Tuesday, May 03, 2016
Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2007
|A laymanâ€™s foray into new possibilities (Part 2 of 2)|
Sohel N. Rahman
Batsmen with technical limitations and slash or irreversible compulsions â€“ without the quality domestic cricket that can create better opportunities to make small yet tangible improvements â€“ often create extra pressure on the more talented ones with better grip on those issues. Misconstrued conventional wisdom, such as the one obviously prevailing in the minds of our veteran selectors â€“ namely, the idea of temperament somehow meaning strokeless, slow, and hardly venturing out of the shell like a turtle if turtles could bat â€“ only add to that pressure as those strokeless, slow and dot-ball prone batsmen without the demonstrable ability to rotate the strike, do not, cannot put enough runs on the board before more talented batsman take their guard, typically a bit too late in both forms the game. Or, if they donâ€™t manage to successfully hog the crease, as is the case most of the time, the more talented batsmen to follow find themselves in the game too early, with fewer wickets in hand, and having to play roles someone else were supposed to play. Tough to rebuild the innings before it has a chance to start. Tougher still to rebuild, consolidate, and anchor the type that gives you a chance to win. One plays to win or lose trying the last time I checked. More often than not, itâ€™s mostly about those runs on the board by the end of the day. I fail to see why a 50 ball 50 is somehow worse than a 100 ball 50 if it adversely affects the outcome of the game, nor not affect it at all. The best openers and anchors in both forms of the game are not turtles. Bite and grab hold of that wicket and bite hard, so that theyâ€™ll have to shoot you before prying those jaws open industrial power tools â€“ scoring not required. Hayden, Ponting, Dravid and Sangakkara wouldnâ€™t be where they are today with that cute little mind-set, and no, we DONâ€™T need to go as far as Jayasuriya and Kevin Petersen. The play not to lose, lose-lose mentality only leads to losses, often embarrassing ones. Tamim Iqbal Khan and Aftab Ahmed should not be penalized for their aggressive, positive ODI performances despite having comparatively good 4-day averages, and the versatile talents of Alok Kapali should not continue to get the selectorsâ€™ shaft despite back to back centuries in National cricket. The grapevine has it that Nafis Iqbal Khan is set to return to the international stage, and I say not a moment too soon.
Then we have the bowlers. Letâ€™s look at Muhammad Sharif. It is true that Muhammad Sharif, taking Shahadat Hosseinâ€™s place in the second and final test match against India, has the stats from our domestic cricket to somewhat justify the call-up. The comparatively poor quality of our domestic cricket â€“ when compared to those of our South Asian neighbors in Pakistan, andSri Lanka â€“ is also a fact. It was sad to see the young man trying his very best during the recent test match against India, and simply not making the grade. Then again, it's not the first time a questionable selection has possibly ended the international career of yet another young Bangladeshi bowler slash all-rounder. I don't think better bowlers like Dollar Mahmud, Tapash Baisya or even the tamer Talha Jubair would have, could have faired any worse than the 5' 6â€ seamer delivering invitations for Indian batsmen to play with at will, despite playing out of his skin under difficult conditions and circumstances. His gentle slow to medium pace, and sincerely attempted grit with the bat couldnâ€™t do anything to mitigate either the realities of the weirdly misread, dead, and poorly constructed pitch â€“ or his limitations as a cricketer. The quality opposition was as unforgiving to him as others have been to the likes of Mushfiq Babu from our not too distant past. Our veteran selectors have never taken responsibility for questionable selections while gleefully accepting questionable credit for the better ones. Hit or miss. Hit, they win. Miss, they donâ€™t lose anything. There's no reason to expect that they will before their too long a reign as national selectors come to an end. Not unfamiliar to the morbid realities of public discontent, they still donâ€™t get it. Perhaps the higher ups in BCB need to reassess their performance and take stronger measures in order to provide us with the best possible team for the upcoming Sri Lanka tour. We have come expect more from our cricketers, as we should, and BCB must stop assuming liabilities our cricket can ill afford at this juncture.
