Post Match Blues: After Sri Lanka, Before Pakistan
Writing your own post mortem is no less impossible or painful than, say attending your own funeral. But when it comes to pain, I guess everything depends on nature of that death, how many people came to your funeral vis-à-vis how many people you would have expected to come, and of course how they chose to remember you underneath all the usual polite sympathy and somewhat formal eulogizing. The great Charles Mingus wrote of working on a poem called “Thank You for Coming to My Funeral” in the famous “playing chess with Bobby Fischer section his astoundingly beautiful autobiography, Beneath the Underdog. Another story.
Writing a T20 match post mortem is easier, but seemingly no less painful than realizing that nobody really cares how you died, and the possibility of anybody showing up at your funeral is as remote as pressing a non-existent restart button on the cosmic game console, and getting repeated chances to set things straight without damaging the space-time continuum. It is tough to motivate oneself to get up and go again, but certainly not impossible if the process helps to heal the wound a little. But this time, instead of the increasingly more convoluted “post mortems”, I’ll just bring you some rant, some rave, and more than just a little blabber. So here it is.
After that memorable victory against the West Indies, our very first in any form of cricket against the fabled collection of cricketing nations, all of Bangladesh cricket found itself in the narcotic grip of the sort of amrao pari (loosely, “we too can do it”) high that makes us feel better as individual Bangladeshis, brings our individual and often quarreling souls together as an integral part of something happier and bigger than ourselves, and gives us a glimpse of the Promised Land. The swagger in our steps and the sway in our faculties make us feel that nothing is impossible. We make meticulous plans to take the next step and dive headfirst into the warmth of a possible victory before the toss, hoping that the trip would last just long enough to make us feel that whole again.
Then reality bites. Not once, but thrice, and before long, we feel dragged back into the hole we wish to leave behind for good. Then we turn on each other as if all the backbiting and scapegoating can do anything other than help us simply vent emotions better harnessed in order to avoid mistakes of the past.
The basic strategy against any older, wiser and more battle-hardened cricket culture is pretty much the same, especially in the shorter versions of the sport. When bowling, contain the opposition with accuracy. When fielding, literally grab every opportunity the match has to offer. When batting, know and play your role in the batting order by fusing your body, mind and spirit into the sort of application that enables you to play each ball according to its merit within the context of the situation in the middle. The better you perform your role in that batting card, the more you help others in performing theirs. Simple enough symbiosis that requires no extraordinary heroics from any particular player if everyone’s doing their job.
Easier said than done, particularly when it comes to our batting.
Against the hosts South Africa, our fine young batsmen led by the incomparable Mohammad Ashraful, no doubt buoyed by their eternally positivist coach Shaun Williams and his part-time wisdom of the touchie-feelie kind, went into the match as confident as ever against a South Africa pace attack without variety. Hell-bent on playing their “natural game” and obviously intoxicated by their comprehensive victory against the “resurgent” Caribbean Kings of cricketing folklore, our top order batsmen provided a masterful demonstration of a care-free spirit in terms of their high-risk and thoroughly entertaining stroke play, and beautifully thoughtless and gratuitous generosity with regards to the value of their wickets. The spirit of Ramadan in the combined form of empathy, a real sense of community and introspection were given the night off, a sort of nihilistic Minesweeper was the game of the night, and consequently, not only did they fail to build any partnerships, but actually created the type of pressure impossible handle by lesser batsmen down the order. Not interested in such details, everyone expected them to deliver that elusive T20 partnership that can put those extra 30 to 50 runs on the board. Man of the Match M. Morkel’s exquisite bowling was not factored into that particular expectation and the onus was on the lower middle order and the tip of the tail once gain. They failed and their failure started the fire of unreason and folly that will soon become a lynch mob on a bandwagon, out of control in their vengeance, out to successfully find and lynch the easiest scapegoat their searing jingoism would manage to find. Each subsequent failure will add more fuel to that fire until we all get burnt in the end. Getting ahead of myself.
Anyway, to make a long story short, our bowlers, led by the overcompensating duo Syed Rasel and Abdur Razzak, performed superbly in sharp contrast to our batsmen who left them with what would prove to be a target still 20 to 30 too short. Reality check complete, and more fuel added.
In the next match against Australia, the greatest cricketing nation ever to play the sport in terms of victories and consistency, our batting “think” tank decided to switch the fuel. Instead of crack cocaine, the fuel of choice against the mighty OZ was 110 proof Bangla Maud from the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Made of rotten rice, sugarcane juice and molasses, the concoction can easily sedate a wild elephant into believing itself as timid little bunny rabbit with a healthy dose of paranoia, after a just a couple of swigs of its fire. Our batsmen probably chased that potion with a bit of Gatorade just for the sake of chasing it with something. Near perfect application from Australian bowlers, including a well-crafted T20 hat trick from Brett Lee, did the rest before our bowlers had the chance try and delay the inevitable @$$-whoopin’ without too much success.
