Andy Flower on Bangladesh's tour of Zimbabwe
Andy Flower talks to John Ward about the recent tour of Zimbabwe by Bangladesh.
I always thought this was going to be quite an interesting tour. Obviously we haven't seen much of the Bangladeshis in the past, but I thought it would be interesting as one of the very rare moments where we were favourites in a series.
We had a different type of pressure on us in that we were expected to win every game - and quite rightly so. It is something that is totally alien to most of us. The only series where we have probably been expected to win have been against New Zealand in 1997/98, when they were in a bit of a rut and we were expected to beat them. We did have the better of the entire series but could only manage to draw with them in the end. There was also our first home series against Sri Lanka in 1994/95, when we only managed three draws in the Tests.
So it is alien to the guys, but it is obviously nice to play in that sort of atmosphere. But we'll be back to playing top-quality opposition against India.
The results against Bangladesh have gone the way I expected. I always thought they were going to struggle on these pitches, especially at Harare Sports Club, with the extra bounce, even though it's not all that quick. The extra bounce would definitely be alien to them, and that is what actually happened.
I think they're playing better cricket now than they were at the start of the series, and I think that trend will continue as they keep playing on pitches that bounce and give the seamers some help, and get off their flat low pitches at home. I think we have done our job pretty well, although I don't think we've selected the best sides available.
Having said that, I don't think we bowled too well throughout the series. Generally we bowled too wide. In Bulawayo we bowled too short and wide, and were flailed over third man and point I don't know how often. I think we improved a little in that area in Harare, but we still haven't made them play enough, especially with the new ball. They were allowed to leave it countless times, and a guy like Bryan Strang would have put that right straight away. I think if he had been played, neither game would have lasted as long as it did.
We had a brief lay-off between tours, and I don't think Heath Streak did much during that time. He has definitely struggled in this series and had technical problems with his action, and consequently his direction has been astray. But he has been getting better as well. He has shortened his run a little and got his consistent away-swing back. Now if he can increase his pace a little, hopefully he will be hitting his straps in the Indian tour.
I think Brighton Watambwa has a lot of potential. He has natural pace and I think he is the quickest we've got. He lets his action go occasionally, letting his front arm drop away, and consequently his bowling arm gets a bit low, but if he can iron out those problems he will do some good things for Zimbabwe cricket because he swings the ball away naturally, and he has a bit of pace.
Andy Blignaut bowled very well in the First Test and again quite nicely at Harare. He's learning all the time, and he has changed his attitude from being quite a lazy, happy-go-lucky sort of guy to becoming a really hard worker at his game, both batting and bowling. He's made the biggest strides towards becoming a successful cricketer in that he realizes that he's got to put in a lot of hard work. He looks a great prospect for us, and I think his batting will be quite exciting to watch as well.
`Syke' Nkala struggled a little. He's back to bowling inswingers after trying to bowl away-swingers, and he's been working on that for a time with Carl Rackemann, so I'm not sure exactly what his plans are or what type of bowler he wants to become. I gather he is returning to the Academy for a month to work intensively on his bowling.
I thought one of the most impressive bowling displays was that of Ray Price. He got the ball to drift and bite off the Harare Sports Club pitch and I haven't seen many spinners do that over the years. He was very impressive, especially during a certain period where he looked like taking a wicket every ball.
I'm not sure that Dion Ebrahim's long-term future lies in opening the batting. It will be interesting to see how things develop. He played nicely in Harare, and we'll see if he gets another crack against India.
I think Bangladesh have a lot of potential in their batting, although they have struggled on the pitches here with the extra bounce. If we had bowled better and if Bryan Strang had been playing, they would have struggled even more. We probably played on one of the drier Sports Club tracks, which wasn't the ideal pitch to play these guys on. So they've been allowed to bat for quite long periods of time.
Javed Omer looked really good, very solid in defence, both forward and back. A couple of their other guys, notably Meerab Hossein and Habibul Bashar, have also played nicely. They have some really talented batsmen and they just need to play on these pitches more. They also need to play more first-class domestic cricket because they still look too loose once they get in. They only started playing first-class cricket recently in their country, and I think that will go a long way towards improving their batting.
Every time they seemed on the verge of building a substantial partnership, they lost a wicket, and I think only the experience of playing four-day cricket and more Test cricket will rectify that sort of thing. But I think they have the talent and the basic techniques to deal with it.
Bowling-wise, Monjurul Islam has bowled really well throughout the series. He has started swinging the ball back a little more than when he first set foot in the country, which makes him a more dangerous left-arm paceman. Mohammad Sharif has bowled quite well, but just lacks a bit of bounce, probably because of his height. But they lack a bit of firepower in their seam department.
After that, they only have an orthodox left-arm spinner and a part-time off-spinner, so they are certainly lacking firepower, and they are going to struggle to bowl sides out on decent pitches.
Unfortunately their keeper, Khaled Mashud, got injured early, but I thought he looked a really good keeper, and a useful batsman at number seven as well. His injury affected the balance of their side badly. I thought they fielded really well, although they look a bit rusty in the slips.
They are a really friendly bunch of blokes, and I think their behaviour has been exemplary. Probably a little too friendly, if you like, from a perspective of trying to beat an opponent. Maybe I'm a bit cynical in that regard, but they are probably going to have to get a little harder if they want to take sides on and beat them.
I think the most important thing for Bangladesh to improve their game is to play four-day domestic cricket. Even if the standard is not that high, I think the principles of patience, persistence, doggedness, determination and consistency are all important in the make-up of a cricketer, and he can only get those things from playing four-day cricket. You are not going to get those things from one-day cricket. And obviously the physical attributes and the techniques of both batting and bowling will be developed if they play the longer game; it will not happen if they just play one-day cricket.
I think a key area for their progress is their fast bowling, and I'm sure they're dealing with it already. They are probably sending a lot of young potential fast bowlers to academies such as the MRF Pace Academy. They have to get some firepower to their attack. We in Zimbabwe have lacked firepower since we gained Test status until this point, and really Streak has held our attack together all this time. Bangladesh must concentrate a lot of their energy into developing fast bowlers.
At the risk of repeating myself, they would do well to develop pitches that bounce and seam a bit at home. Not to play their Tests on, because they will probably want to play on the pitches they are used to for their Test matches. But for the good of their own batsmen - and bowlers - they must learn to play on bouncy pitches.
Regarding other nations on the verge of Test cricket, like Kenya, I think their home boards should definitely be planning a series of home and away tours to play the A teams of other countries. If they need to enlist the help of ICC to enable them to do that, then they must do so.
I think the initiative of bringing schoolchildren in to watch the Test matches in Harare and Bulawayo was excellent. Some people have been joking about the Rent-a-Crowd business, but it was great to be in a ground with a lot of noise and atmosphere and excitement. It was different for Harare Sports Club and I certainly enjoyed it a lot. I'd like to see them double or treble the numbers of schoolkids here. And maybe most importantly, they had a great time, and I'm sure they'll be back. That's exactly the sort of thing ZCU should be doing to spread the game in this country.
On a personal level, it was funny how it worked out that I would be batting for my eighth successive half-century on my birthday. I didn't feel a lot of pressure - I'm not a huge one for records, to be honest, but I definitely wanted to get there and build another big score. But it wasn't to be, and that's the way the game goes. Without a doubt, I feel this has been my best season ever.