Cricket fans from Australia to Pakistan must be equally puzzled. How can a team that has shown so much promise in the Test arena be so completely at sea in the one-day format? We have seen many cases of the opposite being true, but this is surely quite bizarre. Dav Whatmore for the first time as Bangladesh?s coach must be find himself at a place rather unfamiliar. With the Sri Lankans, he had a simple ODI doctrine and it worked like magic. Blast the living daylights out of the opposition from the start. His main worry then was to raise Sri Lanka?s performance and reputation as a Test side. With Bangladesh responding well to his mantra of individual improvements in Test cricket, he needs now to find a way out of his team?s one-day troubles.
What exactly is the problem with Bangladesh in one-day cricket? It is simply the batting. Our bowlers can and have, in recent years, regularly restricted top sides to around 250. However, our batsmen always struggle to cross the 200 mark. It is strange that the batsmen are starting to consistently survive four session of a Test match but can?t hold on for 50 overs in an ODI. Till now, the coach hasn?t found the right strategy for Bangladesh. He has tried to replicate his SL model with little success. Continuing with it will bring little reward.
Whatmore will soon realize that Bangladesh is not Sri Lanka and that he will have to come up with a very different strategy to raise Bangladesh?s performance in ODIs. The main difference is, Bangladesh simply does not have the depth in batting to justify a top order blitzkrieg. The reason that the Jayasuriya-Kaluwitharana experiment worked so well had as much to do with their hitting ability as the batsmen who were to follow. It must have made a big difference to the openers to know that there were players like Gurusinha, De Silva, Ranatunga, Tillekaratne and Mahanama waiting to come in to bat.
The Bangladeshi batting, on the other hand, is brittle to put it mildly, and opening with our most prolific scorer is a risk we aren?t yet in a position to take. If Habibul Bashar goes, half our batting goes with him. Rajin Saleh and Alok Kapali do provide a little cushion in the middle order, but just like Kapali, Rajin will soon tire of always having to play the backs-to-the-wall innings. What Bangladesh needs is a top six that can play 50 overs and score at a decent rate. We don?t need a blistering start only to be all out for 150 in the 35th over.
It is quite curious that the batsman who has been the most successful in the two ODIs against Pakistan is the player who scored at the slowest rate in the Test matches. Rajin has proved that one does not need to be a slogger to be a good one-day player. Bangladesh needs a strategy based around players like Rajin. And what exactly should this strategy be? The strategy should be to mix caution with aggression, to take a lot of singles and keep wickets in had till the end overs.
If we are to do that, we need at least one proper opener. Whether we pick Hannan Sarkar or Javed Omar or anyone else for that matter, we need a batsman to play the anchor role. In the first two ODIs against Pakistan, we missed someone who could do that. It is the only way to get the best out of Ashraful and Bashar.
My first choice for the other openers slot is Ashraful, and I am likely to favour him for a while more. Ashraful is a gem, and we need to nurture and groom him properly. While I do admit that he has been immature in his approach, he was not helped either by the different roles that have been asked off him at different times. It is important to remember that he is still a teenager. We cannot ask him to open the innings one day and make him bat at five the next. I believe the sooner we settle him into a permanent role, the quicker we will see results from him.
The all-important number three should be Bashar?s by right. He has the ability both to capitalize on a good start as well as to wrest the initiative when an early wicket falls, depending on the scenario. There is a big difference between opening an innings and batting at three, even if one find himself batting in the second or third over. This is something that we must understand more fully. The difference is, when one opens the innings and loses a partner early, it is bound to have an effect on him and his style of play. On the other hand, when one comes into bat at the fall of an early wicket, he is still able to play much of his natural game. It is a psychological difference but a very important one. Bashar did not quite know how to react to the loss of Ashraful in the second ODI against Pakistan. Although he hit the loose balls for boundaries, it seemed as if he did not quite understand his role. On the other hand, Rajin came into bat at 3 and played wonderfully well. We cannot afford to waste Bashar by making him open. He should bat at three where he is comfortable and where he has had all his success.
The major question left to answer is, do we play three batsmen or two specialist batsmen and an all-rounder at six? I feel that Bangladesh was a batsman short in the second ODI against Pakistan. Playing Sujon, Mushfiq and two specialist seamers, along with Rafiq, and three part-time spinners is a bowler too many. We saw this manifest itself in the number of overs each bowler bowled. The four Bangladeshi seamers bowled 30 overs between them in the match. Alok Kapali bowled one over and Ashraful did not even get a bowl. We should have had an extra batsman rather than having so many bowlers.
I would like to see three specialist batsmen at numbers 4,5 and 6 followed by Mahmud, Mashud, Rafiq and the two seamers. Rajin and Kapali are automatic choices for two out of the three slots. The third is still up for grabs, but Tushar Imran is an ideal player to make that spot his own. The problem with Tushar has been that he is a very nervous starter. If he can get over his early jitters, he can be a very useful batsman for Bangladesh in ODIs.
One last observation I wish to make is that the Bangladeshi batsmen still don?t seem to understand the value of taking singles in one-day cricket. One-day cricket is not all about hitting boundaries. The major thrust of the batting should be to constantly rotate the strike, especially in the middle overs with the field spread out. This is another aspect that Whatmore will have to impress upon our batsmen. Players like Bashar, Ashraful and Tushar can?t just look to hit boundaries all the time. They have to take singles whenever possible and keep the scoreboard ticking. This is the best way to avoid being put under pressure by the bowling side when the boundaries dry up.
I believe that Bangladesh is not too far from success in one-day cricket. It is just a question of getting the dynamics right, and I have full confidence in Whatmore to be able to do that. The main thing is for him to realize that his Sri Lankan strategy is unlikely to work with Bangladesh. I think the Pakistan series will see some chopping and changing as the coach tries to find the right combination. Once he finds it and the players are allowed to adapt to it, we should see a much-needed reversal of fortunes for the Bangladesh team in one-day cricket.