The Sri Lankan Cricket Coach Asanka Gurusinha said after Sri Lanka won the final 20/20 game to level the series 1-1 that his team should have won all the three series having also drawn the Test and 50/50 series 1-1. That was a claim made from frustration. The Sri Lankans did not play their cricket in any dominating manner to suggest they were unlucky not to have won the three series.
In fact, the Sri Lankan Team was on the slide having played a disastrous series against the South Africans on a tour to that country. It was in the rebuilding phase with its great players such as Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, and Tillakaratne Dilshan retired and their replacements nowhere compared to those great players The Bangladesh Team was the more experienced team overall and had gone to Sri Lanka with its cricket playing abilities on the rise.
Therefore, it was the Bangladesh Team that had better reasons be disappointed with the results. It was unlucky not to have won at least the 50/50 series and perhaps also the 20/20 series. In the Tests, the Sri Lankans dominated the first Test and won it handsomely by a big margin of 259 runs. The Bangladesh Team bounced back and won the Second Test after taking a big first innings lead of 129 runs.
The Bangladesh Team played the first 50/50 match in a manner that underlined the difference between the teams. The Bangladesh batsmen led by Tamim Iqbal and Shakib al Hasan demolished the Sri Lankan bowlers in scoring 324. And when the Sri Lankans batted, their players were both nervous and shaky like they were playing against a team that was clearly the superior one. Bangladesh also dominated the final 20/20 game by beating Sri Lanka by 45 runs, a convincing margin for such a format.
The BCB President in a media interview while the Bangladesh Team was in Sri Lanka had stated that the team was no longer deficient in technique and that the problem with it was in the mindset of its batsmen. It was an assessment that was partially correct that also explained why the Bangladesh Team had returned from Sri Lanka disappointed. It, however, failed to acknowledge that the mindset of the Bangladesh batsmen had nevertheless visibly improved.
That improvement was amply in evidence in the Second Test when after getting Sri Lanka out for 318 in the first innings; the batsmen put their technique over their mindset. Thus led by Shakib Al Hasan with a century, 3 other batsmen crossed 50 that included a 70 and Test debutant Mosaddek Hossain, to give the team a major lead where every batsman except the night watchman, contributed. If their mindset had ruled their batting as in the past, Bangladesh would not have got that lead to win that game.
Bangladesh carried their growing ability to put technique over mindset in the first limited overs game where Tamim Iqbal scored a brilliant century.
Nevertheless, there were still instances in the other matches when the leading batsmen had put their mindset over technique. Therefore, another issue that the Board’s President said in other interviews (he gave more than one during the tour) was also significant. He cautioned the batsmen that no one’s place was assured in the team, a message that should have come long ago. Under that policy, Mahmudullah Riyad was dropped from the Second Test that should send a positive message to the team to put technique over mindset.
Shakib Al Hasan’s batting throughout the series once again underlined his great potentials. He played a number of good innings including the brilliant century in the Second Test. His great batting ability notwithstanding, he would still need to be reminded that his mindset while batting still left a lot to be desired.
Shabbir Rahman showed that he could become a leading batsman in the team in all the formats but he would need to be made aware that he could not successfully play all the 3 formats while batting in the 20/20 mindset. Mosaddek Hossain could become a great asset in all the 3 formats but he would need to perspire a great deal more before being assured of a permanent place in the team.
Bangladesh’s bowling did not show the same improvement as it’s batting. Too many experiments were made. It was inexplicable that 5 pacers were included in the touring Test team. Taskin Ahmed showed excellent promise but only in the 50/50 version. If he was selected to play Tests in future, he would not just fail but in the process, he would become benign in the 50/50 version as well where his hat trick in the drawn second 50-50 game underlined his great potentials. Mehedi Hasan Miraz showed promise but he found throughout the tour in all the formats, particularly in the Tests that he was finding it impossible to live up to the star status he was given after his two fabulous Tests against England last year in which he had captured 20 wickets.
Mustafizur Rahman took 4 wickets in the final 20/20 match but that withstanding, he was not anywhere near the unplayable bowler he was not too long ago, particularly in the limited versions. Two things were evident about him. First, it was difficult to become a dangerous bowler with just one major weapon, the off cutter in his case. Second, he does not have the physique to play Test cricket. Shakib’s bowling ability showed signs of waning notwithstanding the 3 wickets he took in the final 20/20 game. In the crucial last game in the 50/50 series, he did not bowl his full quota and ended his bowling with 0-53 from 8 overs.
Mushfiqur Rahim regained his wicket keeping skills in all the formats by accident after Liton Das who was included for the trip as the specialist keeper was injured. Since Liton’s injury, Mushfiq had kept wickets brilliantly while keeping up his great improvements as a specialist batsman in all formats. That would now allow the team to play a specialist batsman although the lack of form of Mominul Haque and Mahmudullah was bad news.
In the case of Momin, the team selectors acted hurriedly in dropping him from the Test side. Mahmudullah’s lack of batting form should have been considered temporary. Instead, he was humiliated and not just dropped from the Test side; the initial news was that he was also dropped from the limited overs games.
He was brought back to the limited overs games but the star batsman of the 2015 World Cup with back-to-back centuries was sent to bat after newcomer Mosaddek. That was not cricket. The episode of Mahmudullah hinted tensions between the players and the management, particularly Coach Haturasingha.
The BCB President had correctly assessed certain problems with the team’s performance or the lack of it. Nevertheless, he gave one interview too many. In one such interview, he said something that made little sense that gave the impression that he was the lord and master of Bangladesh cricket and Bangladeshi cricketers. That, of course, was not true because the BCB’s Constitution did not give him the power to become the law unto the Board and Bangladesh cricket. He may have outstanding management skills but that did not extend to knowledge about cricket.
Mashrafe Bin Mortaza’s sudden decision to retire from the 20/20 formats after the Bangladesh Team lost the first 20/20 match badly could have been due to the same tension of which Mahmudullah was the victim. Otherwise, it did not make sense that he would retire when he would be leading the Bangladesh side to the Champion’s Trophy. It was good to see the support of the players for their Captain that inspired the convincing victory in the final 20-20 match that augured well for Bangladesh’ cricket.
Former Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga said in an interview after the tour that the Bangladesh Team could win the World Cup soon. He flagged the prediction that he had made 3 years ago that Bangladesh would beat Sri Lanka in Test. Bangladesh did that on the just concluded tour and in the last 3 years, it had also come a long way in Test cricket.
It would now be up to the management to ensure that Ranatunga’s prediction was fulfilled. The President was right in insisting on the change of players’ mindset. It was perhaps as important that the management too needed to change its mindset that the fate of players did not depend on any one individual but on the collective assessment of those responsible for the team’s selection.
The writer is a former Ambassador