Thursday, September 19, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, June 01, 2005
The age factor

Asif Rahman

Or should I rather say the "Experience Factor"? Nah, I'll stick to the title I have chosen, and justify its appropriateness in the next few paragraphs below.

Look at the top eight test playing nations. Calculate their average age. How many teams do you find with an average age as ridiculously low as Zimbabwe or Bangladesh? As a matter of fact, most of the players in the best test playing eleven in the world are well into their thirties!

This proves a point: with age comes responsibility. The current Bangladesh side hosts some very young players in Ashraful, Saleh, Iqbal, Rahim, Aftab, Enamul, Shahadat and a few others. How much responsibility can one expect from a twenty year old who has only a couple of tests in his list of experiences and comes down to bat against some of the finest players the game has produced over the last couple of years?

For many, the answer is obvious. Just point your finger towards a Yasir Hameed, or a Yuvraj Singh, or a Michael Clarke, and then move the finger down to the sheet containing their records, or even better, a summary of their performances in their early days of international cricket. However, those who are tempted to do this are missing a very important point.

Let us think of a hypothetical situation where Yasir Hameed is asked to open the innings for the current Bangladesh side. Let us assume that this is his very first test, and that he has just been flown in from Pakistan because the BCB found out about his distant ancestry roots in Bangladesh (once again, simply a hypothesis ? no offence to anyone). How will he do? Unfortunately, the pointer on my probability meter tilts wildly towards the "FAILURE" mark.

Sigh. Another talent wasted.

So what is it that makes Bangladeshi batsmen fail time and again when faced with quality opponents? It is none other than the lack of older members in the team to guide them through the transition from domestic to international cricket. Many people would argue that experience is a more important factor than age, but the flaw in their argument lies in the very fact that experience can only come with age. Not only that, but the mental maturity required to analyse complex situations and act accordingly during game time can, in most cases, be acquired only with age.

Yes, I know about Tendulkar, Sarwan and similar too_big_a_head_for_his_age men, but it is true that they were only able to achieve that because they had older members in the team who would back them up after a failure. For eight of the ten test playing teams, when a youngster comes in to bat for the first time, he is given the freedom to display his innocence of youth and rush of blood solely due to the lack of burden that most Bangladeshis have to carry around. He knows that somewhere down the order there is someone (who he dreamed of playing with ever since his childhood) who will come to the team's salvage if he screws up. This enables him to flourish under the supervision of that, or I should rather say those, senior members, until he learns how to fly and is eventually ready for taking care of his own nest one day. That is when his hero retires and the youngtser takes over his place.

Now let us switch the scenario to the one applicable to the Bangladeshi side. A player like Ashraful was already labelled as a senior player after having played a couple of tests. How healthy was that? Was it not like feeding poison to the new borns in the nest?

This is what happens to each and every player playing for Bangladesh. A Bangladeshi batsman is forced to refrain from playing his natural game right from the very beginning of his career, partly because he usually has to come in at a 20/5 situation, and partly because he is one of the very few in the squad with the experience of a handful of tests under his belt, which implies that he is the one who should take on the burden of playing the "Nest-Keeper" when the nest is on fire. All this pressure leads to confusion, which leads to desperation, which in turn eventually leads to the loss of the batsman's natural game, so that all he is left with is a bunch of ugly across_the_line swings and gentle nudges at anything outside the off (not to mention a slog or two from time to time).

The whole team is young, and we are seeing new young faces every now and then, whereas other test teams have a bunch of players who have been around for a long long time, know their trade, and have given rise to a suitable scenario for the inclusion of a new young member. The Bangladesh team, on the other hand, lacks proper guidance from a senior player. I understand that we have the likes of Bashar and Rafique, and for once will yield to the claim that experience does play a small role, since the only reason these guys are incapable of lighting up the path for the young guns is due to their lack of experience at the top level. However, to prove that age does have a more significant role to play, it suffices to mention that players like Ashraful, Rajin, Aftab and Nafis are failing to perform consistently albeit the fact that they have had some decent experience at the top level, and it is safe to make the assumption that had they been at least seven to ten years older than they are now, we would have seen some more mature and seasoned performances from the team with the same amount of experience, and new players would experience a grand welcome when stepping into the first eleven.

The current bunch of players is highly talented, and capable of wonderful things. The only problem is that these players have been pushed into a wrong kind of situation, where they have to learn things the hard way. They will have to struggle. Confidences will break. Talents will probably get lost. The team?s performance will probably decline. However, if we choose our playing eleven from a pool of, say, sixteen for the next couple of years, these sixteen will learn the game good enough. It will take a lot of time. Glory will come at the cost of series of humiliation, but it will come eventually. We need a bunch of mature men who can think clearly, whose blood does not boil so easily, and who can analyse complex problems and come up with a suitable solution. Give these guys some time at the top level to cool their blood down, to grow mentally.

Then one day, we will have a test team comprising of twenty five to thirty five year olds. That is when we will start giving the big guns a fight for their money, or not give them their money at all.