A news headline succinctly underlined the extent of frustration in Bangladesh on the Test cricket humiliation of the Bangladesh Test Team in the First Test against the West Indies in Antigua. The news headline said we should have sent the Bangladesh women's team to the West Indies instead of sending the men's team! Nothing more could have shamed the Bangladesh team than this news headline, a shame that they richly deserved. After getting all out for 43 and conceding a lead of 360 runs, the Bangladesh batsmen were again in the on the mat and were 60/6 till a breezy 64 by wicket keeper Nazmul allowed them to reach 3 figures but still lose by an innings and 219 runs!
Shakib's men could not have prepared in any worse manner to welcome their new coach Steve Rhodes than what they have done in the First Test in West Indies. In the first innings of 43, if Liton had not hit the 25 that he played in the 20/20 mode where he too could have been out for a duck like 4 of his team mates, the team would have been all out for 18 runs! And after the West Indies underlined that there was no demon in the pitch by scoring 404 runs, the Bangladesh team repeated their first innings performance again notwithstanding the fact that the wrecker-in-chief in the first innings Kemar Roach was out of the firing line with an injury in Bangladesh's second innings.
Bangladesh's performance as a cricket playing nation since their disastrous tour to South Africa when they lost in every format they played appears to be slipping ever further, with a whitewash by Afghanistan in the 20/20 format played recently and now the thrashing it is getting in Tests in the West Indies. The key of players that had turned Bangladesh's habit of losing in every format into some bright spots where they were showing the prospects of becoming a formidable foe even for the best in the 50/50 format and competitive in the 20/20 format and in Tests are showing signs of fatigue. In Tests, the batting averages of all leading batsmen have fallen into the 30s except Mominul and continuing on a free fall. In bowling, the days of Shakib, Miraz and others taking 5 wickets in an innings are practically over. And there are no new batsmen or bowlers among the younger players showing more than an average promise.
The Antigua Test underlines a few grim prospects for Bangladesh cricket, especially in Test cricket. The disastrous performance of the Bangladesh Test team was spread evenly in all departments and there was very little for the new coach to take heart. Perhaps it is the first time that a Test side anywhere played three specialist wicketkeepers-- Mushfiq, Liton and Nazmul-- in the same Test! This fact underlines that there are no specialist batsmen in the country to fill up two vacancies for specialist batsmen! It is indeed strange why Imrul was taken in the Test side when he was asked to sit in the pavilion while three specialist wicket keepers were included in the side.
One has to feel sorry for the new coach. Apart from the unbelievable lack of players to choose from, he has inherited a Test side where the leading players, notwithstanding what their records say, believe they are the best and in fact had even openly argued not too long ago, that they were quite capable looking after themselves. In fact, the leading players had argued that one of their former mates who was no more than poor proxy for a Test cricketer when he played the game, could very well take over the mantle from the outgoing coach Haturasinghe and the Bangladesh Test Team would be merrily on its way towards conquering the world of Test cricket. They wanted that former Test player as the coach because they knew they could dominate over him because he had no qualification to be a coach.
It would be a waste of time talking about those in whose hands lies the management of Bangladesh's Test and other formats of cricket, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB). Like the players, they also believe that Bangladesh's cricket is in no problem and on road to gaining glories. One thing that no one talks about cricket in Bangladesh is about the bowling coach Courtney Walsh. The legendary West Indian was a genius as a fast bowler and one of cricket's gentleman in the classical mould. But Bangladesh's bowling is too heavily dependent on its spinners where its fast bowlers are included in the Test side as a mere formality. Therefore, the logic of having a bowling coach who was a specialist fast bowler defeats both reason and logic.
Shakib's choice as the captain is logical by any analysis. He can walk to the side unchallenged on his bowling alone and when his batting credentials are added that make him world's number one Test all-rounder; his choice as captain cannot be a subject of any discussion. However, he plays all the three formats of the game not for the team but for his own glory and is not a team player. He took a sabbatical while the team went to South Africa because he knew that the pitches there would not favour his batting or bowling and the BCI granted him the sabbatical although he should have been given the sabbatical only if he owned the team! He is not a motivator and he is least interested in being one. The best way to explain him as a motivator or the lack of being one is to place him against Mashrafe-the team player.
And to make things worse for him and Bangladesh, the former BCB head and at present, a Minister has pushed Shakib with Mashrafe to the glare of politics. One has to wonder what made him do so. Did he think that Shakib would be able to be a politician and a cricketer at the same time? The former BCB chief just needed to google and find out whether a current national player in any game in any country is also a national level politician. Shakib can literally end his playing career if he wants to become a politician in a hurry because he has to conjure up some form of magic to be able to captain the Bangladesh national side, remain the world's number one all-rounder and also be a member of the Bangladesh parliament, perhaps even be a minister! The former BCB President cannot be a well-wisher of Shakib to have pushed a political career for him while he has a good many years of money-spinning international cricket ahead of him.
Notwithstanding the miserable nature of the defeat in the Antiguan Test, the potential of Bangladesh team remains intact. Therefore, coach Steven Rhodes should not despair. His main problem leading Bangladesh cricket out of the doldrums would be two-fold. First, he must put sense to the Bangladesh cricketers by telling them unequivocally that they are talented but unless they are committed to play the game as a team, they would not go anywhere. Second, he would need to tell the BCB that matters of cricket must be his and none of their business.
I was watching the World Cup match between France and Uruguay at a local club where many are very committed cricket fans. They were either cheering France or Uruguay but were not even bothered to ask one another what was happening to the Bangladesh cricket team. That was the reality everywhere. And although World Cup Soccer is something exceptional, yet if our cricketers' performance was not so ghastly, the cricket fans would have had their ears at what was happening in Antigua while watching the World Cup football match. There was no interest at all in the Bangladesh cricket team and that is what places a new challenge to Shakib and his men. For the new coach that could be a bonus because it would be great for him to start his new job by reminding his cricketers that they are not stars anymore and that their once devoted fans feel in disgust that the country's women team is better than the men team!
The writer is a former Ambassador.
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