Habibul Bashar April 2, 2008

'I'm not finished yet'

Interview by Khondaker Mirazur Rahman
He may not be in the side anymore but he isn't going quietly

Habibul Bashar, Bangladesh's most capped Test player and the country's highest scorer in Tests and ODIs, now finds himself in the ignominious position of being left out of both the Test and ODI teams. He has made a strong statement since, though, topping the scoring tables in the domestic league as he attempts to earn a national recall. In this interview he shared his thoughts about what coming back takes, the captaincy, Dav Whatmore, and the future of Bangladesh cricket.

'I have a lot of cricket left in me' © AFP

You were dropped for the second Test against South Africa recently and not considered for the upcoming ODIs against Pakistan. Is this the end of the road?
I don't think so. I will be back, I am not finished yet. I have had a difficult period over the last one year. It's a part of cricket and I have to accept it. I have a lot of cricket left in me and I will fight to get my place back in the national team. As a batsman, scoring runs is my only goal and I am quite happy with my recent form with the bat in the Dhaka Premier League.

You were known as "Mr. 50" for your consistency in Test cricket, and you scored fairly consistently in ODIs in the build-up to the 2007 World Cup. What went wrong after that?
I was enjoying my cricket, both as a captain and as a batsman, but the focus was always on the team. We had a very young team and leading a young team in a big tournament like the World Cup is always difficult. We achieved our goal in the World Cup but unfortunately my bad time with the bat coincided with my good time as a captain. I always believe a captain should be judged on the basis of team performance and not on his individual batting or bowling. A captain can have a bad time; no one is infallible. I was surprised to see the level of criticism despite our success in the World Cup.

I tried hard to regroup after the World Cup, but it didn't work well. I know age is not on my side but I am feeling well, the reflexes are fine, and I am regaining my confidence. I have no plans to retire from international cricket for two years at least. I want to score as many runs as possible to earn my place back and that's what I am doing right now.

The Bangladesh team is increasingly becoming younger with time, with not many senior players around to guide them. Do you think this is an ideal scenario for an international team?
It's far from ideal. I think we are in a crucial phase for Bangladesh cricket. Most of our domestic performers are young and we have to select from among them. But we have brought too many young players into the national team without proper grooming. You cannot expect consistency from a team with an average age of 22. We must revisit our policy in the interests of the young players and the country.

You have captained Bangladesh in 69 ODIs and won 29 of them. On the other hand, under your captaincy Bangladesh managed only one win and four draws in 18 Tests. Why is there such a difference?
Tests and ODIs are two different ball games. Our youth brand of cricket suits ODIs more than Tests. The fearless attitude of our youngsters can result in an ODI win on any given day. This is how we won against Australia in Cardiff, India in Trinidad and South Africa in Guyana. On the other hand, Test cricket requires patience, application and consistent performance over five days. One or two good sessions doesn't do it.

We have brought too many young players into the national team without proper grooming. You cannot expect consistency from a team with an average age of 22

We have made the job more difficult by selecting a young and inexperienced team for Test cricket. We have always tried to look at the future combinations. We should have realised that the future is important but not at the cost of the present. We must learn from our mistakes. Now that we have a talented bunch of young players, we should keep the core team intact for the next few years.

The main reason we failed to repeat our ODI successes in Test cricket was because we have not able to put enough runs on the board. We have failed as a batting unit on most occasions. When you don't put enough runs on the board, the bowlers don't get enough runs to bowl at and the captain doesn't know what fields to set - whether to attack or defend.

You were awarded the captaincy at a very difficult time for Bangladesh cricket, when the team was on a losing streak. What made the turnaround possible?
After our dismal performance in the 2003 World Cup, we needed some good performances to prove our credentials. My first success as a captain was against a full-strength Zimbabwe side in Harare in 2004, which was my first game as Bangladesh captain. I must give credit to Dav Whatmore, who worked very hard to make the turnaround possible. I enjoyed a very good relationship with Dav and we shared our thoughts to lift the spirit of the Bangladesh team. With our "team first" approach we effectively turned a losing side into a winning outfit.

You worked for four years with Whatmore. How do you rate him as a coach?
Whatmore was instrumental in motivating young players. He gave optimism and discipline to a team that had not won a single match for four years. He understood our team chemistry very well and he made individual cricketers' lives easy. He allowed us to play our natural game and appreciated even very simple achievements. I personally rate him as one of the best in the business.

Dav Whatmore 'made individual cricketers' lives easy' © AFP

What's the role of a captain in a team like Bangladesh? Did you enjoy the job?
A captain has a huge role. And in a young and inconsistent team like Bangladesh, the job is far more challenging and requires a lot of patience and man-management skills. As a captain I had to work hard to help players get through the bad times and keep their motivation up.

I enjoyed every bit of my captaincy - more so because we managed to beat some noteworthy opponents. Those are happy memories.

What would you rate as your biggest achievement as captain?
We have managed to earn the respect of our opponents, especially in ODIs. In our early days, every team took us for granted. That's not a great feeling - when you are not taken seriously. A match against Bangladesh is no longer seen as a walk in the park, and that's my biggest achievement as the captain of Bangladesh. For example, when we defeated India in the 2007 World Cup and progressed to the Super Eights, every team had a different look at us. It probably made our job difficult, but it also helped us to enjoy the game. We felt counted. We haven't yet achieved the same in Test cricket. I hope Mohammad Ashraful will be able to take the team forward and Bangladesh will be respected as a team regardless of the format of the game.

International cricket has been a bumpy ride for Bangladesh so far. What's the way forward?
Cricket is very popular in Bangladesh. We have a very strong fan base and there is a lot of passion for the game. At the same time, we need to take a few decisions to raise the standard of our game.

A match against Bangladesh is no longer seen as a walk in the park and that has been my biggest achievement as captain

Sporting wickets are a necessity to strengthen our domestic cricket. Currently each first-class team plays with three or four spinners on slow, low wickets, which is killing our game.

The BCB can introduce a quota system for international cricketers. During our time in club cricket, we benefited enormously from the presence of players like Neil Fairbrother, Arjuna Ranatunga and Wasim Akram. A similar presence of international cricketers in domestic circuit will definitely help young cricketers to learn from their game. Our cricketers do not get enough opportunity to play county cricket in England or first-class cricket in countries like Australia and South Africa. The BCB can appoint full-time agents in those countries to help our cricketers find suitable clubs. It is very much required to raise our game to the next level.

I feel that we are a much better side than our results show at the moment. We are playing much, much below our potential. It's more a mental block than anything else. Some consistent good performances can lift the block. We will probably see a much improved Bangladesh side in near future.

Khondaker Mirazur Rahman is editor of banglacricket.com