Friday, December 23, 2011

Our Cricketing Misfortunes

As I See It
The Independent
M. Serajul Islam
December 17, 2011

The loss of the first test against Pakistan in Chittagong by a humiliating margin of an innings and 184 runs is really bad. However, even the best of teams at certain occasions have lost tests by innings. In case of Bangladesh though, the humiliation of losses by an innings is more the pattern than the exception. In 72 tests that we have played, we have lost 34 by an innings. Of the 72, tests, we have lost 62!

Sports scribes writing about test cricket in foreign newspapers and in the internet are now writing with no holds barred. They are asking seriously whether Bangladesh is fit to play test cricket. The condescending attitude of one Pakistani commentator who was on air during the Chittagong Test was too much to bear.

Yet there is such a lot to be said about Bangladesh cricket. One of its test batsmen, Tamim Iqbal, was the Wisden Test Cricketer of the Year in 2010. Another test player, Saqib Al Hasan, is currently the number one all rounder of the world in limited overs cricket. There are a few others who have acknowledged class. Yet when they play together, the results are more often than not, disastrous.

What is sad is in addition to some good talent, we spend a great deal of money for our cricket team. Our cricketers get more or less the same level of coaching and other privileges that cricketers from other countries get.. In fact, the package our national cricketers get is better than some of the countries playing test cricket these days. They also receive public adoration that should have been an added incentive to perform. Cricket has replaced football by a long margin in the context of popularity among the public. Yet our team continues to perform miserably and is on the declining scale.

After the disappointing performance in Zimbabwe where we thought we would win both the test and one-day series comfortably but lost, there was talk of an official inquiry into the state of affairs of our cricket. I am not sure what happened to that. I guess like all inquiries in our country, the call was merely for appeasing the public. Nothing was expected to come out of it and nothing has.

Some of the problems in our cricket are so obvious that one wonders how those in charge can overlook them. Take the Chittagong Test for instance and there were two glaring examples there for seeing the big faults in our cricket. The first example was from the performance of the opening batsmen Nazimuddin. He was a debutant; yet in both innings he showed what our batsmen lacked and what type of experience a Test cricketer should bring to his game. First, he played Test cricket as Test cricket should be played; that it is over 5 days, where a batsman should concentrate on pitch occupation and most definitely not on striking rate. Second, he brought with him experience of playing the longer version of the game that his colleagues did not. Our batsmen play Test cricket in one-day mode that has been the primary cause of their dismal performance

The second example was provided by including Ashraful in the side. After playing nearly 60 Tests and achieving an average of less than 23, it is simply absurd that our sports scribes talk of him as a “legend”. He has been in and out of the Test side on many occasions and was not in the squad for the one-dayers against Pakistan. Yet he was brought into the Test side because there was no one waiting in the wings to replace him. The country simply does not have that system of three days or longer competitions where teams from all over the country would take part so as to provide the selectors with the option to choose test cricketers from a wide selection of players.

The Bangladesh team has one advantage that no other test team at present has. Its cricketers are all very young and have the experience to build the core of an excellent test team. This has not happened for a few reasons. First, the cricketers themselves are responsible for this not happening. Second, an equal responsibility lies with the team management. It has failed the team badly. Finally, there is a responsibility that the country’s sports scribes could have played. They too have failed.

On the issue of the cricketers failing themselves, take the example of Tamim and Saqib, two cricketers who have outstanding class. The way Tamim has played in the Chittagong Test suggests that he lacks cricketing brains. On a first day of a Test match , when the opponents have asked his team to bat, simple common sense dictated that he would hold on to his shots at least for the firsts session. Yet in both innings, he batted like it was a T20 and not a Test! Saquib did better but then he has one atrocious shot called the slog sweep that he has not been able to disband from his array of strokes although he has been out to this stupid shot time and again!

Not long ago, I had written in this column that an infant must first learn to walk before running. Our batsmen are running when they have not learnt to stand properly. They need to learn to defend first before trying to hit the 4s and the 6s. There was a message that Pakistanis wrote large in the Chittagong Test that in test cricket crease occupation is the name of the game. Yet, Saquib came and scored a quick fire 50 where the way Sunny Ilyas played hinted that a score of close to 400 could have been on cards if he, and the senor batsmen played like for example Pakistan’s Asad Shafiq, Taufiq Omar and the others.

The management has singularly failed to inculcate in the minds of our batsmen that Test cricket needs a mindset different from one day version. The attitude problem in the players is unacceptable. They behave like they are “stars” but forget the fact that in a team that loses thy way that the Bangladesh team does, the thought of a star in such a team is absurd. Instead of showing a star like attitude, they should show signs of shame. It is this message that the management has failed to communicate to the players. Their more serious failure is to create the infrastructure required to let a regular supply of players for place in a team that has test playing status. One seriously wonders how many of those who don important positions in our cricket administration really understand cricket in order to give it leadership.

The same goes for our cricket scribes. Like our cricket administrators, many of them have funny ideas of cricket like viewing Ashraful as a “legend.” Between the cricket administrators and scribes , a misperception is often created in the public mind about the ability of our team , like the one before the World Cup, that we had a serious chance in that competition only to have that day dream destroyed by a far below par West Indian team that bowled us for 58!

Bangladesh team has talents. It is quite possible that in the Dhaka Test it may show a glimpse of it or a lot of it. However, unless the mindset of the players, the knowledge and vision of the administrators and the poor knowledge of the cricket scribes show a paradigm shift, even an unexpected show in Dhaka Test would be a mere flash at a pan and would not be sustainable. Without the paradigm shift in each of the above, what would be true is what some frustrated cricket fans had displayed in a large placard to the Bangladesh Team upon their arrival at Dhaka Airport after their disappointing Zimbabwe tour. The placard read: “You cannot plough the field with the goats in place of the bulls”! That is the truth about our current cricketing woes.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

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