Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bangladesh Test cricket: So near yet so far

Daily Sun
December 2, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

Bangladeshi cricket commentator felt he was over the moon when Bangladesh got the last 4 wickets of West Indies cheaply on the 5th morning of the Dhaka Test and had 245 runs to score in 79 overs. Most people thought that was well within the reach of the Bangladesh team as did this commentator. In fact the West Indian commentator Geoffrey Dujon called it a “cake walk”. That “cake walk” became Bangladesh’s 64th loss in 74 Tests it played till the conclusion of the Dhaka Test. It added another defeat in Khulna. What’s wrong with Bangladesh Test cricket? Should a Team with such a dismal record be playing Tests? 

The shameful Test record notwithstanding, Bangladesh has come a long way in Test cricket. There are talents that could be molded into a winning team. A few individual players have class. It is their mindset of the players that must be altered. There are shortcomings in the Team. It does not have Test class fast bowlers and its bowling lacks variety and penetration. Nevertheless, the biggest problem that the Team has is in guiding a group of talented but young players who lack maturity and professional approach. Those in charge of managing the Bangladesh Team have failed it badly. Cricket is big time sports in Bangladesh where the flow of money is huge. Yet the Team is now playing without a regular Coach! In cricket these days, a team without a coach is literally like a ship in the ocean without anyone at the helm. Mushfiqur Rahman, despite his abilities, is immature to lead alone a team that needs iron fisted leadership. 

Cricket is a game   of “glorious uncertainties.” Hence what Bangladesh did in its final innings in Dhaka Test is not unusual. It squandered a game that it should have won easily. Unfortunately for Bangladesh, winning a Test match is something unusual.  Hence the fact that it squandered a Test that it should have won has not just disappointed the  nation. In Khulna, the West Indians scored 648/9 declared and took a 261 runs lead but batted for a long time to give Bangladesh the opportunity to play for a draw. The wicket was placid and there were just 5 sessions of the game left. With a win out of the equation, any other Test team would have played for a draw. Instead the Bangladesh Team batted as if they were chasing a victory target!  A lot has been said of Sakib al Hasan’s 97 on the 4th afternoon in the Khulna Test. Yet for the shot he played and the way he played, he should be reprimanded because with his talents, he could have given Bangladesh a genuine chance of a draw. 

In Dhaka too, the Team played in the same thoughtless manner. Bangladesh Team and its supporters, the sports scribes included, went like the commentator over the moon when the Team scored its highest Test innings of 556. Yet there was something unusual about it that those who praised overlooked. The team faced   a huge total of 527/4 declared but started its innings as if it was playing a limited overs game. In fact, the Team played for most part of the first innings like a 20/20 game. It is true that Tamim Iqbal played a scintillating innings but he could have been out anytime in that innings and it is partly luck that took him to 72. Eventually he was out to a horrendous shot played only in a 20/20 game. On the way he helped Bangladesh reach 100 with a scoring rate of over 7!  All other batsmen scored runs, a rare event for Bangladesh. Yet all of them played like Tamim Iqbal and were out to strokes played only in 20/20. It was  a matter of good luck, placid wicket and no doubt the talent of the batsmen that the Team scored the 556 runs. Ironically, had they scored those runs like Test runs are scored, they would have stayed longer in the crease and ensured an easy draw. 

Recently batting legend Geoffrey Boycott said in an interview that a Test batsman has no business playing risky shots when he walks to the crease. In his book, a Test batsman must spend at least 20-30 minutes upon coming to the crease getting his eyes set. This is a cardinal principle of Test batting. If Boycott was to be the coach of the Bangladesh Team, Tamim would be in the Team only if he stopped playing Test cricket in the 20/20 mould. One could argue against this by pointing to the player’s success with the type of game he plays. Nevertheless the point to consider is the possibility that Tamim could be a much better batsman if he just adapted his batting to the different types of the game.  Tamim’s approach is contagious. No batsman except Naim in his century innings in Dhaka batted the way Boycott would subscribe. Shahreer Nafees in the four innings he played was more a caricature than a batsman. There was no reason why he should be playing Test cricket. 

The point that Bangladesh Test Team does not have a Coach was driven home in the final innings of the Dhaka Test and also in the second Test in Khulna. A good Coach would have told the team to play with confidence their natural game and just keep out playing the rash and atrocious shots. Instead as the West Indian skipper said in a post match interview after the Dhaka Test, the Team was caught in no-man’s land with their natural 20/20 mindset and the need to be cautious. The Team started over cautiously that gave his bowlers the chance to put the Bangladesh team on the defensive. He also said that had the Team got to anywhere near the start they had in the first innings, the game would have been won by Bangladesh easily. Strangely, in their over cautious approach to the second innings, they did not fail to play the 20/20 shots to get out! Clearly, the batsmen have no control over their minds!

A good Coach would have also asked the team to put down its shutters in Dhaka Test once the Team did not get off to a flying start and lost a flurry of wickets in the afternoon session. All Test playing countries do so. Instead, Captain Mushfique led from the front with the risky shots and showed no inclination of trying to save the game. The way he was out in second innings of Khulna Test with defeat staring in the face and a draw quite a possibility should have brought censure against him.  Although other batsmen tried to defend in Dhaka, they too played enough 20/2o shots that they should have kept in the cold storage flagging clearly that they were not given any clear guidance by Team’s think tank. In Khulna, after being behind by 261 runs on first innings and with 5 sessions to go on a batting wicket, the only option left to the Bangladesh Team was to play for a draw. Yet they again played to win (!!) when the thought of  a win was a fantasy and lost by 10 wickets.

 Bangladesh’s Test cricket misfortunes will not be over till the players themselves change their mindset and those guiding the players are able to encourage them to do so and also inculcate professionalism and maturity in the Team. Why was Sakib seen on TV collecting an Award from the Prime Minister at day time a day before the Test when his Team was at practice? The PM’s office should seek an explanation of the Cricket Board on this. Sakib is an outstanding cricketer but for a Team that loses habitually, by simple logic, he is not indispensible. The bottom line is it is time to make mindset the deciding factor whether a player should be in the Test team or not. Perhaps, it is also time to postpone playing Test cricket till we are able to change the mindset of our players.  

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan











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