Bangladesh's bad cop problem
A day before Bangladesh's first Super 10 match against West Indies, the team management's difficulty in delivering home truths to struggling players came into sharp focus. The BCB held a meeting late on Saturday evening trying to make sense of Bangladesh's loss to Hong Kong over the weekend. ESPNcricinfo has learned that the team management has informed BCB officials that they have found it difficult to put across a strong message to out-of-form players. At the end of the meeting, however, there was no directive from the BCB, which on previous occasions has been known to step in and instruct the team management.
Throughout Bangladesh's dip in results over the last three months, there was always a sense that not many in the team management were prepared to talk tough to the players. Since the drawn second Test against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh lost two T20s and seven ODIs in a row and only returned to winning ways in the warm-ups before the first round matches of the World T20. They crushed Afghanistan and Nepal thereafter, but as the loss against Hong Kong showed, they still haven't got out of the woods.
That the team management finally admitted to such a problem is a surprise considering the confidence they had shown in out-of-form players such as Mahmudullah, Nasir Hossain and Abdur Razzak. Nasir's highest score in all three formats this year is 42, and he averages 23. Mahmudullah averages 11, with a highest score of 30, and has taken 11 wickets. Razzak has taken five wickets in seven matches at 50.60, and has missed seven matches this year due to a hamstring injury.
Bangladesh's reason for sticking with these players, and the team management's reluctance to come down hard on them, isn't too hard to fathom. All three of them have been valuable players for Bangladesh till the recent past. Nasir had shown tremendous touch in run-chases, particularly till the New Zealand series last year, Razzak is Bangladesh's highest wicket-taker in ODIs, and Mahmudullah has scored more ODI runs at No. 7 than anyone bar Shahid Afridi since his debut in 2007. All three, however, have endured worryingly long bad patches.
Mushfiqur Rahim, Bangladesh's captain, made light of the management dilemma, saying it wouldn't take too much for a player to return to form. "A crucial 10 or 20, even a catch, can change your mentality," he said. "We are working towards this. We don't look at the players' past to choose our best eleven. We look at what's happening at the moment and who our opponents are, what the conditions are."
A win or two, he added, would make all the difference. "Any player can be out of form. We have some players who cannot play well at the same time. This is the main concern, nothing more. If results are different in the next one or two matches, things will be different."
The confidence within the team is at a low ebb with Shakib Al Hasan once again telling fans that there should not be any expectations from the Bangladesh team. "I had said it earlier; it is better not to have much expectations from us," Shakib said. "You should enjoy the cricket and support us. If we play badly, there should be constructive criticism.
"Our goal was to reach the Super 10s, now how we do it is less important than actually qualifying for this stage. The points from the first round won't be counted, so there's no point talking about what happened in the past." For short-term relief, Bangladesh have to put together a performance against the West Indies, and against the rest of the group. A first step could be to correct the environment within the dressing-room, which, it seems, at the moment, a far too comfortable place to be.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here