for the game. At the same time, we need to take few right decisions to raise the standard of our game.
Sporting wickets are a necessity to strengthen our domestic cricket. Currently each first class team plays with three or four spinners on slow, low, wickets which is killing our game.
The BCB can introduce a quota system for international cricketers. During our time in club cricket, we benefited enormously from the presence of players like Neil Fairbrother, Arjuna Ranatunga, and Wasim Akram. A similar presence of international cricketers in domestic first class circuit will definitely help young cricketers to learn from their game. Our cricketers do not get enough opportunity to play county cricket in England or first class cricket in countries like Australia and South Africa. The BCB can appoint full time agents in those countries to help our cricketers find suitable clubs. It is very much required to raise our game to the next level.
Finally, I feel that we are a much better side than what we are performing at the moment. We are playing much, much below our potential. It is more a mental block than anything else. Some consistent good performances can lift the block. We will probably see a much improved Bangladesh side in near future.