"I will make a very bold statement here; Enamul will be Bangladesh's leading test wicket taker for many, many years. He will break and set records, that will stand for a long time. He is a class act and one of the best young spinners I have seen, far superior to any young spinners in Australia or in Bangladesh. He is a genuine spinner who actually gets batsmen out, rather than waiting for the batsmen to get himself out, a match winner. I could be wrong, but I am happy to make this prediction at this early stage."
Days before the first test against Zimbabwe, Richard McInnes, the High Performance Manager of Bangladesh, unreservedly praised our new found spinner Enamul Haq jnr. A few of us reacted cautiously to such a tribute. For we have also seen how these youngsters from this group have failed to perform consistently. These inconsistencies have fueled lingering doubts about just how much ?talent? is out there.
Doubts about our talent pool are still valid. How do the boys match up to our test competitors?
In years to come, would they be able to radically change the mediocre performance of the national team? We had seen brilliant days in our cricket: Alok Kapali with his hatrick; Rajin Saleh with his gritty performance; Nafis Iqbal with his entertaining batting; and above all Ashraful with his beautiful strokeplay. But the very next day we have seen dismal failures in several crucial sessions that gave away test matches.
Nonetheless, the Under 19 group has steadily filled the ranks of our test team and will continue to do so. However, the introduction of these boys in Bangladesh cricket has been a case of trial and error, whereas in other countries it is the slow and predictable path through a rigorous domestic structure that feeds the best possible players. And a healthy and viable ?A? team has been a springboard to the test team for all these successful countries. Why has this not happened here? And what are the criteria used to judge talent and the suitability of a player for Bangladesh?
In light of our recent test victory, I approached Richard McInnes with a few questions to shed some light on these matters:
Q: You had said that he was one of the best spinners you saw in either Bangladesh or Australia? That turned a few heads. So what made you say that? Was it a case of first impressions or did he gradually make an impression?
RM: That opinion was formed over time. When I first saw him, I was looking at so many players that it was hard to tell them all apart. We played England in the practice match and he bowled very well; and then he played in the Test matches and also bowled well. That was probably a major factor- that first test. Not only the fact that he got 4 wickets for that match, but the way he went about it. His composure, body language and attitude to the game was outstanding, he looked like he had played 50 tests, and not playing in his first. Cricket is such a mental game, that if you can ensure the batsmen never thinks he is on top, then as a bowler this is a great advantage. He only took 4 in that match, but the batsmen were never comfortable against him. He just looked like he was enjoying himself, similar to the way Adam Gilchrist plays, as if it is just a game that he loves playing. That is a great quality to have as it minimizes the pressure you put on yourself and allows you to fulfill your potential.
Over time I came to appreciate the level of skill that he possesses. His ability to vary the pace, trajectory and speed of the delivery is fantastic, and with experience he will learn to use these variations better. He tends to still bowl too many arm balls, which is a running joke between us, but he is learning to read batsmen better. The reason he bowls so many ?no balls? is that he varies the position he bowls from, not just across the crease, but also forward and back. This allows him to vary the length of the delivery with out changing anything else. This makes it hard for the batsmen to detect this change as the batsman is looking at the ball, and not at Enamul's feet.
Q: Enamul's 6-45. Now here is something that surely makes you proud? Frankly, did you expect such a performance so early in his career?
RM: I am extremely proud of what he has done, I always enjoy the players' successes, although most people don't see that side of me, but the players know that. I have enjoyed watching Aftab grow in confidence; Nafees starting to score consistently; Nazmul's good performances and growing belief in himself; Talha coming back from injury and now Masharafe bowling much more consistently then he did previously. More importantly, I am pleased to watch these guys go from kids to young men.
And most importantly, it is that they are learning to think for themselves and be more responsible for their own preparation, performances and setting their own standards. To be precise, being more internally motivated. I am proud of all of them along with a number of others who have worked hard and are producing some good results at various levels.
