Bangladesh reap rewards of hard work
Daniel Vettori wanted to win the last game of the series to salvage pride. After New Zealand failed and lost 4-0, the talk in Mirpur was that he shed a few tears and later called it the worst tour of his career, asking his team to learn from the opposition and not embarrass him in India. Throughout the last decade, those actions were a Bangladesh captain's prerogative but the last fortnight, and perhaps the last two months, have been refreshingly different for him.
Previously, special moments in Bangladesh cricket were made memorable mostly by the celebrations that followed. The wins themselves never grew into something bigger, except for bigger defeats. Consistency always played only a cameo.
After the disastrous defeat to Netherlands in July, even their inner circle started cold-shouldering the players. Bangladesh's coach Jamie Siddons then decided that the summer's frustration could only be blown off through plain old hard work, in the form of a camp that spanned a month and a half.
Bangladesh's players had never spent so much time training, according to the experienced Shahriar Nafees and few regular journalists. All of a sudden, they had net and fielding sessions from 8am to 4pm, a drastic change from Bangladesh's training method over the years.
Mahmudullah, an allrounder, said the practice had a substantial impact on his batting, particularly on his role in the slog overs and the batting Powerplay. "I spent a lot of time practicing the lofted shots," he said. "I'm usually around when the batting Powerplay is on, so it's important that I can clear the in-field. This camp was so long that I could work on all aspects of my batting."
Riyad wasn't successful during this series but he believes his goal of playing the World Cup will become closer if he can spend enough time preparing.
Tamim Iqbal was so pleased to be allowed to bat for more than four hours, he decided to do so with an injured wrist (it doesn't seem like a great idea now). With Shakib Al Hasan also busy taking wickets for Worcestershire, no one was idle. During this time in previous years, Bangladesh either sat at home in the rain or got mauled in Sri Lanka.
Like Tamim or Mahmudullah, nobody complained about the gruelling schedule. The players realised the extended time in the nets, in front of the bowling machine or at the centre wicket, was perfect preparation. Why nobody thought of this before is baffling, and though it was implemented late, the results were evident in early October.
During the training camp, Bangladesh hired a new fielding coach, Julian Fountain, and a psychologist. A couple of weeks before New Zealand landed, they were given a bowling coach in Ian Pont.
Fountain's effect on the team is visible in the increased frequency of a Nafees dive, or the way Naeem Islam's throw hit the stumps with ferocity in the dying moments of the fourth game against New Zealand. Shafiul Islam and Abdur Razzak also took catches that Mirpur will not easily forget.
Former captain Khaled Mahmud believes Fountain has done a lot to improve the fielding, a discipline Bangladesh has been poor at. "Julian obviously has made a difference, though it can be too early to say," Mahmud, who was Bangladesh's assistant coach until before the series, said. "He has taught some innovative techniques which has improved the boys' fielding."
Pont, too, has made an instant impact with the fast bowlers: Shafiul and Rubel Hossain bowling accurate yorkers and learning slower deliveries in only two weeks. Bangladesh won three of the four games in the last over because those well-directed deliveries had the New Zealand batsmen swishing at air.
It is the two constants in the team, though, Siddons and Shakib, that provided the steely determination and calming influence which had eluded Bangladesh's psyche. Shakib has stood out for those so used to watching the mental fragility of someone like Mohammad Ashraful. It has also been easier for Shakib to lead by example because he is Bangladesh's only regular performer. His contributions are indicative of the tremendous hunger he has developed in the last two years. The boys listen to Shakib as much as they listen to Siddons.
Siddons' three-year long influence on the batsmen has caught everyone's eye. "There is no secret to my coaching," he said. "We worked on skills that we never even tried this time and the players' development has come in three years. It takes time but we are almost there now."
Tamim's development from a shot-a-minute opener to the team's best batsman has been attributed to Siddons. Imrul Kayes, Junaid Siddique, Raqibul Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah have grown from domestic to genuine international players under him.
The 4-0 scoreline against New Zealand could act as a trampoline for some players, especially Nafees, Suhrawadi Shuvo and Nazmul Hossain, who are a step away from playing the World Cup. It won't be a straightforward re-entry for Ashraful, or even Mashrafe Mortaza, given his litany of injuries.
Trouble for Bangladesh in the future could come in the form of shirking responsibilities, which was one of their failures after the wins in the Caribbean in 2009. It would be an easy option for these boys, as well as the cricket board, which has made the mistake of contracting Fountain and Pont only until the World Cup. This series, however, is evidence of two things: that hard work pays off, and Bangladesh too can win from tight situations.
After every victory, Bangladesh sing Amra Korbo Joy, a Bangla version of 'We shall overcome', with more energy because they now believe a win is not merely a one-off. They believe success in ODIs is very much a reality, especially when the bigger battles of preparing mind and body have already been won.