After Bangladesh's giant killing act in the recent World Cup, most cricket pundits thought that the youthful Bangladesh side is finally coming of age and will soon be a significant force in world cricket. On the contrary, Bangladesh decided to prove the pundits wrong with some awful and woeful performances since then. Bangladesh’s performance against India at home and in the away series against Sri Lanka once again provided much negative fodder for the critics.
Some believe that the reconstitution of the BCB and the departure of long-time coach Dave Whatmore resulted in instability that affected the Tigers' on field performances. However, with the BCB reformed and team leadership stabilized, Bangladesh no longer have those excuses as a fallback.
Bangladesh desperately need a positive series under the new leadership of Mohammad Ashraful and coach Jamie Siddons to start afresh and bring about an end to the dipping performance graph. In this context, a series against New Zealand, who too are experiencing striking similarities with Bangladesh in terms of recent performances, could not have been scheduled at a more appropriate time. New Zealand cricket is going through an extended lean patch and their recent management transformation hasn’t done any better to lift the struggling Black Caps.
Having said that, New Zealand is always regarded as a difficult place for sub-continental teams. With the exception of Pakistan, none of the other South-Asian teams have enjoyed any triumph against the Kiwis in the recent past. India lost their last two Test series and averaged a meagre 133 in Test matches. Sri Lanka has fared just slightly better. After losing two consecutive away series, the newly transformed Sri Lanka team under the leadership of Jayawardene managed to win a Test and draw the recently completed home series.
Neither team has enjoyed a perfect build up for the series. Bangladesh lost both completed warm up matches against New Zealand state teams while Australia handed the Kiwis three consecutive defeats to regain the Chappel-Hadlee trophy. There is not much to choose between recent Test and ODI performances of the two teams. Bangladesh has only managed one win from their last 10 ODI encounters. New Zealand has fared just marginally better with two wins. In Tests, Bangladesh has just one rain affected draw against India to show for her troubles. The Kiwis' only recent success has been against the struggling West Indies at home. Prior to that series, they had lost 4 of their 5 last away Tests with just one draw.
Bangladesh has the potential to take down the Kiwis in the ODI series, but transforming this potential into performance will require a lot of character and determination. The ODI squad is brimming with youngsters and the inclusion of promising left handed opener Zunaed Siddique will further strengthen the batting. While losing Tushar Imran and more importantly Syed Rasel through injuries at the start of the series has been a big blow for Bangladesh, there are some good news for them as well. The atypically warm New Zealand summer of 2007 means that the wickets will be more batting friendly than usual and if Bangladesh can use this natural gift to their advantage, a competitive one day series is on the cards.
Bangladesh’s success mostly depends on the brittle top order batting which has the firepower but lacks discipline. The responsibility of captaincy is slowly adding a bit maturity to the batting of the “Eid boy“ Mohammad Ashraful. He along with “Boom Boom” Aftab Ahmed should take the responsibility on their shoulders to steer Bangladesh to winning positions. At the age of 23 and 22 respectively, they are the senior members of the top-order and must not add extra pressure to youngsters Tamim, Zunaed and Shakib through reckless batting. A natural display from these youngsters will definitely boost the chances for a Bangladesh win.
The injury to Syed Rasel is a major concern for the OD bowling attack, but the inspired performance from Nazmul Hossain in the warm-up matches shows that he is ready to fill the shoes of Rasel. Abdur Razzak, Bangladesh’s leading ODI bowler, will lead the spin department in unfriendly conditions while pace spearhead Mashrafe Mortaza is expected to lead the pace attack along with raw Shahadat Hossain. New Zealand’s troubled top order batting is vulnerable against quality pace bowling and Bangladesh pace duo may pose some serious challenges to the Kiwis.
The bigger challenge for Bangladesh will be in the Test series which starts right after the three-match ODI series. They will not have had the opportunity a practice match in the longer form to adjust to the pace of Test cricket. It is always difficult to set a target for Bangladesh in Tests but avoiding innings defeats should be the first and foremost priority. Once that is achieved, Bangladesh can press on to secure a more positive result.
Experienced players like Habibul Bashar, Mohammad Rafique and Khaled Mashud, all of whom have been out of form of late, are expected to join the squad for the Test series. It is reported that the new coach Jamie Siddons is putting emphasis on staying on the wicket and this will be the key against the Kiwi seam bowlers under difficult conditions.
The new Bangladesh management is opting for experienced players for the Test matches, which is understandable but the tactics might backfire as most of the seniors are out of form and approaching retirement from international cricket. Many cricket followers believe a young Tamim or Zunaed can do lot better than experienced but ever failing Javed Omar and flamboyant Aftab deserves a spot ahead of the waning Habibul Bashar.
The seniors must bank on their experience and take the responsibility otherwise the hullabaloo over their selection will not only deter Bangladesh’s progress in Test cricket but also pose a serious threat to their own career.
Bangladesh cricket maintained a steady progress up to the last ODI World Cup when they were raising their game in every series they were playing. In New Zealand, the first challenge of the Tigers will be to restore that lost rhythm and the Tigers must rise to the occasion to avoid a yet another regrettable series.
© Khondaker Mirazur Rahman
Cricket World 2007