What more can Whatmore do
When we are hell-bent on self-deception?
The recent performance by the Bangladesh team as the experts would like to tell us has been encouraging despite the fact that we have been trounced 3-0 in the Tests and 5-0 in the ODIs by an experimental Pakistani side that did not play with their best XI.
Debutants were thrown at us as if the Pakistani team management could not care less and we, the so easily satisfied Bangladeshi supporters, were impressed by the heroics of our team consisting of veterans, some of them if their actual age were documented would at least be uncles to the Hamids, Hafeezes and Junaids.
When Ramiz Raza and Aamir Sohail condescendingly commend our performance and say that our performance is improving, a slap would have been less insulting considering the whitewash result.
I believe it is time to accept reality as it is and not indulge in meaningless adulation that only allows complacency. We must accept that we, as a team, are the worst in the world of cricket and our skills, development efforts so far have been meaningless, failing to spot talented cricketers from a population of 130 millions.
Considering the excitement and sportsmanship demonstrated in the domestic leagues and the plethora of talents spotted during the season there is no reason to believe that there is lack of talent in the playing fields of Bangladesh.
What is lacking, however, is the selectors’ initiative to be in the grounds, go through the statistics of each individual player and spot the right talent at the right age. Irresponsible lethargic mid-level cricket officials and apple-polishing selectors involved in the development programme of the board are solely responsible for the dearth of talented cricketers in our national squad.
The present selection process for the Bangladesh U-19 team is a testimony to the amateurish and self-defeating development endeavours of the officials involved in our development programme and the catastrophic consequences it has on the future of the game in Bangladesh.
Firstly, over 30 players were selected for the primary training camp for the U-19 squad. This squad consisted of players of different age groups despite the under-19 years of age stipulation. Senior players of the U-23 squad were drafted and considered as U-19 players. Who are we cheating and why? So the selectors and officials may look good in the tournament by posting a comparatively decent result?
Well, we all know so far this same strategy has been employed time and again in both cricket and football with shameless bravado and inconsequential results. Well, of course with the exception of the Gothia Football Cup where Dhaka league stars played against U-14 children of the world and became champions for the vulgar satisfaction of a shameless people.
So why repeat the same process again? To be point-blank what is the real age of some of the players who were in the U-23 squad now drafted as U-19? To be honest, most of them are over 19 years of age. Well, no doubt these are good players playing for a long time in the leagues and with them Bangladesh may post a few wins with the associate members but is it worth it and at what expense? The genuine U-19 players capable and some as good as these players, who have proved themselves with match winning performances in the leagues, will be deprived and some seriously discouraged as these players will start believing that there is no justice within the selection process.
Considering the fact that this is an age where they have to seriously decide (especially with parental censure) whether they will pursue a sporting career or opt for an academic one, it is pertinent that these right-aged players are treated properly and fairly. A U-19, U-17 or U-15 should believe that he is good enough for his age group and should never be pitted against players older then their age group. In the long run, this will allow the Bangladesh cricket to have the option to choose from a larger selection and stop discouraging talented, educated and intelligent cricketers from leaving the game.
Another peculiarity observed in the U-19 selection process was the automatic inclusion of players who were sent to play for minor tourneys in England. We are all well aware of the process of how these boys got nominated by the selectors and sent as a goodwill gesture.
Considering that these games are principally non-competitive with pot-bellied middle-aged pommies more eager to steal a smoke in the boundary lines then hold a catch, played for fun rather then competition, it can be said with considerable certainty that the nomination process rife with nepotism is a crude stepping stone of fast tracking otherwise ordinary boys into the development squad without actually testing and comparing their skills and techniques with the truly talented bunch who hone their skills through playing real, gruelling matches in the league and hence are deprived of their much deserving spot in the national age group squads.
An interesting point worth noting is whereas the national age squad predominately consists of students of the BKSP (the venue for national camps and provider of assistant coaches), non-BKSP trained players usually dominate the national leagues. Do these BKSP players get undue advantage in the age group squads, or do the BKSP coaches manipulate their selection by misguiding the international coaches? Otherwise what happens to these so-called BKSP talents in open competition? How come there is no BKSP talent in the national squad as good as non-BKSP trained players like Bashar, Rajin, Alok, Masrafee? In fact, how many age group BKSP talents eventually make the national grade? This is one discrepancy Dave Whatmore and the new coach should have a very close look at.
So far Dave Whatmore has at least instilled some dignity in our team. The Australian tour and the Pakistan tour have proved that the Whatmore magic has transformed a bunch of compulsive losers into a team that well may steal a win or two.
And big Dave can bet his shoes that with a cricket-mad nation behind him every positive move he makes will be whole-heartedly supported and appreciated. In Pakistan, we were deprived of at least one ODI win and a history-making Test win not due to lack of skills but due to a mindset that has never been educated to win. I wonder whether Mr. Whatmore has noticed that despite English being a second language for Bangladeshi’s for more then 200 years how few of his players are well conversant in the language? Where are the intelligent players who have the skills as well as the mental fortitude to be winners?
There is good news that another Australian coach under the guidance of Dave Whatmore will take charge of the U-19 team. The bad news is there is an indecent haste to downsize the camp number before the Australian coach takes charge (It is presumed the downsizing will retain as usual over-aged and malleable players predominately non-English speaking players; well the selector and local coach must have some extra authority on the players bypassing the real foreign coach; otherwise, how could it be possible for a BKSP coach to travel to Australia as interpreter, when English is mandatory in schools in Bangladesh!).
The downsizing should be postponed till the new coach takes charge. It is important that the new coach responsible for the team should be allowed to judge the players independently; should be privy to all information on the primarily selected boys, and should also have authority to include newly founded talent as well as ascertain the real age of the players and in consultation with Dave Whatmore right-size the team. Otherwise, as far as development is concerned this will be another farcical saga in a never-ending story of self-defeatism.
Dave Whatmore is well aware how good players can unnecessarily remain in the wilderness in Bangladesh (Rajin Saleh after being ignored for a long three years was finally rediscovered and proved Dave Whatmore right). In a recent interview Whatmore questions why Rajin did not play before? The answer is simple. He was sidelined and not given the opportunity to perform before international coaches the same way some of the talented U-19 campers will be sidelined now before their international coach can assess them properly.
There are young talented players like Rajin who have been coached by dedicated local coaches too shy to kiss up to officialdom waiting to be discovered. With his eye for talent who knows Bangladesh could be Dave Whatmore’s biggest prize—a Second World Cup—plus the gratitude of a 130 million strong cricket mad nation. We can help him do that by stopping our self-deception and we should do it now.