Bangladesh v India, 3rd match, Kitply Cup, Mirpur June 12, 2008

Balancing flair with care

The challenge for Bangladesh is to achieve an optimum mixture between longevity and aggression and to be able to execute contingency plans in case the innings should falter


Mohammad Ashraful has cut out his usual ultra-aggressive approach in this tournament © AFP
 

What positives can a team take when their opponents win a one-day match by seven wickets and with 89 balls to spare? You have to look hard to find them but, while Bangladesh will be disappointed at not offering a stiffer challenge, their performance against India was a slight improvement on the game against Pakistan. Their batsmen are slowing moving towards the consistency that their coach Jamie Siddons wants them to achieve.

A reasonable assessment of Bangladesh batting styles in the past would be: flashy with little substance. Mohammad Ashraful and Aftab Ahmed turn heads when their ultra-aggressive approach pays off but, more often that not, they lose their wickets to forgettable strokes and the innings collapses after them. It is that fragility which Bangladesh are attempting to remove and while the change was noticeable in patches during the Kitply Cup, they are yet to sustain it through an entire innings. Mashrafe Mortaza said after the defeat against India that they were "improving, but not at the rate everyone is expecting."

Against Pakistan, Ashraful composed a sedate half-century. His strike-rate was behind the requirement but wickets had fallen early and he was performing damage control by reducing the risk in his shots. Against India, Raqibul Hasan came in after Bangladesh lost their openers early and consolidated the innings. The run-rate was slow once again - 68 for 2 after the 20th over - but Bangladesh had averted a top-order collapse and were able to score over 200. Both Ashraful and Raqibul, however, got little or no support from their team-mates.

There are concerns that toning down the aggression would transform Bangladesh into a negative outfit, that flair was part of their natural game. Mortaza, however, allayed those fears. "Nobody has told us that we should not play our shots," he said after the latest defeat. "The openers have been given the license to go for it. The plan was to try and score 240-250 but they fell early and that's why the innings slowed down. The plan always is to score 240-250 but if wickets fall early then it's not possible."

The priority for a team so young - the average age is 21-22 - is to bat out 50 overs on a regular basis and the next step is to add aggression. The challenge is to achieve an optimum mixture between longevity and aggression and to be able to execute contingency plans in case the innings should falter, as it did today, when Tamim Iqbal and Shahriar Nafees fell early.

The focus usually falls on deficiencies in Bangladesh's batting but the bowlers have also been inconsistent. Mortaza apart, Bangladesh's attack is inexperienced and offer far too many boundary balls. They conceded nearly six an over against Pakistan and over a run a ball against India, a rate of scoring their batsmen are currently ill-equipped to match.

A bowling attack that is able to restrict opponents to around 250 will allow their batsmen to bat within their limitations, and not take undue risks while trying to achieve six or more an over. It's going to take a while for both departments to perform consistently together and Siddons hasn't put a time limit for achieving the targets he's set.

A journalist said that the poor attendances at the start of the India-Bangladesh contest may have been due to the fans disappointment at their team's performances. It isn't easy to support a team that's lost as often as Bangladesh have for over a year. What the fans, and players need, is patience.

George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo