Bangladesh: Past, Present, and Future Vol. III
It have been nearly two years have since the last issue of my cricket summaries. What follows are just a few of the more obvious thoughts I have collected over the past two years.
Series by Series
I had left off at the conclusion of the Sri Lanka tour of July-August of 2007, and so we begin fresh with the 2007 World Twenty20 Tournament.
The World T20 was similar to the World Cup in that Bangladesh won the must win game first up, indicating that opening in high pressure situations weren't the team's problem. However, the subsequent failures, many of them atrocious, indicate that maintaining momentum is the team's Achilles heel. In retrospect, the matches against Pakistan and Sri Lanka weren't that bad. Batting failures in the Sri Lanka game was embarrassing but the Pakistan match was quite close, given they were the runners up in the tourney. However, even in this "thunder and lightning" version of the game, our batting weakness was exposed. Only Aftab had a decent average of 40+ (though Junaid averaged 71, he only played one match). On the bowling front, Shakib and Razzak performed magnificently, conceding less than 7 runs per over and taking wickets as well. Rasel kept things fairly tight, although both he and Mashrafe struggled to take wickets.
The New Zealand series also had its ups and downs. In particular, Junaid Siddique and Tamim Iqbal shared the largest opening stand ever of 161 runs. However, batting collapses saw the next 9 wickets tumble for just 90 odd. Both new ball bowlers Mashrafee and Shahadat bowled well, and debutant Sajidul Islam showed promise and a good amount of pace as well.
The home series against South Africa was Mohammad Rafique's last dance, and we pushed the Proteas in the first Test at Mirpur when Shahadat continued his fine form with the ball, ripping through the visitor's lineup with the scarcely believable figures of 6-27. However, batting ineptitude continued to follow the team like a shadow. Raqibul Hasan made his debut, and proved that he could be a dependable man in the middle order.
Bangladesh easily swept past Ireland, one of the Associate stalwarts, with Ashraful, Shahriar Nafees, and Tamim all scoring big during the course of the series. None of the matches were close, and Ashraful notched his first ODI wins during the 3-0 series rout.
The tour to Pakistan started with a lot of hope, but Bangladesh slumped to a 5-0 whitewash, with none of the batsmen contributing big scores. Shakib however, stamped his authority as our key batsman with scores of 108 and 75 during the series.
The short Kitply Cup tri-series and the Asia Cup saw Raqibul continuing to impress, Alok Kapali finally living up to his hype and Tamim's continuing consistency. However, the bowling attack never looked like being able to hold anyone down to under 300 runs.
The trip to Australia was disappointing because while there were a few winnable games, the batsmen didn't show up. Discontent was brewing in certain corners, and after the series, it was learned that several key players had signed up for the "rebel" Indian Cricket League.
The home Test series against New Zealand brought us close to a historic victory yet again, and Shakib emerged as a true all-rounder. Ashraful won his first ODI match against a Great 8 sides as captain, and we came close to a ODI series victory.
The series in South Africa was largely forgettable, although Mushfiqur Rahim continued his excellent form in the longer version of the game. The home series in Sri Lanka provided Ashraful his 5th Test century, and Bangladesh recorded the 11th highest 4th innings total in Test history when they scored 413 at Mirpur.
Despite losing a couple of matches against Zimbabwe, Shakib led Bangladesh to a tri-series final against Sri Lanka, with an extraordinary unbeaten 92, smashing Murali and Mendis all over the park. In the ensuing final, Bangladesh managed to reduce Sri Lanka to 6-5 but still lost the match.
The period was finally closed out by a narrow 2-1 series victory over Zimbabwe, which raised more questions than it answered.
The ICL saga came to a sudden, if inevitable end, under continuous pressure from the BCCI. The defection to â€œofficialâ€ cricket of 76 Indian ICLers meant the end of the short-lived league, and the 14 Dhaka Warriors team members all returnd to the BCB fold. There remains a â€œcooling offâ€ period through the end of 2009, with the players eligible for domestic cricket immediately, and international cricket from January 1, 2010. It remains to be seen how their lay-off from the longer version cricket will affect their play and the team chemistry in the long run. However, players such as Aftab Ahmed, Alok Kapali, Shahriar Nafees, Farhad Reza, and Mosharraf Hossain will no doubt be more than useful in the greater scheme of Bangladesh cricket.
The 2009 ICC World Twenty20 got underway in England, with Bangladesh having had the most preparation in the lead up to the tournament. Both captain and vice-captain saw limited action in the just-concluded Indian Premier League, and with decent showings against Netherlands and Australia, Bangladesh seemed poised for a Super 8 berth. A reasonable game against India in the opener was followed by brainless batting in a must-win match against Ireland, leading to a 6-wicket drubbing and an early ticket home.
Controversy flared, as official BCB press releases were unusually harsh in reference to the Ireland match. Ashraful remained defiant, but was sacked from the captaincy, with Mashrafee and Shakib being promoted to the top two spots in the team.
No matter what happens, it seems like we always have trouble in the top order. In ODIs we've only had three opening stands of more than 50 runs, one a century stand against Ireland. Of the remaining two, the only partnership against a G8 side is one of 63 runs against New Zealand at Napier. In Tests, we have eight single digit partnerships, only three of 30 runs or more, and just one greater than 50 (161 against New Zealand at Dunedin).
Tamim Iqbal shows the most promise but we haven't been able to find a suitable partner for him. Will the management look to new blood such as Mohammad Mithun or continue with the likes of Imrul Kayes or Junaid Siddique? Whatâ€™s more puzzling is that Tamim himself has struggled recently. He hasn't scored a fifty in any form of the game in nearly 8 months, and his averages have tanked. However, the source of hope is that he has still managed to reach 20 something scores quite frequently and has often gotten out in the "nervous 40s."
Something needs to to find a suitable opening combination as it is no longer enough to just have a pair that can just see off the new ball in limited overs cricket. My vote is to test out Mithun in ODIs and T20Is, but resort to Junaid and Imrul for the five day format of cricket.
Of Mash and Men
Mashrafee Mortaza is indeed the man of the hour. After finally getting an IPL contract, worth a whopping $600,000 US, and recently assuming the role of captain, he may finally be getting the respect he's deserved. Mash has been the pace spearhead of our attack for a good while now, and his importance to the team's major successes is no less than Ash's. Consider the fabulous figures he's compiled in our 7 recent ODI wins against G8 sides:
In particular, he has been absolutely beastly since the Australia tour last September, and I don't think there is a finer new ball bowler in the ODI game aside from Mashrafee. In the last several months, he's taken 15 wickets at 18.07 apiece and conceded fewer than 3 runs per over with the new ball. Most importantly, Mash has only missed a handful of games in the past four years, and should still have 5-6 solid years left. At this point, the primary focus should be to get Rasel healthy to back him in the limited overs game, and have Shahadat, Sajid, and Rubel for Tests.
It is important to note that Mashrafee will be the nationâ€™s first fast bowler-captain. What effect this will have on him is yet to be determined. Mashrafee possesses a tenacious personality much like that of Khaled Mahmud before him, yet his tendency to be â€œnot in the moodâ€ is worrying. Still, it appears that for a young team which favors bowling as its relative strength, a bowling captain may be under the least amount of pressure. It will be interesting to see what kind of strategies Mashrafee and his deputy, Shakib, employ and whether any tangible improvements are made. It also seems apparent that the BCBâ€™s ultimate strategy is to prepare Shakib for an eventual role as captain, as early as immediately after the 2011 World Cup, and possibly by 2015 at the latest [Authorâ€™s prediction].
Mohammad Ashraful completed nearly two years at the helm and it wasnâ€™t a smooth ride. He often came under fire for not only the team's failures, but his own indiscretions as well. In this regard, he was similar to the criticism faced by his predecessor, Habibul Bashar. A further inspection of the numbers behind the two most prominent skippers in our Test history is interesting:
It can reasonably be concluded that Ashraful's captaincy did not live up to expectations, either of the team's performance or of his own. The only major area of improvement was in our Test bowling attack, which fared significantly better against top sides under Ashraful . This is only partly due to captaincy and largely due to the individual bowler(s) involved. The Test batting declines can largely be attributed to the lack of any consistent performer taking over Basharâ€™s â€œMr. 50â€ role. The consensus is that Raqibul Hasan can fill that void. What is unfathomable, though, is why our ODI batting performance has also stagnated. It appears as though Jamie Siddons has his work cut out for him, and if he canâ€™t right the ship soon, it is possible he may lose his job.