Still as frighteningly positive as ever, Shaun Williams and Mohammad Ashraful planned to strike a balance between the batting fuels in the next, do or die match against our traditional pariah, Sri Lanka, and stumbled upon a third kind of fuel – quantum mechanics on magic mushrooms, laced with just the right amount of mob violence. High, mighty and as spot on as ever, they filled up the tank and were ready to go.
This was the idea: -
Just substitute XYZ for ABC at the middle, hope that the new parts not only fit like the proverbial glove, but also magically alter the nature and function of the apparatus. Put in a new seat-cover and a wax job, and watch the baulods (work-oxen mutilated into such docile state) pulling the chassis morph into a Rolls Royce engine fit for Sci-Fi. Out went the non-performers Alok Kapali and Farhad Reza and in came Mohammad Mahmudullah Riyad and Nadif Choudhury to clean up the probable mess to be left behind by their untouchable and impetuous top order.
The “hot and sexy gangstah” Tamim Iqbal Khan at the very top of the usually collapsing, and in some cases extravagantly timid batting order, despite getting more chances alongside other key players in the shorter versions of our international cricket at this level was spared once again, as the more technically correct Zunaid Siddique got the well-greased bamboo shaft as usual. Perhaps still paying the price for his alleged jousting with the young Captain Fantastic from a club cricket match a while ago – a time obviously not long enough to overcome such pathological and petty grudges – and keep Ziaur Rahman company on the bench. By the way, by “chances” I’m only talking about are recent – and perhaps subsequently more relevant chances since the teen sensation Tamim’s star-making debut in the ODI World Cup earlier this year. The younger and far less technically sound of the Iqbal Brothers continues to live off the overdue interest of that glory as I type these words while others warm the bench.
Back to the bench.
Ziaur Rahman, a medium pacer with supposedly an impressive array of in and out swingers at his disposal, can also hit a few out of the park as well. So what? Again this tall young man would watch with Farhad Reza by his side, how our once talismanic vice-captain refuses to check his ego at the door and learn T20 seam bowling from a stellar Syed Rasel. They would watch, take-in, alongside 150 million of their countrymen throughout the world, the sort generosity with his bowling economy that would have had lesser men exiled into T20 oblivion a while ago, and marvel at his staying power in the face of such “adversity”.
Skip back. Our main strike bowler and the undisputed heart and soul of the team, also batted tall, straight, and effectively just a few months ago against India, and was showered with praise for his efforts. To his credit and to our collective amazement and pride, he humbly shunned the notion of being an all-rounder and talked about becoming a better bowler. Then his young captain made him the key to our T20 success, and that’s all she wrote. Both as bowler and batsman, he got visibly worse.
Now back to the present and the T20 World Championships. His batting in particular needs a few lines of its own. Talk about being too baffled to be disappointed after his activities with the bat in this tournament. His comically cross-batted swings and swats at the crease can make the worst sort of exhibitionist blush in a flash, and make us wonder where we can get some of that immunizing juju that in the oft-misunderstood Al Alamut proclamations of a Hasan Ibn Sabah, makes one believe that “nothing is true and all is permissible”. Cringing away at the very thought of some of those possibly flashbacks, only Tamim’s swordsmanship at the same quicksand crease mitigating the nausea somewhat.
Now a bit more on the head scapegoat before moving on.
No, I’m not doing this because according to another “senior” member, I am a reincarnated version of someone who is probably still alive, explaining to him despite my specific posts to the contrary, an unreasonable, blind and ultimately daft fetish for this handsome hunk from Sylhet. I pray for him to treat others the way he would like to be treated, and not assume too much when he really doesn’t have to.
I want to write a bit more on this and all other scapegoats because, 1) such lusty tyranny of the majority is unfair and counter-productive to our cricket in several more ways than one, and 2) such crypto-fascist practices plunge young minds into heartbreaking despair and can destroy even younger careers before they have had the chance to correct their flaws within the framework at their disposal, and try again. Period.
I have personal knowledge of such despair from my brief dealings with the late Kazi Manjarul Islam Rana, may you rest in peace my sweet, kind and generous little brother.
Back to the head scapegoat.
After the formality of winning runs came out his bat against West Indies, Alok Kapali – back in team not because of good fortune or nepotism, but superlative performances in domestic List A cricket and practice matches – had no idea that a handful of hours later, his poor and confused performances under pressure in the middle would again resurrect his sins of the past, raise fair enough questions about his ability to perform at the international level, and have him and Farhad singled out and scapegoated in a reversal of fortune as fast as T20 itself, while the more fortunate crowd continue to throw their wickets away at the crease with blatant disregard for the very concept of public accountability. Neither luck, nor cowardice favor the condemned when Murphy’s Law’s at full swing, and you find yourself looking straight at the business-end of a pathological and insatiable bloodlust that things your demise will make all of their problems and pain, both individual and collective, go away at the expense of your demise.
