BANGLADESH cricket fans and other stakeholders were gaga after Bangladesh beat South Africa in its first match in the World Cup Cricket 2019 after scoring 330 runs. Then as the ‘Sakib magic’ unfolded, they were over the moon, dreaming of Bangladesh playing in the semifinals with three of the top ODI teams in cricket. Tamim Iqbal articulated the optimism of the stakeholders in his contacts with the media that raised the hope among the stakeholders that Bangladesh could even have a shot at the championship.
Such a hope did not seem unrealistic as the team went to beat West Indies and Afghanistan and scored 333 runs chasing the Aussie total of 381. In fact, until it played its eighth or penultimate game against India, Bangladesh had as much chance of making it to the semifinals as New Zealand and England, the two teams that played the final, with the favourites India, the 2011 winners, and Australia, the reigning champions, out of the tournament.
Bangladesh lost its chance of entering the semifinals in the game against India by a narrow margin. Although that loss ended Bangladesh’s hope, it did little to hurt the reputation that the team had built around the ‘Sakib magic’. No team at the WCC 2019 competition took Bangladesh lightly that should put to rest the taunt of ‘minnows’ that the cricket world outside Bangladesh had directed against the Bangladesh cricket team hitherto. The New Zealanders know that better than the other teams. New Zealand came close to losing to Bangladesh in the league stage, winning in the end by just two wickets.
The Bangladesh team thus should have returned home proudly. Sakib placed Bangladesh among the top teams with his magic. Mushfiq, Liton and others assisted him with the bat and Mustafizur with the ball. Then, Bangladesh lost its final game against Pakistan badly by a margin of 94 runs and South Africa beat Australia unexpectedly that pushed Bangladesh to the eighth position for which the Bangladesh Cricket Board was not ready. The board felt that questions would be asked in important quarters when the team returned home about why the team that was supposed to enter the semifinals and go beyond was placed eighth that was a position below its ICC rankings that was seventh going to the competition.
It was the huge loss to Pakistan that led the BCB to act in an indecent haste to prepare itself for those hard questions. It terminated the contracts of the head coach Steven John Rhodes and bowling coach Courtney Walsh while sitting in England, something no other team would have even considered doing. Although the board’s statement about the termination of the contracts said that the actions were taken by mutual consent, the haste and the naïve manner in which it was executed left no one in doubt that the two were made the fall guys. Questions were also raised about some of the other support staff as well like it was their fault that Bangladesh ended its World Coup venture in the way it did.
Going by the grapevines, head coach Steven Rhodes had problems of communicating with the players. That may have contributed somewhat to the team’s performance. Nevertheless, the board and the country’s media were gaga with him and the same support staff when Bangladesh had won the tri-series in Ireland in style before the start of the World Cup. That underlined two things; first, the reactive ways of the board in taking major decisions about cricket in Bangladesh, and second, its nature of passing the blame without due evaluation of its own role. The board through its decision on Steven Rhodes and Courtney Walsh did something even worse.
In their indecent haste to save themselves from any blame, the board passed the totally unfair judgement, deliberately or inadvertently, that Bangladesh performed poorly in the championship that was hardly the case. This was in denial of the fact that every team in the tournament had one or two losses like the one Bangladesh had against Pakistan that was a major reason for the board’s decision to sack Steven Rhodes and Courtney Walsh. The decision was also in denial of the fact that throughout the tournament, the Bangladesh team was as competitive as any other team. The decision undermined the greatness of the Sakib magic who was one of the top three batsmen of the tournament and a major reason for Bangladesh fans to rejoice and celebrate Bangladesh’s participation in the WCC 2019.
The support staff perhaps may have lacked proper communication with the team. The damage to the team’s ability to doing better nevertheless was not due to them. It was the board that had decided to select Mashrafe as the captain when he was out of form and more importantly, physically unfit going to the tournament that was one of the many reasons that had adversely affected the team’s performance. The captain took one wicket in nine games. He did not show much common sense as a leader either that was palpably evident in the game against India that Bangladesh had to win to enter the semifinals.
Saifuddin Ahmed was threatening to take that game from India with his batting after the bowlers had restricted the fancied Indians to 314 and Sakib with an innings of 66 had paved the way for a possible victory. Saifuddin took the score with Shabbir Rahman to 245 that left only 69 runs to be chased in 41 balls that with Saifuddin playing a dream innings appeared very much possible. All Saifuddin needed was that a player should stay with him to help him take the team over the line. The captain went to the crease at that stage. He hit a six on arriving at the crease that sent chills down the Indian spines but tried to hit another six the next ball and was bowled playing the most horrible shot one could imagine. That sealed Bangladesh’s fate in the World Cup 2019.
Bangladesh was competitive in the WCC 2019 mainly due to Sakib and the help he received from other batsmen who did not fail when needed. It is batting strength that was more often than not as good as the top teams were neutralised by its bowlers who as a unit was one of the weakest in the tournament, a point that the selection committee overlooked while choosing the team. Mustafiz was one of the highest wicket-takers but his bowling was often taken to the cleaners. And the team was also the weakest fielding side in the competition. Crucial catches were dropped at crucial times and poor fielding added crucial runs to the opposition. The Bangladesh team simply did not have the bowlers or the fielders to do any better than what it did. Better fielding alone could have placed the team a position or two ahead of the eighth and a better bowling unit could have taken it to the semifinals and perhaps even further.
Therefore, if fingers were to be pointed at anyone for the way the Bangladesh team performed, they should be pointed at the selection committee that worked under the board and chose the team and not at the head coach or any of the support staff. In fact, the Bangladesh cricket followers, disappointed though they were that Bangladesh did not make into the semifinals or that it was placed at the eighth, were, nevertheless, proud of the way the team performed overall. And Sakib made the World Cup 2019 special for them.
There were enough positives out and enough lessons learnt out of Bangladesh’s participation in the WCC 2019 to be useful for the future of the country’s cricket in the ODI format where it can now compete with the best on equal terms. To built upon the positives and the lessons, the board must henceforth be proactive and not reactive. It must shun reactive responses as it did with Rhodes and Wash that lacked ethics and was a palpable attempt to pass the buck. The BCB action perhaps was dictated by the fear that if a proper evaluation was done on the team’s performance after it returned home, its own role as to why the Bangladesh team did not perform better would be exposed.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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