Another lucky prediction: The A team squad were training on the 9th at BNS (day 4 of the test) and after training we were talking about the match. In particular about Enamul's lack of wickets in the 1st innings and what might happen in the 2nd innings. I said to the guys that Enam will get 6 wickets and we will win. Sure enough he did. I have been a bit lucky of late with my guesswork, and if I was in Australia, I should be betting on the horse races this week. I have an amazing amount of faith in him; and a few others; and will always back them to perform. I think it is one of my strengths as a coach- that I back my players no matter what the odds. Hopefully they feel that belief I have in them and it helps them believe in themselves.
Q: Enamul is in the headlines everywhere these days. Isn't it a surprise that he wasn't considered for the test team even when he had a good show against England in his debut?
RM: I was surprised he did not play more in the West Indies as I thought that he might have contributed over there. Rana kept getting the nod ahead of him, on his batting strength, which is understandable, as we needed to reinforce that element of our game. Enamul is still young and the selectors may have wanted to protect him against India. Although I thought he bowled well against New Zealand beating Fleming a few times in flight and with spin. However, I am not a national selector so I cannot comment on the reasons for him not playing against India, but would imagine it was to protect him from some very good players of spin. But it still might have been a great learning experience for him. Obviously, he was bitterly disappointed to miss out. And we had a few long chats about that and also the fact that he could not get a game for his club team in Dhaka either, amazing as that sounds. I think he probably has earned his spot now and just needs to go on and cement his spot in the ODI team, which I think he is good enough to do.
Q: Do you believe in such a thing as ?born talent?? Or is it the proverbial 90 percent sweat and 10 percent talent?
RM: Definitely, people are born with various degrees of natural talent. What they do with it after that determines whether they will fulfill that potential or not. Australia is a sporting nation, and there are plenty of cricketers with enough talent to play for Australia, but only a few of them are willing to work hard enough and make the sacrifices required to reach that level. Based on skill level there is very little difference between the leading 120 odd players in Australia.
However, the difference comes in their attitude and willingness to push themselves, and to work hard particularly when the conditions are against them. In Bangladesh there are many players who are similar. I say so as I have seen some great batting performances this season alone with some shots that are simply unbelievable and difficult to play.
However, many of these players are lazy, and so they are great players when the wicket is flat and the ball is old, thereby doing amazing things. Give me a player that scores 50 or 60 when the wicket is green and bowling is of a good standard over the guy who gets 120 off 100 balls on flat track in the second innings of a match any day of the week. You get one player who will say ?Right, it is going to be very tough today, I have to work hard for my runs?. And the other player who says ?it's a bit tough today, so I will have a swing at this one, if it works, great; if I get out, no problems, I will have another bat next week?.
I know which player I want in my team. This is one of the reasons why I rate Shamsur Rahman so highly. He is the first type of player mentioned above, the harder it is and the better he performs. When it is easy he gets bored and tends to get out, as he did against Zimbabwe. He simply thought it was easy, hit too sixes in the first three overs off a test bowler, then got out. I told him it was being arrogant, which is dangerous and needs to be curbed. Confidence is great but arrogance is dangerous. This was completely out of character of him and we discussed it afterwards. He turned around a few days later batted the way he normally does and made a very mature 59 not out for Mohommedan. That is a great sign, that he learns very quickly, and so he will continue to get better.
Q: What do you look out for in emerging players? Is it similar to some coaches who looks one in the eye and can tell that he is the one?
RM: Not sure about their eyes. I look for a combination of factors: Skill level, attitude to training and matches, self awareness, awareness of others, game sense, body language (when things get tough), character, competitiveness, honesty with self and others. All of these factors in varying degrees are things I look for. Some players are stronger in some of these areas than others, but they all contribute to the final product. I also look for the ability to learn. If a player thinks he can't get any better, he won't. Simple as that.
Q: Do we have a more fertile ground for spinners as opposed to pacers in Bangladesh? Isn't this a handicap?
