The ICC Champions Trophy 2004 has at last been finalized and will be held in England in September 2004. For Bangladesh it is yet another chance to erase the memories of the World Cup debacle. The lingering shadow of that episode needs to be exorcised and our tarnished ODI reputation needs to be repaired. Yet again the spotlight will be on our ODI department or the lack of one. More importantly our place in the Cricket world needs to be solidified by building a credible one day team. 9 months is not a long time but with Whatmore and solid preparation there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
ICC Champion's Trophy 2004, England
The championship event will display talent solely of the world's leading one-day cricketers and also will be fought over by all the 10 ICC Full Member countries and Kenya. Additionally, a winner from the ICC Six Nations Challenge (to be held in the United Arab Emirates in March 2004) will participate.
Teams are seeded for the tournament on the basis of their official ICC One-Day International ranking and Bangladesh has been grouped in the pool with West Indies and South Africa - a pretty daunting and tough group. However, there is ample scope for Bangladesh to rectify much of the mistakes even if we face such opponents as South Africa and West Indies. Moreover, with the conclusion of the series between Pakistan and South Africa; West Indies and Zimbabwe; South Africa and West Indies (ongoing), we have been offered a preview of the opponent?s capabilities and weaknesses. Sadly, for Bangladesh there is little in the way of consolation and the hope of a win against Zimbabwe dissipated overnight as we saw how Streak, Taibu and company put up a spirited fight against West Indies. Bangladesh have played Pakistan and showed much promise by coming close to victory on 2 occasions. It is the same Pakistan team that convincingly beat South Africa in their ODI series. West Indies beat Zimbabwe, but not in a similar convincing fashion. West Indies could beat Zimbabwe in the One Day series by 3-2. Lastly South Africa has just beaten West Indies in the first match in the longer version of the game.
In short we should lick our wounds and savour the chances, which are up for grabs. Having said that, expect a volley of detractors pointing out how we possibly cannot match up to Lara, Smith, Ntini and Pollock. But at the end of the day the script remains the same for Bangladesh. We get our best 11 players and work on our common weaknesses which is still ODI batting .One fine day that win will come.
Up to the ICC event Bangladesh will have a very busy schedule of match fixtures. The Namibia tour of January/February 2004 will hopefully be a morale-boosting tour with a much-needed win over Namibia in the cards. Furthermore, the hope of the fans is that the competition with Namibia will set the stage for an interesting match with Zimbabwe. However, the catch is that Zimbabwe has shown a remarkable comeback as witnessed in their latest series against the Windies. In a way the Zimbabwe tour of Feb/Mar will really set the tone of the Bangladesh camp for the rest of the year leading to the ICC Championship tournament.
Also, if Khaled Mahmud does not get selected as captain we will see how a new captain, (whoever that may be), in action on the field. This new skipper will need to demonstrate a level of competence and inspiration to establish his new credentials. It is also an important factor in the equation.
The months after the end of the Zimbabwe tour looks interesting. We might have the option of playing a triangular series and some matches with India. Whatever the scenario, ODI practice would really be a good tonic before meeting the Windies at their home turf. We really need to pay attention to the Windies in the away tour. It will only be a couple of months before the Championship and would be desirable if the BD team could start to peak at that stage. At the least we need to firm up the composition of our ODI team and hang on to those players.
Unfortunately if we look into Bangladesh's cricket history, we will notice how our officials have failed to realize the potential of testing players' nerves and their abilities. Instead, they had played different sets of players in both the ICC championships held before the World Cup 2003. In the ICC Champion's trophy in 2000 and 2002, held in Kenya and Sri Lanka respectively, we see that only Javed Omar, Al Shahriar, Bashar, Khaled Mashud Pilot and Rafique played in both these tournaments. Yet again, this year it is Bashar, Pilot and Rafique who are most likely to be 3 players consistently in the team.
Our last ICC outings were dismal. The BD players lost to England by 8 wickets in the 2000 ICC Championship in Kenya. Javed Omar scored the highest 63 runs off 84 balls in the end after retiring hurt in the first stages of the game. Al Shahriar, being a middle order batsman, struggled in his controversial opening position, Aminul Islam, Naimur Rahman and the tail enders scored some quick runs to take Bangladesh to a respectable total of 232 for the loss of 8 wickets.
Although this team went into this game with a very strong spin attack of the time consisting of the trio Enamul Haque, Mohammad Rafique and Naimur Rahman, the bowlers could hardly check the run-rate of the England batsman and finally Bangladesh lost the match.
Things didn?t look any better when we faced the Aussies in the next ICC Championship trophy in the year 2002. This team had a whole set of new and younger players just before the World Cup 2003. Although Javed Omar, Al Shahriar and Habibul Bashar - the three top order batsman remained the same, but they did not do justice either to their names or to their experience of playing cricket at the International level for so long. In the match against Australia, the three experienced players, who also played in the 2000 ICC Championship trophy against England two years ago, flopped completely. Their total score was only 4 runs, where only Javed Omar scored 4 runs, i.e., Al Shahriar and Habibul Bashar scored ducks. After such a disaster in the top order, the team management had decided to play a debutante young Mazharul Haque, and he also played a rash shot in the manner of his senior team members. In the middle order, Tushar Imran, captain Khaled Mashud and Alok Kapali had played some good knocks to rescue Bangladesh from a total humiliation. It was mainly through young and inexperienced Alok Kapali's top score of 45, that Bangladesh could reach a total of 129 all out in 45.2 overs.
Finally to top it off the entire concluding match for Bangladesh against the Kiwis was disastrous. The bowlers and fielders came back fighting from the last match against Australia to restrict New Zealand to under 250 runs, but the batsman blew it all. If Tushar Imran had not come to the rescue, scoring 20 off 16 balls, then we were sure to hit a new low. Slip fielders brilliantly backed the New Zealand pacemen, as Nathan Astle and Stephen Fleming took two catches each off the Bangladeshi batsmen. Seven Bangladesh batsmen were caught behind the stumps. Fast bowler Shane Bond grabbed four wickets in a sensational spell as New Zealand dismissed Bangladesh for their second-lowest total of 77. In that match the only bright spark was the bowling figure of Ashraful with 3-26; despite his bowling successes he failed at batting.
Is it a surprise to anyone that all these previous antics at the ICC matches was leading to the penultimate defeat to Canada by 60 runs in their World Cup opener in Durban? It was simply inexplicable batting that saw Bangladesh being shot out for 120 runs in 28 overs and handing Canada a famous first victory in one-day internationals. As evident from the two matches against Australia and New Zealand, the only Bangladeshi batsman to show some sort of promise was Tushar Imran, who is capable and fast once he settles down. For good or bad, he is also the most likely candidate to fit the tag of the One day specialist.
More on part 2