Bangladesh at Asia Cup 2012 vs Asia Cup 2014. What is wrong this time?
It was this same month two years ago that the tigers captured the attention of cricket fans by beating India and Sri Lanka in consecutive matches to reach the finals of Asia Cup 2012. Even though we lost a heartbreakingly close match against Pakistan in the final over, world cricket at the time started to believe Bangladesh had turned a corner and were a force to be reckoned with at home. We lost the tournament in 2012 but we managed to win the hearts and minds of many fans worldwide with our spirited display.
Fast forward two years on to March 1st 2014 and we are made to witness scenes of jubilation in the Afghan camp and utter despair in the face of Tigers. The team that was so consistent in all the games in the Asia Cup 2012 now looks in total disarray having been outclassed by an associate team playing on the big stage for the first time.
In this article I intend to look back at what we did right in the Asia Cup two years ago, to better understand what went so horribly wrong this time around.
In 2012, before the start of the Asia Cup, we had just completed an exciting season of BPL. The first edition of BPL full of national and international stars was a huge success and really allowed our players to express themselves in T-20 cricket for the first time and in the process get into some serious batting form. The icon players Tamim, Shakib, Nasir, Mushfiq all had played their role for their respective franchises and were high in confidence.
In comparison, prior to the Asia Cup 2014, we had just been whitewashed at home by Sri Lanka, losing three excruciatingly close games that we could have, and probably should have won. One of the matches we lost, in which Sri Lanka were 67/8 at one stage, seemed impossible to lose. Anyhow, the horrendous results at home versus the Lankans meant that we had zero momentum going into Asia Cup and serious psychological blows to overcome.
Back in the 2012 Asia Cup we had an in form Tamim huffing and puffing on his way to fifties in all the games. He was a man on a mission to make a statement against his doubters within the Cricket Board that wanted him dropped from the side. His partner at the other end was Nazimuddin, who came off a stellar domestic season but eventually found himself badly out of depth in international cricket.
In 2014, the big difference is the injury to Tamim that ruled him out of the entire Asia Cup. In his place the Tigers brought in Shamsur Rahman, the attacking right handed opener who has shown promise in all three formats. Even though technically not in the same level as Tamim, Shamsur was a veteran in domestic cricket piling on centuries and double centuries off late. At the other end the Tigers have another youngster, a star of the U19 team, the talented yet leaden footed Anamul Haque. While Anamul is considerably more talented than Nazimuddin of 2012, his footwork leaves a huge question mark on his selection as an opener. The current opening combination has yet to fire in this tournament leaving the already depleted middle order anchored by Musfiq under severe amount of pressure.
Middle order batsman
In 2012 we had Jahirul Islam at no. 3, who despite many opportunities failed at the international level much like a certain Junaid Siddique or Imrul Kayes before him. The middle order is then followed by Nasir, Shakib, Mushfiq who were all in great form at the time.
In 2014 we have a much better player in Mominul coming in at number 3 followed by Mushfiq, Naeem and Nasir. The huge setback for us in this tournament has been the abject batting as well as fielding form of Nasir. Naeem who is a replacement of Shakib at the moment is a player with limited capabilities and for some unknown reason continuously finds himself batting in the power-plays without having any attacking shots in his repertoire.
In 2012 we had a spinning all rounder in Mahmudullah Ryad at no. 7 followed by Mashrafe, Razzak and the perennial run leaker Shahadat Hossain.
In 2014 we have a pace all rounder in Ziaur Rahman at number 7 (who had a stellar tour of Zimbabwe but faded soon afterwards) followed by an out of form Shohag Gazi, vetran Abdur Razzak and a confused Rubel Hossain.
At a glance the bowling doesn't look any worse than what we had in 2012 but the big difference here is the absence of Shakib. When Shakib is in the team, getting the breakthroughs becomes that much easier during the middle of the innings and at the death because of the class player that he is.
Coaching, Captain and Tactics
In 2012 we had Stuart Law, a very talented Australian middle order batsman of the 90s who was unlucky enough to be born in the same era as the all conquering Australian side. Despite getting only a few opportunities at International Cricket his talent and class was undoubted by his peers. One of the significant changes Stuart Law made in 2012 was to push Nasir up to no. 4 which worked very well for us in that tournament. Stuart Law seemed like a coach willing to shuffle the batting order according to the demand of the situation and someone who was able to instill belief in the side under pressure situations.
One of his biggest failures however, was the persistent selection of Shahadat Hossain that ultimately played a part in our defeat in the final.
This time in 2014 as Head Coach, we have Shane Jurgensen initially recruited as a stop gap measure but later persisted with, as the Tigers continued to show very good results at home in recent times. While we have had success under him in all formats, questions still remain about how much SJ has achieved in developing individual cricketers like Rubel Hossain or an Anamul Haque.
While we do not know what goes on in the dressing rooms or team meetings it does not seem like he guides the team when plans don’t work on field or has sufficient control over the players over their preparation. There have been widespread reports of senior players skipping practices doing ad shoots and for a young side like the Tigers, a tough coach who is able to play mentor as well as a strategist is absolutely essential to maintain top performance levels of our players.
In terms of captaincy we had no change in the last two years. Mushfiqur Rahim was the captain then and remains the captain now to lead the Tigers. The criticisms that existed back in the day of failing to rotate bowlers properly, choosing wrong bowlers for the death overs, not attacking enough during the middle-overs still remain as glaring as ever. While we have seen him proactively placing several fielders in the inner ring against the Afghans, the same kind of urgency would have helped us a great deal against the Lankans when they were 67/8. In any case we had still managed to win games in 2012 despite his captaincy errors so a strong case cannot be made for the captaincy to be a factor in our recent poor performance.
In conclusion the recurring theme in this review has been the lack of form and confidence of our batsman and the absence of key players leading into this tournament. The absence of Shakib, Tamim and Mashrafee has left a hole much too big for the likes of Naeem, an out of form Nasir and Gazi to fill. The lack of attacking firepower in our bowling has meant that the defensive tactics of Mushfiq that was barely okay in 2012, backfired strongly at crucial times in the recent games.
In the end these factors would seem nothing but excuses to most Tigers fans who felt embarrassed at the nature of our defeats in the last month or so. As a cricket fan and a die-hard follower of Bangladesh Cricket I still remain hopeful that the return of our best cricketer Shakib into this side will rekindle the fire that was once present in 2012 and turn our performances around just before the World T-20 tournament begins in Bangladesh.