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June 7, 2008
Why is a match-winning innings from Mohammad Ashraful so memorable? Because it happens once a year. It reads like a bad joke but Ashraful's inability to produce regular scores reflects the problem riddling Bangladesh's entire outfit - inconsistency.
In 19 innings since the heady heights of World Cup 2007, where Bangladesh beat India and South Africa, Ashraful has scored only two half-centuries. During that period, Bangladesh have won only three games, all at home against Ireland. It's a problem that their Australian coach Jamie Siddons, who took up the role in October 2007, is keen to address. He's making a beginning by "identifying the weaknesses with individual players".
"The reason they are inconsistent is that they've [Bangladesh's batsmen] got deficiencies in certain areas of their game," Siddons said. "My job is to identify those and then try to improve them. Basically give them new shots, find new ways of scoring against good bowlers."
Ashraful is one such example. Siddons felt opposition teams had worked him out, taking advantage of his short height to restrict his scoring. "He's now working on a cut shot which he never had before at international level. He generally let the ball go. We've worked on that and he's now using the cut in practice. Whether we will see it in international cricket straightaway I'm not sure. If he can produce a good cut shot then bowlers won't be able to give him that width or bowl that length to him."
For Ashraful it is the cut, for Tamim Iqbal and Shahriar Nafees it's the pull. Siddons said the Bangladesh batsmen "think they've got to hit the ball in the air because they're restricted in their power. It's another thing we're working on. Every individual has different deficiencies. We've got to work on every one of them."
Bangladesh's last international assignment was a hugely disappointing tour of Pakistan, where they lost 5-0. Siddons candidly admitted it reflected Bangladesh's standing at the moment. "They're on a massive learning curve," he said. "They haven't had the grounding that other players have had in their first-class cricket. We know we've to improve our domestic cricket to get our players to be more competitive in international cricket."
A step in the right direction is persisting with some players irrespective of the immediate results. "That's the way we're going to move forward - by giving these guys confidence and experience at the international level," Siddons said. "They're learning new techniques. They're also getting more consistent. I can see it. I watch them daily; you see them in international cricket against good teams and see their failures."
After their showing at last year's World Cup, you'd have to think twice before labelling Bangladesh as minnows. Their results since then, however, haven't lived up to the promise they showed in the Caribbean. Siddons, though, is looking for consistency, not one-off wins brought about by an hour or two of Ashraful magic. He doesn't want Cardiff 2005 to be the highlight of Bangladesh's stint at the highest level. "Every time we play against Australia I want us to have a chance to win," Siddons said. "Not just because of something Ashraful does that's out of the box."
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala