'Bangladesh need another five years to prove themselves'
Bangladesh's poor showing in the first Test at Lord's has left them on a hiding to nothing in the second Test at Chester-le-Street, which starts on Friday. But for their former opening-batsman-turned-pundit, Athar Ali Khan, things can only get better. Athar is currently working as a commentator for Sky Sports, who are broadcasting the match exclusively live:
After that sort of performance, it must be tough to pull any positives out of the first Test?
I agree. There is so much potential in Bangladesh cricket, but let me first make it clear, the supporters back home had absolutely no expectations coming into this series. We were clearly the second-best team, so our only aim was to compete at certain levels. We weren't anticipating 108 all out, but we at least wanted to put up some kind of resistance. I firmly believe that Bangladesh can play better cricket, but it was hard for them to start off at Lord's, of all places.
Were they rather overawed by the occasion?
It's not so much that. Bangladesh won their last Test series, albeit against Zimbabwe who had a weak squad, but for a real idea of how we can play, take a look at our series against Australia. Everyone expected that our Tests there would be over in a day, but we ended up scoring 295 at Cairns against the likes of McGrath, Gillespie and Brett Lee. After that we improved step by step against Pakistan, West Indies and Zimbabwe, but then ended up playing the way we did at Lord's. We are capable of playing good cricket, because we have played good cricket. Hopefully we will do so again in the next Test match. It's just a matter of time.
It seems pretty odd scheduling on the part of the England & Wales Cricket Board, to bring Bangladesh over in these early-season conditions, but then take on Australia in the height of summer ...
Yes, it would have been much better for Bangladesh to come in later in the summer, rather than earlier, because the conditions have eased off by then. But it all depends on ICC schedules.
For the neutral, the most disappointing aspect of the first Test was the way in which the Bangladeshi batsmen got themselves out
Yes it was. More often than not, the dismissals were down to poor shot-selection. In the first innings we were going along at four runs per over and had added 30-odd runs for the first wicket, and we did quite decently in the second innings as well. But each time, the batsmen got themselves out, and not necessarily to good balls.
How long will it take them to learn their lessons?
This tour is particularly tough because Bangladesh have never come to England before and never experienced these conditions. Adapting to this new environment will take longer than expected, but if you look back at the early years of the other Test nations, a number of them took their time to establish themselves in the arena. I think Bangladesh need another five years, maybe six or seven, to show they can compete and dominate.
This tour is arguably Bangladesh's most important series since the 2003 World Cup, but that tournament was an unmitigated disaster. For the sake of the fans, how important is it for the team to take something tangible from this trip?
It's true that Bangladeshis are passionate about the game, but that's because we are very emotional people. Yes, for a variety of reasons, the 2003 World Cup was not what we were looking for, but in many ways we loved the game too much and people expected too much from us. When we won the 1997 ICC Trophy, for example, people thought we were the world champions. We were given red-carpet receptions all over the country and expectations were really high, but by 2003, people realised that competing at the highest level is not so easy. Nobody was expecting a win at Lord's, but they were expecting something better than an innings-and-261-run defeat. They'll need to pick up their game a lot. It's tough, but they will be able to compete at this level.
|The media should try to help, and not just point fingers at their technique|
You mentioned the 1997 tournament, in which you played a key part. How different is the standard of the national side these days?
It's a much more professional set-up now. The standards have gone up, and not just in batting, bowling or fielding. Professional psychologists have joined the squad, there are full-time trainers and physios and in my opinion, this team is much better. There is more strength, more specialisation and more superior batsmen than in my time.
At Lord's, Dav Whatmore looked close to exasperation as the team was put through the mill. Do you think he's running out of ideas?
It's been tough for Dav, tough for the board and tough for everyone around. But as an Australian-born Sri Lankan, he's a resilient bloke. He recently renewed his contract because he genuinely believed that Bangladesh could compete and become a better squad. All he's asking for is a bit of time, and a bit of understanding. When Bangladesh created history by winning their first Test back in January, Dav refused to go overboard and merely said that it was a stepping stone. He told his players to go off and think about what they could achieve if they won on a regular basis. That will take time, but I'm sure he'll have other ideas to back the boys up for the next two years.
Even so, the prospects for the Durham Test are pretty bleak, don't you think?
It doesn't look good because of what the Bangladeshis did at Lord's, but if the top-order batsmen can cut out their poor shots, I'm sure they can put up a better effort. That will have been said in the dressing-room, in the team meetings and among the individual players. Dav will have been giving his words of wisdom - "leave the ball outside off, play close to the body, wait for the ball that can be driven, or one that can be pulled". At Lord's, unfortunately, they made the same silly mistakes over and over again.
The forthcoming NatWest Series, featuring Australia, will arguably be an even greater challenge?
No, the main challenge is definitely the Test matches, because everyone is wondering whether Bangladesh have improved at all over the past five years. So there is a need to put runs on the board, and for individual players to get big scores under their belts. Playing against the big guns, England and Australia, in the NatWest Series will be a challenge as well, but if you look at their record, Bangladesh have won more ODIs than Tests, including a recent one against mighty India, so they ought to be a little more comfortable.
One added opponent on this tour will be the British media. Do you think they've been harsh or fair so far?
I've spent a few summers over here, so I know what the media is like. But I do think they've been a bit harsh. This is a new Test squad, but given that Bangladesh have been accepted by the ICC, there should be some kind of support for them. The media should try to help, and not just point fingers at their technique or the amount of cricket being played. All in all, I think the media has been quite harsh.
Some of the fiercest critics can be found in the Sky commentary box. How will you be holding your own in this Test?
It's a matter of time, but they've got to believe we can play good cricket. Test cricket is a patient man's game, so the commentators have also got to be patient with Bangladesh. Many of them have been pretty supportive, but sometimes they can be disappointed with the way that Bangladesh approach the game. That has to change because the more they play, the better they'll get.
There have been some positives on this tour so far - Mushfiqur Rahim for instance?
Yes, we originally picked him as cover for Khaled Mashud the wicketkeeper, but he's demonstrated a solid technique and doesn't flinch against the short ball. That's what we are looking forward to. If young guys like him can bat and give something back to the team, then the others around him will pick up the lessons from a youngster who has impressed everybody. Shahadat Hossain, the fast bowler, has also shown he is a prospect. It's not easy to bowl against the likes of Vaughan, Trescothick and one of my favourites, Andrew Strauss, but he's a good youngster and will give good service to Bangladesh cricket.
It hasn't taken long for talk of a two-tier Test system to re-emerge. What's your honest opinion of that idea?
The annoying thing is that this idea is only ever spoken of when Bangladesh plays poor cricket. If we look back two, three or four years down the line, it was England who were at the foot of the table, but there was no talk of a two-tier system then. I simply don't understand the inconsistency.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo