Monday, April 23, 2007

(2. Cricket) Bangladesh Cricket after the World Cup: What Now?

It seems our very own kokhono bagh, kokhono bilai boys in the Caribbean just can't seem to turn that proverbial corner of winning two in a row after whipping one of the big boys of world cricket. The less said about the self-destructive, peculiarly dismal, for lack of a better word batting display against England, Ireland and the West Indies, the better. What an appalling way to needlessly dissipate the linger of the India slash South Africa high brought into our lives as Bangladeshis! Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Maybe they need a full time shrink, or maybe they need a less nattering, negative, ethereal Captain who can at least lead from the front with whatever he was expected to do, and better selectors who can select such a leader for the upcoming India visit. Better captaincy and selectors, elements that should have been foregone conclusions a while ago but were not. Now the fat lady’s finally singing loudly enough for Habibul Bashar and his patron saints in the BCB, and higher cricketing powers that be need to hear that falsetto with the rest of us.

Habibul can't-bat-no-more Bashar and his stoned stiff brand of lethargic and close-to-zero charisma cannot lead anybody anywhere good. Lack of talent, form, athleticism and vision notwithstanding, the complete lack of aggression in his consistently bland and unimaginative field setting, decidedly when the so-called killer instinct was called for, has finally become exasperating to all. His mysterious mind always seems to wandering places other than the ground he’s standing on with a weirdly clerical, insecure, and clueless air. The smiling automaton needs to prove that he has been doing more than just appease the big bosses in order to ride the success of others in recent Bangladesh victories.

He won't because he can't.

His contribution to those remarkable victories, with the exception of the freakishly unusual, typically rare performances once in a long, long while, is not much more than just occupying space at the right time. That is just about as significant as well, you fill in the blank. If repeatedly sending Aftab Ahmed at 3 and 4, a talented and hopeless swashbuckler better suited to bat at 6 or 7, before gathering up the courage to drag himself, the supposedly more responsible top order batsman, to face the music is nothing short of absurd – then sending Muhammad Ashraful, by far the most talented batsman we have produced to date, to bat at 6 and 7 is nothing short of imbecilic. Dropping Bashar for good is the obvious and perhaps the much needed slap across the back of his nihilistic head to kick start a cricketing evolution he can write about full time, preferably far way from our young, fearless and more often than not, can-do boys. Bad apples are a luxury we cannot afford anymore, because our passionate young Tigers have come to symbolize the best of what we as a nation can achieve, and transformed cricket into the indisputable national past time it has become. Gone are the days of celebrating victory against the likes of Zimbabwe and Kenya with a lap of honor. Gone are the days of trying to swallow the loss to an associate team of amateur and semi-professional cricketers without real repercussions. We must no longer lose to the likes of Ireland without the type of cold, hard introspection to rectify such shame in the future with appropriate action. It is safe to say that Bangladesh is ready for consistent, back-to-back performances our young guys have demonstrated the talent to deliver against the big boys world cricket. Bashar must go if only to spare all Bangladeshis the beijjoti of being lumped together with the same kind of gutless apologist for mediocrity. His revolting performance coupled with the passionless, sterile brooding cannot possibly do our cricketing PR any good anymore. Alok Kapali and Nafis Iqbal deserve to be back in the team on the basis of recent performance, talent, youth, and/or the fact that they can't do any worse than our once known as Mr. Fifty. Khaled Masud is still the better man behind the wickets, and his batting seems no less productive as the prematurely selected Mushfiqur Rahim’s. A couple of more years in the Bangladesh A-side can only help this young prospect develop the wicket-keeping skills to match that remarkable temperament and enthusiasm. Shahriar Nafees can accompany him there, and come back to where he belongs when he’s capable of delivering his very best against better teams.

Watching our boys finish their World Cup the way they did, was an act of unbridled masochism I shared with millions of other Bangladeshis. Before the rant however, we must yet again, take our hats off to Mashrafe Bin-Murtaza and Sakib Al-Hassan for their gumption throughout the tournament when the chips were down, and they were down quite a bit. I fail to why we’re not looking at our own, taller Chaminda Vaas and shorter Daniel Vettori if they get the investment and structural support they deserve during this particular stage of their promising careers. On a less optimistic note, Tamim’s inability to learn from recent mistakes, and Ashraful’s less frequent but still bizarre relapse into well-noted compulsions, especially in the last match, can still be sighed away and chalked up as youthful slipups of genuinely talented youth, things time and structural support can take care of without too much difficulty. Really, without the quality first class structure we have been promised for over half-a-decade now, they do need about a hundred or so games to learn to be their best with any palpable degree of consistency. Without that consistency, Muhammad Ashraful and Tamim Iqbal will never be the Arvinda De Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya-grade batsmen they certainly have the talent to blossom into. They have talent and time on their side, but them veteran batsman? I was at a loss as to what was more painful, watching Habibul Bashar prolong our agony by clinging on to a salary he hasn’t deserved for awhile, or watching him share the crease with a shakier and even less talented Javed Omar Belim trying to chase down a moderate West Indian target in yet another game we could have, should have won? Maybe talent cannot be the word to describe these has beens of Bangladeshi cricket who are still playing not to lose and stagnating the overall team effort move forward to the next level. Such wretched ineptitude, now gleefully presented to a much-baffled cricket world, cannot be allowed go unchecked just because of a few runs awkwardly edged out of the bat here and there. Sadly, our current batch of selectors probably will as they have since landing the job.

We need paid professional selectors who tolerate neither traditional bias, nor an unhealthy fetish for their own complete lack of accountability for making awful selections. No, we haven’t forgotten the Al-Shahriar, Mushfiq Babu, Hannan Sarkar and Mehrab Juniors from our not too distant past, and Farhad Reza from the present. We need Australian-type selectors who are either professionally trained, or were talented enough cricketers to spot real talent at this level and not give up on the talented, impressionable young men without providing real structural support for improved performance in the near future. Talented former cricketers like Raquibul Hassan, Minhazul Abedin Nannu and Aminul Islam Bulbul should be sent to Australia to learn how the Aussies do it so well. Such professional selectors can dramatically increase the odds of selecting a better team that can grow into the championship side we know they can be, maybe by the next World Cup at home. Until the money is actually spent on developing a real first-class, well-compensated, better-merchandized professional teams with age-based Senior, A, Under-23 and Under-17 selections playing on a wide variety of wickets, we'll have to depend on our young Tigers from the HP program selected on the basis of talent, technique and temperament who have no choice other than to learn on the job.

BCB must do its best in setting them up for success and allow them to learn from their mistakes by investing in solid structural support. They’ll do the rest, led by an inspirational young Captain who can inspire them with his performance, growing wisdom, and positive body language. Sakib Al-Hassan, Muhammad Ashraful and Mashrafe Bin-Murtaza, they all have that infectious quality and the spark that can ignite a hundred and fifty million fires to show the way to that inevitable future.

Oh, and Dav Whatmore? We must all thank him for helping our young tigers achieve what they have, and send him off to more lucrative pastures he’s looking at elsewhere. A little verifiable self-esteem every now and then can’t hurt us all that much, can it?

Sohel N. Rahman, Dhaka, April 20, 2007.

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