It may be added, that Ashraful was still young in his captaincy, and of late he had picked up two wins from eight matches against G8 sides. In light of his continued reliance on luck, the BCB had no choice but to relieve him from captaincy, in what is the last hope to salvage what has till now been one of cricketâ€™s biggest wasted talents.
The Rise of a Genuine All-Rounder
Shakib al Hasan has been the brightest star in our young team for the past several months. He went from being a decent ODI bowler, without much bite and suspect batting abilities to a genuine Test class spinner who, on his day, could bat with the best of them. His rise has been truly meteoric.
Since the New Zealand home series, in 6 Tests, Shakib has pulled in numbers that would make even Imran Khan smile: a batting average of 30, and a bowling average under 25 with four 5-wicket hauls. He has been just as important in ODIs, guiding the team to a massive win over Sri Lanka recently, where he made both Murali and Mendis seem like mere net bowlers. In ODIs, he has also averaged over 35 with the bat, and less than 20 with the ball. He has been simply superb.
The BCB seems to have the long-term target of making Shakib our eventual captain. The majority of arm-chair experts agree with this decision, and some even think he is ready for the job now. However, at the moment, Shakib is our most important bowler and one of our top 3 batsman. Burdening him at this moment would be very unwise. However, all indications are that Shakib has the intellect and strong shoulders to carry such a responsibility in the not-so-distant future.
Rajib: A Tale of Two Pacers
Throughout his career Shahadat Hossain could best be classified as "raw." He was unpolished, a work in progress with a definite upside. A bowler with all the physical tools, pace, aggressiveness and heart. He just needed experience. He did reasonably well, at least by Bangladeshi standards, and was the most productive fast bowler outside of Mashrafee.
Then came the series against New Zealand in January 2008. He bowled quite well, striking Stephen Fleming a couple of times. Only five wickets in the series, but at a decent average of 35 or so. In particular his bowling in the 2nd Test at Wellington was particularly exciting to watch.
Against South Africa, at home, he really took off. He nabbed 9-97 in the first match at Mirpur, which are better figures than any taken by Ishant Sharma, Brett Lee, Joel Garner, Lasith Malinga, and Umar Gul. In the Chittagong Test, he struck thrice in three successive overs, displaying remarkable wizardry of reverse swing with the older ball.
However, he has been completely out of sorts in the matches since. He has struggled mightily and hasn't shown any ability to reverse the ball. The following stats illustrate this worrying development.
It would be in our best interest that Shahadat returns to his early form. One issue is that aside from Test cricket, our boys don't play much first class cricket. Bowling is very much a rhythm activity and you can't afford to take a 6 month break from bowling and then expect to come back in full force. It is almost a fact that Bangladesh will often experience long gaps between Test series, and we have to keep the guys bowling.
The Core Identified
Jamie Siddons and the rest of the think tank have gotten the right the fundamental approach with regards to finding the best group of core players and sticking with them. In Tamim, Ashraful, Raqibul, Shakib, and Mushfiqur we have the best batting lineup we can find. It is necessary to stick with this bunch until they either reach their potential or better substitutes can be found. Exciting prospects such as Shamsur Rahman and Mohammad Mithun will doubtless get a national cap within the next 12 months, and this can only serve to strengthen the batting lineup.
The bowling attack is far more consistent but several questions remain. The most important concern is that of the duo, Syed Rasel and Abdur Razzak, the architects of our World Cup successes from two years ago. Will Rasel be able to remain fit over extended periods of time and will Razzak regain his effective limited overs bowling with a new action? The answers to these questions will factor heavily in whether Bangladesh can compete on a regular basis or not. Furthermore, can Shahadat regain his form from a year ago? Who will fill in as the third Test seamer: Rubel, Sajidul, or someone new?
The coming year brings us to the Test and ODI tours in the West Indies, as well as in Zimbabwe home and away. India is scheduled to tour in December/January. Another visit to New Zealand also looms, which should be a greater challenge than last year's tour, especially considering that the genius express bowler, Shane Bond has just been offered a central contract by the Kiwi board. The Mashrafee Era begins in mere days, and as always brings much hope, excitement, and analysis.
The time for everyone to step up and make Bangladesh a force to be reckoned with has come.