The Friday column March 3, 2006

Ashraful's battle to make his mark

Mohammad Ashraful has the talent, but consistency is one virtue he has struggled to achieve so far

Mohammad Ashraful: classy when on song, but terribly inconsistent © AFP

Perhaps the primary reason why Bangladesh are still languishing at the bottom of the international cricket ladder is the lack of quality batsmen. Besides Habibul Bashar, you'd struggle to name a player who has consistently appeared a batsman of international stature. Consistently is the key word here, for over the last four years and more, one young batsman has intermittently reminded the cricketing world of his talent, only to lapse into mediocrity so quickly thereafter that the flash of brilliance seems almost a fluke.

Just 17 years of age, Mohammad Ashraful charmed his way into international cricket with a superb 116 on debut, taking on, and winning the battle, against the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas. No-one who saw that innings, or the blistering unbeaten 158 against India - when he tore to shreds Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan - or his quite audacious 52-ball 94 against England in the NatWest Series last year would reckon that Ashraful is anything less than a precocious talent.

The ability to dazzle isn't in question, yet the stats are anything but flattering: after 30 Tests, the aggregate is a mere 1406 runs and the average a mediocre 25.11, with more zeroes than fifty-plus scores; in 62 ODIs, an average of 20.20 is even more disappointing, and here again his ten ducks outnumber his nine scores of over 50. When on song Ashraful can make the best bowling attack appear pedestrian; his problem, though, is that when he isn't at his best, he can be quite awful.

The day-in-day-out nature of the sport demands a certain level of consistency, and Ashraful has failed that test quite miserably so far. After that incredible debut, Ashraful went ten completed innings with no score of more than 33. A 75 was then followed by 12 innings in which he didn't pass 28. Being part of an outfit like Bangladesh has allowed him a longer rope, but despite gaining in years and cricketing experience, Ashraful still has too many lean patches - his 158 against India was just two short of the total runs he managed in his next 13 innings.

It isn't surprising, then, that Ashraful's name appears prominently among specialist batsmen with the highest percentage of sub-20 scores. Only Mike Brearley, known more for his leadership skills than his batting ability, had a higher failure rate than Ashraful's 66.07%.

Highest % of sub-20 scores (Min 30 Tests)
Player Matches Sub-20 innings/
completed inng
Mike Brearley 39 42/ 63 66.67
Mohammad Ashraful 30 37/ 56 66.07
Vic Pollard 32 33/ 52 63.46
John Crawley 37 33/ 52 63.46
Javed Omar 31 38/ 61 62.30
Derek Randall 47 46/ 74 62.16
Brian Hastings 31 31/ 50 62.00
Daren Ganga 31 33/ 54 61.11
John Parker 36 37/ 61 60.66
Jimmy Adams 54 44/ 73 60.27

Ashraful can do worse than to aspire to consistency levels achieved by the group in the next list. Herbert Sutcliffe, the England opener in the 1920s and `30s, made only 16 scores of less than 20 in 75 completed innings - that's only 21.33%. Jack Hobbs comes in next with a failure rate of only 26%, which is quite amazing considering that both were opening batsmen, a position which normally lends itself to more early dismissals.

Lowest % of sub-20 scores (Min 30 Tests)
Player Matches Sub-20 innings/
completed inng
Herbert Sutcliffe 54 16/ 75 21.33
Jack Hobbs 61 25/ 95 26.32
Dudley Nourse 34 15/ 55 27.27
Rohan Kanhai 79 41/ 131 31.30
Don Bradman 52 22/ 70 31.43
Everton Weekes 48 24/ 76 31.58
Wally Hammond 85 40/ 124 32.26
Matthew Hayden 79 43/ 129 33.33
Mark Richardson 38 21/ 62 33.87
Ted Dexter 62 32/ 94 34.04

The most famous example of a player who made his debut at a ridiculously young age, and then went on to surpass all expectations, is of course Sachin Tendulkar. At a similar stage in his career - after 30 Tests - Tendulkar had an average of 51.65, with seven hundreds. Admittedly lofty numbers to aspire to, but at 22, Ashraful still has plenty of time to rectify his stats. The next few years will tell if he goes down in record books as a player who fulfilled his potential, or one who - like Carl Hooper, to name just one - remained an underachiever.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the stats he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan in the Chennai office.