Maybe the Better Way to Select
Given the quality of our domestic cricket, only those performing in international matches for the BD U-19 (batsmen and spinners only, not fast bowlers â€“ two words: stress fracture), U-23, and A sides against quality opposition from other test playing nations should be considered for the senior side. Those players must meet predetermined performance standards, including playing a specific number of matches, before given the opportunity to carve out a place for themselves under the limelight. Since it may be better for their confidence levels to face weaker opposition initially, they should debut against the likes of Zimbabwe, Kenya and even Ireland before dealing with the big boys of world cricket.
Predetermined, well-defined, and duly contextualized performance standards also need to be balanced and adjusted according to individual ability and realistic expectations in light of the realities of our domestic cricket. The bar for a Junaid Siddique or Dollar Mahmud needs to be set higher than say, a Nadif Chaudhury or Muhammad Shahzada. Talent and ability need to be specifically defined and measured with regards to: 1) natural hand-eye coordination and other bio mechanical attributes; 2) temperament and other psychological attributes; and most importantly, 3) the ability to learn in terms of specific, realistic, achievable and time-phased batting, bowling and fielding performance measures. Needless to say, exceptions to the rule can always be made for genuine talents like Mashrafee Bin Murtaza, Muhammad Ashraful Matin, Tamim Iqbal Khan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan, Alok Kapali, and Nafis Iqbal Khan as they have been in the past. Having said that, those exceptions must be made with a degree of sobriety we haven't seen so far from our selectors. We don't want to witness talented young teens like Talha Jubair suffer major setbacks before having the chance to shine, anymore.
Players selected through the tougher, better, more reasonable new process should be given a predetermined number of chances to acclimate themselves at the senior level â€“ say, up to 15 ODIs with 3 consecutive appearances and up to 5 test matches with 2 consecutive appearances â€“ tied into a set of predetermined performance measures for each time they take to the field. We should be wise enough to remember that it's not all about the number of matches the individual players play for the senior side, or we have played over the past 7-odd years as a test playing nation for that matter. We must also take into consideration: 1) the quality of our evolving cricket infrastructure; 2) the typically counterproductive and stagnating challenges faced by that infrastructure; and most importantly, 3) the negative impact all of that is bound to have upon our nascent cricket culture. Before measuring the success and failure of its players, BCB must face up to its mission responsibilities, and objectively assess with absolute transparency whether or not it has done its very best to set them up for success.
A Professional League of Our Own
The long awaited development of a better cricket infrastructure, culminating in well-compensated, well-marketed, and well-merchandized professional teams, can only enhance the quality of our domestic cricket and strengthen the overall selection process. Following the Australian, South African, English and to a lesser extent, the Sri Lankan examples, coupled with the best practices from successful professional leagues from other sports around the world, such as the English Premier League in the United Kingdom and the Major League Baseball in the United States, the BCB can set up six such professional teams, one in each divisional capital and start the processes without further ado. The teams will play both versions of the game, on a variety of sporting wickets, in separate 4-day and limited over leagues throughout the year. Each one of the six teams will have: 1) a nationwide, extensive network of trained talent scouts; 2) state of the art training facilities managed by qualified Australian coaches and physios mentoring locals with the right aptitude; and most importantly, 3) several age-based junior sides such as U-15, U-17, U-19, U-23 and A sides. Such a league will add real value our existing cricket infrastructure, accelerate the meaningful growth of cricket and cricket culture in Bangladesh, and begin to meet our more realistic expectations without selling ourselves short as cricketers and cricket fans. The unrivaled popular passion for cricket will pretty much guarantee the easy availability of corporate sponsors to cover any financial shortfalls. A separate cable TV channel, dedicating itself to the sustainable development of cricket in Bangladesh should be set up by BCB and its strategic allies as an integral part of the league to broadcast all games, and cricket-education programs from all over the cricket world. Moreover, nobody should be surprised if such an investment starts to pay faster and better dividends for all involved with cricket in Bangladesh, least of all to most of the 150 million Bangladeshis for whom the sight of quality cricketers competing to qualify for our iconic national team, a team that has come to represent more than what it simply is, will add much needed spice to the otherwise work-laden lives without much else to do. In due time, the league could qualify for an IPO and be traded in the Dhaka and Chittagong stock exchanges as a publicly held company.