RM: Obviously the bare wickets contribute to more players bowling spin than pace or swing bowling. I don't really see it as a strength or weakness for our bowlers. Although I think it makes it hard for our batsmen though. The grounds committee has made significant progress this year in allowing more time to prepare wickets. This has meant that we have: Dhanmondi which has plenty of grass, Fatullah which is a little grass but good bounce and carry, and BKSP which is a little lower and slower. I think that is a good balance and exposes players to various conditions, which is beneficial to all players.
Q: What is the strength and weaknesses of the U-19 group - could you give a point-by-point outline of the factors. In which areas are they dramatically different from the older generation, in your opinion?
RM: It is hard to compare, as I did not know the older players when they were younger. On the surface, I would suggest that the younger players have had some better coaching early on from Malcolm Perrera and Carlton Bernardus that has helped a lot. I know the next group of U19's are better again than the previous lot and credit for that goes to coaches like Malcolm, Carlton, Nazmul Abedin Fahim, and Salauddin from BKSP, who have done a tremendous job with these kids.
In my time here we have worked hard on changing the attitude to training and preparation in that we try to work harder at training, then you need to in games. This means that when they get an opportunity to play, they have demonstrated the skills required under similar pressure before. Hence they can do it when they need to. It doesn't always work as well as we would like, but it helps. Also, I think their lack of exposure to domestic cricket has been a benefit, by means of trying to change the culture of cricket in Bangladesh. The cricket fraternity is Bangladesh is very externally motivated, meaning that it is all about show, about being seen by the right people, in the right places, winning the trophy etc.
I encourage the players to be internally motivated, to set their own standards in relation to training, preparation and performances. If they do that, they will perform well and all the other external rewards will come, but you cannot use them as your motivation. I am excited about working with the next group of U19's. I think they are a really good group of young men. . Also, we are trying to upgrade facilities at BKSP for the players who will spend the best part of the next 16 months out there, so we are chasing funds to do this. If any of your companies would like to assist financially with our bid for the 2006 World Cup, please let me know.
Q: Without a strong domestic league and the relative weakness of our ?A? team structure, do you see any significant improvements? How fast should we proceed with these developments?
RM: The domestic structure is improving but is still very much driven by money and prestige (again external motivation), and this will not change in a hurry, probably not within my tenure in Bangladesh. There are a number of ideas being investigated and planned for domestic cricket that will eventually make a contribution over time. As for the ?A? team, we head off to UAE and then Zimbabwe at the end of January for a 42-day tour, and then to England in July for 40 days. So progress is being made in that respect. Touring is expensive and it is difficult to host home series as the players are involved with clubs. So it is quite challenging to arrange matches for them.
Q: Naturally there are people who would like to compare you and Whatmore Is there any aspect or style of Dave Whatmore's coaching that differs from your philosophy?
RM: Dav and I have very different approaches to coaching in some aspects and similar in others. Coaching is an ?art?, and different styles suit different players at different levels. Assessing the needs of the playing group is important and then designing training to suit is very important. There is no right and wrong, only consequences. You don't know if you were right till after the fact with coaching, so you continually learn as you go.
My approach is probably a little more systematic than Dav's, but that is just because of different personality styles. His record speaks for itself, so it is hard to criticise his methods. He is one of the leading coaches in world cricket. If I ever get to the level he has attained, I will be pretty happy (external motivation).
Q: Can you quickly rate the top 4 or 5 players that will have a significant impact in our future test team, i.e. 5 to 6 years down the road?
RM: I think we are getting close to a stable group of players that will stay together for about 10 years, which will contribute enormous benefits to the competitiveness of the national team.
If I rub the crystal ball and guess what our national squad may be in 5 years (2010): Nafees Iqbal, Nafees Ahmed, Ashraful, Aftab, Rajin, Shamsur Rahman, Saqib Al Hasan, Marshall Ayub, Alok, Mushfiqur Rahim, Enamul Haque Jnr, Masharafe, Talha, Rajib, Shafaq Al Jabar, Dollar Mahmud, Nazmul Hossain, Sorwardy Shuvo and Ashim Chowdhury. It will be interesting to look back in 5 years and see how many are still there.