Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Bangladesh Cricket

Published in The Independent
Saturday, March 12th, 2011

It was not just the Bangladesh cricketers who disappointed us by their performance against the West Indies last week. The spectators were worse. The same crowd that ran behind the Bangladesh Team’s bus from Mirpur Stadium to the Hotel for wining a match against Ireland was on a rampage when Bangladesh lost to the West Indies. TV footages showed Dhaka University students taking down Bangladesh flags and advertisements related to the World Cup inside DU campus, the same students who were cheering late into the night after the Irish victory. Hence we cannot even say that the uncivilized behaviour was carried out by illiterate people.

The incident of throwing stones at the West Indian team’s bus was disgusting. Chris Gayle used choice words to abuse Bangladesh. From his bus, he went on Twitter and the news was instantly caught by news media around the world, denting Bangladesh’s fragile image abroad. A police official said later that the stones were meant for the Bangladesh team and landed in the West Indian bus by mistake. Chris Gayle did not show much sensitivity because he damaged a country’s image for faults of perhaps a handful of people.

The nation was shocked and disappointed because of build up in the media that was largely exaggerated on the issue of the ability of the Bangladesh team. The worst part of what should be for Bangladesh cricket termed as Black Friday was the attack on the house of the parents of the Bangladesh captain. It was utterly despicable to see how we can so easily fall to such utter depths of uncivilized behavior.

I am sure that those who are in charge of cricket in Bangladesh will use this defeat to good purpose by examining what went wrong. Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties. Those uncertainties would have been acceptable if the fate of our team had been due to some exceptional bowling by the West Indians. That was hardly the case for when Junaid Siddiqui batted; he scored those 25 runs so fluently that his innings put in contrast the ridiculous ways in which his team mates were bowled out. The pitch was tailored to suit Bangladesh’s batting and bowling. It was a slow pitch that meant the West Indians’ fast bowlers were not expected to get much assistance from it. The team batted as if they were out to score 400 and even when the ship had sunk, it was incredible to see how Mohammed Ashraful was smiling at the crease as if he was out there for fun!

For those who understands cricket, the defeat was shocking because this time around, Bangladesh is not being considered as a minnow. Cricket commentators who in the past were dismissing Bangladesh rather insultingly are now accepting that on its day, Bangladesh can beat any of the teams playing in this year’s World Cup. However, this notwithstanding, we overlooked the fact that our expectations on cricket have been based on series victories in limited over’s cricket against West Indies, New Zealand and Zimbabwe and one time wins over Australia and India. In exaggerating the value of these victories, we failed to consider that we beat a West Indian team that was utterly depleted of its best players and we “white washed” a New Zealand team on home ground at a time when New Zealand is having a lean spell. Zimbabwe is today a minnow by its own acknowledgement and choice.

Our victories against Australia and India for which we have congratulated ourselves profusely have come after we have been losing to them monotonously. What could have been very well considered as a flash in the pan was instead taken by our media and our people who watch cricket as climbing the Everest. Suddenly, we became a self-acclaimed world cricketing power. Before the start of the Bangladesh-India game, due to the build up in the media and among the people, many genuinely expected Bangladesh to beat India.

The expectations were nevertheless built around certain facts. First we have in at least two of our players, Tamim Iqbal and Saqib al Hasan, class performers. Second, when the Bangladesh team plays, they show at certain stages of games, talent that inspires those watching to believe that this team would be able to beat anyone not just one time but repeatedly. However, we chose to build our expectations to become world beaters based on just these two players who themselves, despite their immense talents, have a lot to learn. More importantly, when they fail, the team crumbles like a pack of cards.

We did a few other things wrong too. The way the team was treated after its “white-wash” against New Zealand sent the wrong signals to the players. They were showered with land and cars as if they had brought the country the World Cup. A small section with a sense of history was reminded of General Mobuto and his gifts for the Zaire Football Team after it qualified in the World Cup Football, only to lose miserably. The team was unable to return home, fearing public wrath and the houses of the players were burnt.

It is time for all concerned with cricket to go back to the drawing board. There is a lot to be said about cricket, about team selection, etc. Let that be said elsewhere except let me raise one or two cricketing point here for the readers. Tamim Iqbal is a brilliant cricketer but he is not yet Virendra Sewag . Even Sewag now realizes that in 50 overs game, he must play till the last or try to do so. India has many world class players to hold the innings if he fails. Bangladesh has just Tamim Iqbal. Hence it is stupidity to let him play his attacking innings from the first ball. He has shown against India that he is capable of playing a restrained innings. Why then should he be allowed to play for himself only? Mohammed Ashraful is another player who summarizes both status and state of mind of Bangladesh cricket and cricketers, perfectly. He fails with monotonous regularity; yet he is included in the hope that the one good innings he plays once in a blue moon would also bring Bangladesh a once a blue moon win!.

And what about the media? Those who write on cricket need to educate themselves. After our victory against Ireland, newspapers carried banner headlines of this victory! It is time for all to show balanced response to our cricket that has improved substantially but still has a long way to go. We are today not taken for granted in limited over cricket while in Test we have still to prove our worth. In limited over cricket, we are far from attaining anything close to consistency in winning. In fact, we are still consistent in losing. In building our cricketing hopes, we should keep this in mind. We are building our hopes without caring about statistics.

Notwithstanding any of the above, Bangladesh could still move to the second round of the World Cup because of the upsets in Bangladesh’s group although its chances would have better if England had lost to South Africa. But Bangladesh cannot do that on cricketing ability alone, not yet; it would need a miracle of major proportions to move to the quarter finals.

The writer of a former Ambassador to Japan.

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