Cricket is a team sport of eleven players in symbiosis, each with a unique role to play. How they play those roles depend not only on how clearly those roles are understood by the players in the mix, or how deftly they as individuals can apply themselves as international cricketers in the middle, but also on how their teammates perform around them. Getting carried away by the passion and pain of a humiliating performance, can and often does make us lose sight of the aforementioned facts, and we tend to use our “higher” faculties to serve a purpose that only seems sensible in light of that madness. When the problem is structurally complex, it cannot be solved by convenient “solutions” under the dark influences of unreasonable bias and selective memory which have a way of making the “input” fit the “expectation” before the facts can reveal themselves. Case in point – the Bangladesh versus Sri Lanka fiasco.
I will not delve deep into the Sri Lanka match and revisit some of the pain and exasperation. Not even close really. Simply put, our bowlers, led by Syed Rasel, Abdur Razzak, and Mohammad Mahmudullah Riyad contained one of the most potent and vicious batting orders of cricket to possibly their lowest total ever in T20 cricket. Despite some rare but nonetheless atrocious fielding from Nadif Choudhury, and fumbles from Mushfiqur Rahim behind the stumps, our batsmen found themselves having to chase a manageable target, despite the world’s best bowling and fielding side standing between them and victory. Instead of trying to balance the theatrical contrast flaunted in against South Africa and Australia somewhere in the middle, our batsmen did none of the above before managing to post one of the lowest totals in T20 history from a test playing nation. Losing to a former world champion, especially from nascent cricket culture at the highest level like Bangladesh, is hardly deplorable or surprising for that matter. But losing such a match after doing all the hard work with the ball, and urinating on the subsequent chances as spectacularly as our top order batsmen managed to flaunt in plain view of the billion plus spectators across the world, is beyond stupefying and transcends the sport of cricket itself, and finds itself among the many other mysteries of life, the universe and everything. This epic performance raises all the typical questions and more. Here’s my favorite: -
How many Bangladeshi batsmen does it take to chase down a modest total?
Answer: a fish of course, and 420, not 42 continues to be the answer to everything in planet Team Bangladesh and its “think” tank filled with alchemical concoctions.
That said, the match against Pakistan tomorrow presents another opportunity for Ashraful and Co. to demonstrate the sort of learning curve that can bring this team – now in mortal danger of being scapegoated as a whole, save Rasel, Razzak, Riyad, Aftab and possibly Ashraful and Mushfiqur for different reasons – some much needed breathing room before the New Zealand tour, and the time to implement a holistic assessment, selection, and development system as expediently as possible, preferably under a real coach like Richard McInnes who has shown to be effective in understanding, handling, and developing our young players into a genuinely improving and winning side. This group must be kept together and nurtured into positive growth by the time they start reaching their cricketing maturity and peak. Neither the current touchy-feelie approach, nor mob-ruled violence will do that better than a SMART system – SMART meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-phased – based on reason, transparency, fair practices and realistic performance standards, tough love, and most of all, patience from all involved.
As for myself, I’d have liked to see Zunaid Siddique play instead of Tamim, not Nazimuddin. Nazimuddin’s incredible performance against Pakistan in Kenya would have made him the logical choice in my book, and he is technically better than his equally out-of-form, if not more miserable opening partner. Then again, the word “logic” opens a can of worms Team Bangladesh management have always been too scared to open. No wonder few don’t catch as many fishes as we’d have liked. Anyway, I’m glad that promising young Zunaid gets his debut at last, and takes a decisive first step towards a bright future.
Everyone else in the team, especially Riyad and Nadif, get at least as many chances as Tamim did without causing the sort of damage Tamim did to the team. As for Alok and Farhad, I just hope they continue to improve, and become mentally strong enough to perform at the highest level the next time such an opportunity presents itself. Stellar performances within the context of what’s available to them will continue to yield opportunities they must grab with both hand next time, irrespective of pressure, because that’s what it means to be an international cricketer.
Good luck Bangladesh, beat Pakistan and ease our pain by showing the world the tenacity and true character of your people - a simple, peaceful, and noble people who manage to overcome the worst obstacles fortune has to offer time and time again, and rise out of the worst kind of injustices to sacrifice everything for their families with a smile on those benign faces. Learn to fathom that nobility of the farmer, the garments worker, the rickshaw puller, all those who manage to stay righteous in the face of systematic exploitation, draw strength from their desire to do the right thing, and not resort to the type of riotous blame-gaming and wanton emotional and other violence that does nothing good in the end. Any other city of 20 million built for 200000, 65% of them either chronically unemployed or underemployed, there would be riots everyday. We are peaceful, not because of cowardice but because of a nobility the truly cowardly advocates of wanton violence fail to fathom.
Jauy Bangla, Bangladesh Zindabad.
"And do not curse those who call on other than GOD, lest they blaspheme and curse GOD, out of ignorance. We have adorned the works of every group in their eyes. Ultimately, they return to their Lord, then He informs them of everything they had done." (Qur'an 6:108)
Last edited by Sohel; September 20, 2007 at 06:29 AM..