Editor’s note: This post is all about cricket… the game that is… not the insect!
Critics are always welcome to talk, as this helps to improve our game and also helps healthy discussion about cricket. And this healthy discussion, on the other hand, helps people grow their interest in cricket. Final result, cricket becomes popular. Critic doesn’t mean one has to say negative things only. Its about being honest and not taking any sides, which ultimately is the point of healthy discussion.
Nobody remembers the close losses….
I had seen some critics of Bangladesh cricket talking of negative play by Bangladesh in the first Test match against Sri Lanka at Galle this week (8-12 March 2013). Personally I would welcome this critic, as this launches us to dig deeper. And in the end, we get rich results. We end up finding things that we probably wouldn’t have found. It’s a good thing that BCB declared rewards for players for a drawn Test match. Critics might say that this is encouraging us to draw Test matches. But there are some arguments against that notion as well. Critics won’t save us when the cricketing world would evaluate Bangladesh’s performance in Test matches based on results. With just 8 draws so far from 76 matches, its obvious that they would say that this team is not even capable of drawing matches! To us, drawing matches is certainly more important that losing by a narrow margin. Its clear to us now that critics don’t remember our close losses. They won’t remember the Tigers’ Multan Test Match in September 2003, when Pakistan won by just 1 wicket. They will never remember the performance of the umpires in such a close match! They won’t remember Bangladesh going down to Australia by just 3 wickets in April 2006 at Fatullah. I’m sure that Inzamam-ul Haq and Ricky Ponting would remember these two matches for some of their most important knocks.
Drawing matches requires skill….
To us, winning a match against Zimbabwe is as important as drawing a Test match against the big boys. Taking a Test match to its 5th day without the help of elements requires some skill. But finishing the match without losing is a feat as well. Too many times we’ve seen Bangladeshi batsmen capitulating in their second innings after a sizeable first innings lead. The aforementioned two Test matches are no different as well. In the Multan Test, Bangladesh made just 154 after getting a first inning lead of 106. This same thing happened at Fatullah when a 158-run first innings lead was marred by a paltry 148 in the second innings. This second innings debacle has always been a bane of Bangladesh cricket and critics had been very vociferous about it. And why not? Even in November 2012, we lost to the Windies after getting 556 (29-run lead) in the first innings. This just shows how important it is for us to hang on to a draw.
Test match win = 20 wickets
If gradual improvement in Test match cricket is an issue, then there is no way to ignore drawn matches. We don’t yet have bowlers who can take 20 wickets in a Test match on a regular basis. Shakib Al-Hasan has a bowling average of 32.56 from 28 Test matches, which isn’t extraordinary. And he’s the best we have. And we missed him at Galle. Shohag Gazi worked the hardest in recent times and has the potential to be a handful (averaging 41.06 from 3 matches). He can take the role of Mohammad Rafique (40.76 from 33) over time, taking the heaviest load, but not really winning matches unless there is substantial help from the pitch. Mahmudullah (43.96 from 15) is more of a batsman than he is a bowler. Elias Sunny (43.16 from 4) is far away; so is Abdur Razzaq (65.83 from 9). They are more like limited over cricketers. Enamul Haque Jr (39.24 from 14) has the chance to make a comeback with Shakib injured. In the fast bowling department, we’re pretty much struggling. Rubel Hossain (78.90 from 14), Shahadat Hossain (51.90 from 35), Mashrafe Mortaza (41.52 from 36), Shafiul Islam (71.12 from 6), Rabiul Islam (89.75 from 3) or others are not yet in a place to call themselves established Test match pacers capable of taking wickets on a regular basis. It takes time to develop quality bowlers. Every team that play Test Cricket have struggled at least once with lack of quality bowlers. We need at least two bowlers with bowling average between 25 and 35 to win Test matches regularly. Until we can produce bowlers of that quality, we would be happy with drawn matches.
More determination in batting?
And if we can’t win Test matches, we should at least try to hold our own. The severe criticism that we receive regularly is not for drawing matches, rather for capitulating completely with the bat in hand. This Galle Test Match at least provides some hope in that direction. Batting for long hours requires more than just a good pitch and average bowling attack. It requires character. If it was that easy to bat for hours, then everyone would’ve got double/triple hundreds. It’s the improvement in temperament that was so apparent. In 2010, Bangladesh scored 242, 301, 233 and 312 against India at home; 408 and 282 against New Zealand at Hamilton; 296, 209, 419 and 285 against England at home; 282, 382, 216 and 123 against England in England. In 2011, Bangladesh scored 350, 119/3, 231, 278 against Windies at home; 135, 275, 338 and 234 against Pakistan at home; and 287 and 244 against Zimbabwe at Harare. So, in all of 2010 and 2011, out of a total of 24 innings, only two scores were in excess of 400; a total of 7 scores over 300. Not much to talk about recent performances except the two home Tests against the Windies (November 2012), as those were the only Test matches Bangladesh were allowed to play recently. First Test saw Bangladesh score 556 in their first innings. This was 387 in the first innings of the second Test. But the second innings scores were 167 and 287. And now its 638 against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Its not that all pitches will allow high scores. But at least some scores need to be on the higher side to at least draw matches.
The new brigade….
Test match is about time. And more time you bat, the more chance of getting a good result. And the more consistent you are with your performance, the more possibility of getting good results consistently. Perhaps the best indication of consistency is individual batting average. Shakib has an average of 35.98 from 28 Test matches. Tamim has 37.70 from 26; Mushfiq has 31.91 from 31; Mahmudullah has 30.85 from 15; Nasir has 47.66 from 7 Test matches. So, we have 5 batsmen in the line-up with 30+ average. Add to that other batsmen from whom we expect more: Ashraful (24.36 from 58); Naeem Islam (32.00 from 8); Shahriar Nafees (26.67 from 23). Looking at these numbers its clear why this team is scoring more runs that the team we used to see during 2008 or earlier.
9 Test matches in 2008 resulted in 4 innings defeats, 1 biggish loss, 1 moderate loss, 2 close losses and one rain-affected draw. Only 3 Test matches in 2009 saw 1 massive loss, but 2 wins against a very weak Windies team that only included Sammy, Roach and Best from the current team. Yet, those two wins were not too easy, as we struggled against Roach and Sammy! 2010 saw only one innings defeat from a total of 7 matches. Of the other 6, 2 were biggish losses and 4 were a moderate losses. In 2011, out of a total of 5 Test matches, 1 was a rain-affected draw, 1 was an innings defeat, 1 was a massive defeat (though not in innings) and 2 were moderate losses (1 against Zimbabwe). In 2012, the Tigers played only two matches against the Windies, out of which one was a biggish loss and the other was a moderate loss. Obviously, the results of 2008-09 were affecting the decisions of the ICC. And that’s why our Test match opportunities dwindled drastically since then.
Quite interestingly, between 2008 and 2013, the teams were not too different. Shakib, Tamim, Mushfiq, Mahmudullah, Ashraful were there in that batting lineup in 2008. This just shows that these young players are maturing over time. They certainly didn’t have the goodish batting averages three-four years back. And just as they began to show signs of improvement, they found ICC showing its back. Yet, its quite encouraging that our selectors kept their faith on these young talents and kept them in the team despite the poor results they achieved. This confidence has been reinforced by some recent developments in the shorter form of the game. Performances during the World Cup, the Asia Cup, and against touring New Zealand and West Indies teams broke some the barriers previously thought to have existed. This young team now plays to win; at least, in shorter formats. Playing away from home is another fear that would have to be alleviated. The Galle Test would help big in this regard. I’m not suggesting that after the Galle Test, the Tigers would start to win all Tests, but this would give their longer version of the game something similar to what was given by the limited over performances I highlighted above. Add to this, the advent of Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), where local players started to compete neck-and-neck against foreign players. Batsmen like Shamsur Rahman and Sabbir Ahmed are great prospects for limited over games. Recent longer version games in the domestic arena also brought out great talents. Marshall Ayub is probably the best of them, who is with the team in Sri Lanka, but yet to play a match. These players add that badly needed depth to our cricket.
Our cricketers have begun to realize what “professionalism” means. For all these years they had been playing from passion. Now its time to give way to professionalism. They no longer celebrate wildly after winning a one-day game. Winning is now their own expectation, not just ours. Our cricket is turning a corner now. Its going to be tough. But its also going to be full of opportunities. And I personally believe these young talents of ours are ready to take the challenge.