The Bangladesh National Cricket Team has come to symbolize what we, both as a nation and as individuals can do on the world stage under the critical gaze of older and wiser eyes, and brings us closer together as a people more than anything else in our history since the Liberation War of 1971. Team victories staring from the 1997 ICC Trophy championship and individual accomplishments of Bangladeshi cricketers are deeply interwoven into our collective psyche. Ashrafulâ€™s match winning 100 against the mighty Aussies and 87 against the top ranked South Africans, his defiant 92 against England, the inaugural, maiden test hundred in Colombo at the tender age of 16 something, the memorable 158 not out and the more recent awe-inspiring, quick fire 62 against the star studded Indian test sides, have become integral to our national folklore. Mashrafee Bin Murtazaâ€™s never say die attitude continues to snatch hope from the confines of utter despair every time the ball comes flying out of his grip â€“ and with every ferocious swing of his increasingly safer bat. Shahriar Nafees Ahmedâ€™s ton against the Australian test side, and the fearless athleticism coupled with a can do attitude of the Iqbal brothers, Aftab Ahmed, Alok Kapali and Shahadat Hossein tell us that it is indeed possible to become what we aspire to. Our beloved young Tigers reinforce and enhance our self esteem, and despite the often skimmed over challenges they face everyday, and the heavy burden of sky high public expectations, these young men deliver, and they continue to inspire us into feeling better about ourselves as Bangladeshis. Cricket has indeed become our only true national pastime, and it is no longer a game of the urban, affluent and English-medium elite. As the less affluent, small town and rural background of some of our best young cricketers clearly demonstrate, cricket belongs to everyone, and the larger, deeper pool of players are beginning to produce raw talent the likes of which we simply didnâ€™t see in the past. The professional league must be based accordingly, and not be Dhaka-centric the way such things have a way of being, if we choose to do right by the tens of millions all over Bangladesh playing cricket. The tens of millions dreaming to become the next Mashrafee, Ashraful, Shakib and Mushfiq â€“ hailing respectively from Narail, the dark and narrow streets of Bashabo in Dhaka, Magura and Bogura.
Looking Ahead to the Brave New World
The Dav Whatmore era has come to an anti-climactic end. Rumor has it that Richard McInnis is all set to take us to the next level. His track record and intimate knowledge of our players give me ample reason to be optimistic.
The writing has been on the wall for Habibul Bashar for some time now. Much has been written about Basharâ€™s Captaincy and compulsions, about his personality and attitude, and about his docile body language and the visibly lack of athleticism. I will not add more fuel to the fire anymore. As captain of a team that has given us some unforgettable moments, he deserves appreciation just for being at the right place at the right time, irrespective of his individual contributions, period. His recent performances as captain and player should make way for Muhammad Ashraful Matin and the new generation of more talented cricketers without delay. As the new skipper with the inspirational presence of Mashrafee Bin Murtaza as his deputy, he needs to stand and deliver that better tomorrow we have been privileged to glimpse on occasion, with greater frequency. His remarkable abilities as player and captain â€“ be it for the Tigers, Dhaka Division or Sonargaon Cricketers â€“ need to come full circle and open a new chapter in the annals of Bangladesh cricket.
A new chapter in the annals of Bangladesh cricket. What does that mean?
As a Bangladeshi and a layman, I just want to see a test win or two, well-fought draws and losses where we go down fighting. I want to see back to back wins against the big boys of cricket in the short version of the game. I want to see our young Tigers learning from their mistakes and making visible improvements, however small they may be, over a shorter period of time. I want to see innovative thinking on the field balanced with traditional wisdom. I want to see the predatory instincts of a tiger creating opportunities, and the cohesive effort to seize positive results, and deliver that coup-de-grace when those opportunities present themselves. I want to revel at the electric joy of victory more often than I ever have; I want to feel the indescribable warmth that resonates deeply inside my Bangladeshi soul. I want expiation, and I want to hear monsoon winds rustling brittle autumn leaves in my sleep, and the soothing waves of the ever so loving whisper of a raspy voice that tells me: you too my child, you too belong in this world.
The endâ€¦ finally!
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