Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reversing batting order?

Bangladesh is showing a strange consistency. Its tail enders with one or two lower order batsmen are making it a habit to post a total to embarrass the top order batsmen and also save the team from embarrassing total. There are also a few other consistencies in the Bangladesh team. Once the team's top batsman, Ashraful has now become a model for failure. An article on the Internet compared Ashraful's batting to the Eids. Like we can have only two Eids a year; we can likewise have only two good innings from the former captain in a year.

The other consistency is of course the regular defeats in Tests that our team has made a habit. The two wins against the West Indies last year should not be taken seriously because these were registered against a West Indies team that was its second eleven. So far, Bangladesh has played 59 tests, lost 51, won 2 and drew 6. Although Bangladesh is the youngest Test playing nation, the players playing at Test level are not inexperienced. Ashraful is playing in his 52nd Test in Dhaka, as many as Bradman had played in his entire career.

Thus the argument that Bangladesh is a new Test playing country should not merit serious consideration in defending the team's performance. Individually, some of the players also have talent. Saquib is now a recognised world-class all-rounder. While batting and bowling, the team shows glimpses of having the potentials to achieve even the unimaginable. In the first Test against India in Chittagong, even foreign cricket scribes were not writing off Bangladesh's chances of achieving a 415 target in the fourth innings.

So why is Bangladesh so consistent in losing Test matches? The answers are their galore. On the first day of the Dhaka Test now being played, Ashraful made the point for even the blind person to see. He had hit a four and had moved to 39. He was playing like a batsman in form although his performance in the preceding Tests pointed to the contrary. For the next shot, he went down the pitch and tried a shot that was worse than atrocious to miss it and be stumped! One scribe described the moment as one when Ashraful had a "brain freeze". The captain, trying to bring the innings back from the jaws of death, did very much the same to be out at 34 when he could have brought it back to its rails. Saquib did the same in the Chittagong Test that makes Bangladesh Test cricket consistent where top order batsmen show the regular tendency of getting out to atrocious shots at moments when the team needs them to put their heads down making irresponsibility another consistency among our top order batsmen.

There is a new consistency now being shown by our Test players-their habit of making loud claims while talking to the media. Tamim Iqbal, a talented batsman no doubt but who plays Test cricket like it is one day format, sometimes even like it is 20/20, said before the Dhaka test that he did not even rule out the chances of a Bangladesh win. Of course, Bangladesh can win a test for individually there are players who could achieve that for Bangladesh. However, for a batsman like Tamim to make this claim and then get out for a zero playing like a novice is audacity to say the best. I was impressed by Saquib hearing him speak to the media a few times. I thought he had a sensible head on his shoulder. Unfortunately, I thought there was a streak of arrogance over confidence in him when he said to the media that Bangladesh was capable of scoring those 350 runs on the final day of the Chittagong Test with eight wickets remaining.

There are a few serious problems with Bangladesh's Test cricket. It is not lack of talent. It lacks common cricketing sense both individually and collectively. In fact, only two cricketers of the present team can claim that sense. Mushiqur Rahim is one and Mahmudullah Riad is another. The other problem is that our batsmen play Test cricket in the limited over mode. In the Dhaka Test against India, Ashraful who came when two wickets had fallen for four runs went about playing his natural game. Common sense should have told him that he was playing his shots too early when there was still some natural movement due to weather conditions and that if he hanged a while longer, he could have batted for himself as well as the team. The fact that he lasted till 39 was more a matter of good luck than his talents. One wonders why someone from the team's management did not send him a message to calm down. Manager Siddons said that although he is failing consistently, there is no one to replace him. Nevertheless, it is time to give him a rest. He is still only 25 and a year or so on the sidelines would make him realize that he is not Vivian Richards but more like a bowler with some batting pretensions. The team's management should force this into his thick brain. Then may be his talents will mean something for the Bangladesh team. In fact, if any batsman is given this much freedom to play without being dropped, there would be many batsmen like Ashraful around. The management should also try and understand why our batsmen score such a high proportion of their runs in boundaries.

The stand by Indian captain Sewag was very insensitive when he made the comment about the Bangladesh team's ability of bowling India twice in a Test before the Chittagong Test and then found himself utterly embarrassed with his team's batting efforts on the first day of the Test. However much we have disliked Sewag's comment, facts bear out what he has said very crudely. Here is a glance of Test batting average of Bangladesh's top batsmen. Ashraful's average is 23.09; Tamim Iqbal's 27.64; Shahreer Nafees's 26.09; Saquib's 29; Imrul Kayes' 12 (!!) and Mushfiqur Rahim's 26. All these players have played quite a few tests. With such appalling average of leading batsmen, it is difficult to imagine how the Bangladesh team can score enough runs to save a match let alone win one. Among the bowlers, only Saquib who has 55 wickets in 16 Tests is anywhere near Test class.

The statistics on match results, batting and bowling of our Test cricket team sadly lends credence to Sewag's comments. Unless the top batsmen can somehow push their averages over 30 and a couple or more over the 40 mark, Bangladesh's tryst with Test match defeats will continue.

The recent exchange in the media between the President of Bangladesh Cricket Board and Saquib was unfortunate. But the President's anger was based on solid grounds because our cricketers showed utter callousness as a Test team in the Chittagong Test. Coming in the wake of such an appalling performance, the captain should have kept his mouth shut and tried to understand the President's frustration that was also the nation's frustration. The Board must evolve a carrot stick policy for the Bangladesh cricket team because common sense seems to have taken leave of our Test cricketers. A team where the tail enders play like top batsmen and top order batsmen play in reverse must have fundamental problems in player management, training, selection and supervision.

One could be tempted to reverse Bangladesh batting order in Tests but then in the serious business of Test cricket this would be impossible to implement. But something should be done. As food for thought, the Board should judge Test batsmen, because our problem seems more to be with them and not with the bowlers, by the length of their stay at the crease and not by the runs they score. Then they would be forced to stop playing 20/20 strokes and stay longer in the crease to learn to draw. Once they can do that, then they can start playing their strokes and attempt to win. The model for Bangladesh batsmen should be Hanif Mohammad. Unless this is done, the averages of our top batsmen are bound to be around the 20s that is not good enough for Test cricket.

I am a dreamer and since in cricket they say it is a game of glorious uncertainties, I dream that even in the Dhaka Test where Bangladesh is in a tight corner, a miracle would happen.

Published in The Daily Independent, January 28, 2010

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