Ashraful's youth and energy can lead Bangladesh's revival June 6, 2007

Captain Kid

Mohammad Ashraful, Bangladesh's new captain, can use his confident batting and allround energy to put the spark back into a flagging side

'In any other team, Ashraful's youth would probably be a handicap; with Bangladesh it's not because there are others far younger than him' © AFP

Mohammad Ashraful's appointment as Bangladesh captain should not come as a surprise to those who've watched him over the years and, indeed, there was no hesitation in the Bangladesh Cricket Board's decision to give Ashraful the charge of both teams after Habibul Bashar relinquished the ODI captaincy. While some will call it a gamble or stop-gap move he is, on seniority and street credit, the best man for the job.

At 22, he is a senior in this current side with 101 ODIs and 35 Tests under his belt. His nearest rival, possibly, was current vice-captain Mashrafe Mortaza but Ashraful had the edge in terms of experience and the role he's played in Bangladesh's brighter moments in international cricket.

Yet all this would have been unthinkable two years ago when Ashraful told Cricinfo that he didn't "want to think about captaincy for another five years at least". As if on cue, events moved fast: That week he was named captain of the Bangladesh Cricket Board XI participating in the 2005-06 Duleep Trophy tournament in India. No wins followed from two outings but Ashraful was then handed the captaincy of Dhaka Premier Division League newcomers Sonargaon Cricketers. The club finished second in the league and Ashraful impressed with his handling of his team-mates. Next up was the captaincy of Dhaka Division in the National League, where he led them to five wins and a draw in six games.

Ashraful has already admitted that not too much should be read into those wins, but he has that necessary experience which not many of the other candidates did.

So what, that experience apart, does Ashraful bring to the table? For starters there's youthful adrenalin. Bashar looked lost in his last few matches and Ashraful may just be the fuel to spark off better performances. Wins should not be expected immediately but, with someone as overtly positive as him as captain there is a certain buzz which Bashar lacked.

Rabeed Imam, the BCB's media manager, has observed Ashraful's career from close quarters. "He is a very hands-on captain who is not prepared to play the waiting game," Imam told Cricinfo. "He has a smart cricketing brain and is always trying something new. He wants to keep the opposition guessing. His presence in the field is bubbly and he looks very involved. Although he had only captained club sides and first-class sides before he will still carry the positive attitude into Tests and ODIs."

In any other team, Ashraful's youth would probably be a handicap; with Bangladesh, one reason it's not is because there are others far younger than him. His challenge, instead, will be to find the strength to lead men at such a young age. Communication shouldn't be an issue; Ashraful is naturally outgoing and popular. And, going by his batting style, inspiration shouldn't be hard to come by either. He is perhaps the only Bangladesh batsman capable of lifting the team with a dazzling burst of strokeplay, a quality he has shown since his brilliant Test debut almost six years ago.

'Ashraful is perhaps the only Bangladesh batsman capable of lifting the team with a dazzling burst of strokeplay' © AFP

He has also shown an ability to withstand pressure, which sets him apart from his team-mates. Think Cardiff, Chittagong, Dhaka and Guyana and you see a batsman capable of destroying top bowling attacks.

The talent is not in doubt; the temperament is. Not so long ago, Ashraful would swagger to the crease, get his eye in, hit two of the most sweetly timed cover drives off the best fast bowlers around and then play the crudest of flat-batted swipes to mid-off. He was prone to stand there in disappointment and look woefully to his partner and the umpire, as if to ask, "Why did the fielder catch it?"

Those days have diminished, a fact recognised last month when he was named vice-captain after ending the World Cup as Bangladesh's highest run-scorer and again when he was fast-tracked to the captaincy.

The key for Ashraful in his new role will be a willingness to learn. He will need to turn to his seniors - Bashar, Javed Omar and Mohammad Rafique - for advice. He has admitted that he will need to maintain the standard set by Bashar and Whatmore, but he will also benefit from conversing with his young team-mates. Someone like Mortaza, capable of winning a session and even a game, could offer advice on field settings and bowling strategies. In that sense Ashraful has few burdens; this is a young side with scant room for egos and everyone has more to learn.

Ashraful's appointment, Imam says, sparked a buzz back home. "The reaction has been positive," he said. "Everyone feels this is a new beginning and he is the right man to lead the side to the next level. The BCB is confident that Ashraful will repay the faith shown in him and is prepared to think of him as a long-term captain."

This Bangladesh side was put together by a process; Dav Whatmore, Bashar and the coaching staff moulded it, and now it's time to take it to the next level. On a balmy summer's afternoon in Cardiff in 2005 Ashraful defied Australia and allowed all of Bangladesh to dream that they could achieve greater goals. Now he must make that dream a reality.

Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant with Cricinfo