Tuesday, April 24, 2007

(3. Cricket) Case for the Possible Ashraful Captaincy

Common objections to a possible Muhammad Ashraful Matin ODI Captaincy are all too well known: too inconsistent, too emotionally charged, too young, too inexperienced to be Captain. Hmm... I'm not as sure about the prospect. His captaincy in domestic cricket showed a lot of passion, vision, flair and instinctive innovation that will mature over time. NO, I don’t think he’ll attack the likes of Alim Dar if he doesn’t like the call. Being the most exciting match-winner in the team along with Mashrafe, he has the talent, ability and charisma to inspire the best in others. He is an effective communicator and the players listen to him. Consistency-wise, I think he has turned a corner in the World Cup and will give us great things between his 100th and 250th ODI.

Why must we wait so long for talent to blossom into regular performance? Well, domestic cricket in Bangladesh is not exactly up to par when compared to cricket in Sri Lanka, even India and Pakistan where young players learn to harness their talent with better consistency. So, until BCB starts to put its money where its mouth has been, talented kids like Ashraful have to learn on the job. Ah the T-word again! I’d say the word talent for a cricketer primarily indicates superior hand-eye coordination as well as the ability to match desire with appropriate biomechanics. For a bowler hand-eye-mind coordination specifically refers to the ability to gauge the right line and length, and to accurately deliver the ball there with appropriate torsion. Good Captaincy utilizes that talent for victory with innovation, appropriate aggression, and killer instinct. Given the current state of our domestic cricket, we, in all honesty, should not expect any one of our young talents to deliver on their potential with desired consistency before they play at least a hundred or so games. They should be appraised on the basis of small, but substantial improvements and not dropped as easily as they have been in the past by selectors who themselves never had that kind of talent. Being young, time is on their side. I don't think cutting appropriate slack to supremely gifted guys like Ashraful, Alok Kapali, now Tamim Iqbal, and Junaid Siddique in a year or so, can do us much harm in the long run. Purile banter, thoughtless impatience and the insatiable urge to gratify one's ego as instantly as possible, hallmarks of the politicized BCB of old, as well as some in the overly emotional elements media where excessive adulation and vilification are too easily interchangeable, can and will continue to stagnate growth of meaningful cricket and cricket culture in Bangladesh. I mean really, why did Alok Kapali not play when other non-performers with neither his talent nor his youth kept getting rewarded for reasons beyond the grasp of reason? Such real OPOSHONGSHKRITI or harmful culture is not beneficial in any way, shape or form for the steady development of Bangladesh cricket. Think process not event, I say. If anyone has SMART, meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-phased alternatives, HUGE emphasis on Realistic in the BCB context, I’m sure we’d be thrilled to hear about it. Anyway, back to the captaincy issue: Mashrafe and Sakib bring their own cards to the table, and perhaps even Nafees Iqbal at some point in time. Maybe I'm getting carried away here, but I see Ashraful as potentially the Ponting-type, Mashrafe the Imran-type, Sakib the Flemming-type, and Nafees Iqbal as the Atherton-type captain if all goes according to our pipe dreams in the future. They can all make good Captains despite different leadership styles, and new coach like Steve Waugh can further mentor those leadership skills and take us into the next World Cup with better chances of winning the games we should’ve won in the last one. We’d like to be more optimistic about the speed of their development, as well as the overall development of the inevitably bright future of Bangladesh cricket, if the current momentum of national change catches up to the BCB… and speaking of pipe dreams, maybe Mashraful Hassan Ponting is the answer to all our prayers! Oh well...

The intent here is to provoke lively, thoughtful debate on the very important issue of ODI Captaincy against a team we can beat consistently with better leadership, as our cricket finds itself at a critical juncture where a bold new generation in the field has taken us where we have never been before. That better leadership must come from one of their own with the next World Cup at home in mind. I nominate Ash. I know that many people have jumped on the Ashraful bandwagon and later called for his head when he couldn’t deliver. Some of us however, never came down since his phenomenal debut in Sri Lanka. We stayed on not only because how rare such a debut was, especially given the general context of BD-cricket, but also because the exasperation of failure, though understandable, is seldom thought all the way through, and therefore can only be as it has been - counter-productive for our nascent cricket culture at this level. Ash’s individual accomplishments, their impact on team performance and positive PR for Bangladesh cricket, and the sheer joy slash the deeply resonating pride those deft, eloquent performances generate in our hearts as Bangladeshis, are simply head and shoulders above all other individual performances as they should be. He is by far the most talented and accomplished batsman we have produced to date despite the niggling inconsistencies he has demonstrated in the past. Inconsistencies, in my opinion, that could be fairly chalked-up to his youth, and the quality of the domestic first class cricket in Bangladesh. I’d like to know which other Bangladeshi batsman has been more consistent than Muhammad Ashraful Matin over similar number of games that he has played? No one. I’d like to know how much more experience did Habibul Bashar have when he was made Captain? Duh… Not a rocket science to figure out why. Skip back to the newness of our cricket culture at this level, and skip back to the discrepancy between BCB’s insinuations and deeds when it comes to developing a real cricket infrastructure as opposed to the half-assed system based on talent and talent alone. A real structure provides real opportunities to develop the talent before facing the real music, so to speak. Sure a lot has been said about that and Ash’s time and place in the way things stand now, and a lot more need to be said until things change as times and situations do and produce new opportunities for meaningful discussion. Think and speak-out my cricket-loving brothers and sisters!

Test Captaincy? I'm not as comfortable yet. Ideally someone needs rolemodel the young guys into an altogether different set of leadership and tactical criteria, I too am searching for the Caretaker slash Interim Captain until Ash, Mash, Saks, Nafs or even Mushi can take over in a few years and lead the team on a slightly longer road ahead. The trouble is we're still too new at this and finding that someone. That someone - all DESHI emotionalism notwithstanding - should not be Hablu. Maybe that'll put a short leash on some of his customary compulsions and give us a few more 50s without the pressure of being the type of meek, unimaginative, and the play-not-to-lose nihilistic Captain he was. Maybe he has nothing else to give. He's a better writer anyway. Bringing back Pilot, despite the fact that he's the better keeper, will create problems in the dressing room again. His alleged people skills were legendary enough to get him into all kinds of trouble. So, by process of elimination: Muhammad Rafique, anyone? Intelligent, experienced and young at heart... nah, I'd go for Ash, he's got youth on his side.

Sohel N. Rahman, Dhaka, April 25, 2007

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