January 29, 2010

Wanted: Top-class, top-order batsmen

The performances of Bangladesh's specialist batsmen have been terribly disappointing, and Mohammad Ashraful has been the biggest culprit

In both Tests of their series against India, Bangladesh had moments when they had their more fancied opponents on the defensive, but on both occasions they threw away the initiative far too readily, with little fight: in Chittagong they replied with a limp 242 after bowling out the visitors for 243; and in Mirpur they fought back spiritedly after trailing by 311, but from 290 for 3 they lost seven wickets for 22, turning what should have been a tricky fourth-innings target for India into a mere formality.

On both occasions, the batsmen conceded ground when a little more backbone from them could have made for intriguing contests. Admittedly, in Mirpur the batsmen - led by Tamim Iqbal - brought Bangladesh back into the game when all had seemed lost, but having done all the hard work, they let go far too easily.

The bowlers have struggled often as well, but through most of Bangladesh's ten years as a fledgling Test nation, the batting has been by far their more disappointing suit. They impressed all the pundits in their first Test, scoring 400 against India, but in 62 matches since then, only four times have they gone past that mark, and just thrice against the top teams. And during a decade which has generally been very favourable for batting, they've averaged only 20.97 per wicket, giving their bowlers little to play with.

Amid the gloom, though, there is something to cheer about. Over the past year, Bangladesh have also uncovered a few genuine talents who should serve them well for several years to come. Tamim's 151 in Mirpur is the second-highest Test score by a Bangladesh batsman, and it would perhaps have been fitting if he'd scored eight more runs and gone past Mohammad Ashraful's unbeaten 158, for Tamim is showing himself to be the one of the best batting talents to emerge from the country. He has played only 14 Tests, and is 158 shy of 1000 runs. Habibul Bashar achieved the feat in his 16th Test, and Tamim could get there in as many matches if he continues his recent form. Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim have good numbers too, featuring in the top four in terms of averages, which is a quite an indictment on the rest of the batsmen as neither is a specialist in that area.

Bangladesh's best batsmen in Tests (Qual: 500 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Tamim Iqbal 14 842 32.38 2/ 3
Habibul Bashar 50 3026 30.87 3/ 24
Shakib Al Hasan 16 790 28.21 0/ 3
Mushfiqur Rahim 18 864 27.00 1/ 4
Shahriar Nafees 16 835 26.09 1/ 4
Rajin Saleh 24 1141 25.93 0/ 7
Nafees Iqbal 11 518 23.54 1/ 2
Junaid Siddique 13 588 23.52 0/ 5
Mohammad Ashraful 52 2242 23.11 5/ 7
Al Shahriar 15 683 22.76 0/ 4

Tamim's rise has done a bit to lift the plight of Bangladesh's openers too. He has played 26 fewer Tests than Javed Omar, but has already scored two hundreds to Omar's one. Looking at Bangladesh's stats by batting position, it's clear that No.3 has been the best slot, thanks largely to Bashar's record: he has played 80 innings at this position and averages almost 32.

What Bangladesh desperately need, though, is a more prolific batsman at No.4. Ashraful occupied that slot in the series against India and didn't do much to enhance his reputation, scoring 68 in three innings, in fact, the highest score at two-down was nightwatchman Shahadat Hossain's 40 in the second Test. In 124 innings, Bangladesh have only managed one Test century from a No.4 batsman, and that was in their very first Test innings, when Aminul Islam scored 145. Since then, only twice has any batsman scored even half as many, with the highest being 77 by Ashraful, whose average at that slot in 39 innings is an embarrassing 14.46. In fact, Bangladesh's No.8 batsmen have a higher average than their No.4s.

The second-highest average has been at the No.5 position, with Ashraful scoring three hundreds at this slot and Rajin Saleh and Bashar too doing well in their limited outings.

Bangladesh averages by batting position
Position Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Openers 248 5450 22.15 5/ 26
No.3 124 3412 27.73 3/ 25
No.4 124 2392 19.60 1/ 10
No.5 123 2815 24.05 3/ 12
No.6 122 2266 19.20 2/ 5
No.7 122 2465 22.40 1/ 7
No.8 121 2175 20.32 1/ 11

Which brings us to the Ashraful debate - is he a hugely talented batsman who has consistently underachieved, or is he an ordinary player who has managed to play a few extraordinary innings in between several failures? Bangladesh have been remarkably patient with him - in part due to the lack of options - but his returns, over the last couple of years especially, have been terribly disappointing: in 14 Tests during this period, he averages a paltry 16.33, hardly the numbers befitting the team's most experienced batsman. His mediocre display is one of the primary reasons for Bangladesh's terrible numbers at No.4 - he has flopped at that position when given a chance, which has forced the team to try out other options.

There was a period - between 2004 and 2007 - when it seemed he was, at least partially, fulfilling his potential, but his stats have regressed so considerably over the last couple of years that Bangladesh must consider giving him a break.

Ashraful's Test career in three parts
Period Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
2001 to 2003 15 592 20.41 1/ 2
2004 to 2007 23 1209 29.48 3/ 5
2008 onwards 14 441 16.33 1/ 0
Career 52 2242 23.11 5/ 7

On the other hand, some of the other players have made considerable strides during this period. Over the last 15 months (since October 2008), Mushfiqur averages more than 40 and has been consistent, while Shakib and Tamim have averaged more than 30. What Bangladesh need is for more specialist batsmen to rise to the challenge, and to do so at a stage when the game is still up for grabs: of the 17 centuries that Bangladesh batsmen have scored in Tests so far, only eight have come in the first innings of the match. On current form, Mushfiqur has done enough to stake a claim in the top five of the batting line-up.

Bangladesh's top five run-getters since October 2008
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Mushfiqur Rahim 10 690 40.58 1/ 3
Tamim Iqbal 10 665 35.00 2/ 1
Shakib Al Hasan 10 573 31.83 0/ 3
Junaid Siddique 9 405 23.82 0/ 3
Mohammad Ashraful 10 320 16.84 1/ 0

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 2, 2010, 6:13 GMT

    I guess selectors played an important part in our batting disorder...if you check all the international teams...one thing they have is experienced cricketers...some one like sachin,muralitharan,ponting,mohammad yousuf,strauss,boucher and many more but who do we have? yea we have the talented ones who would inspire them with words...coach himself is not enough....we needed experienced cricketers...we need leader....we need sports psychologist...Ashraful is a talented player but he needs to realize that 160 million people are looking towards this man...bangladesh team should go and practice with bunch of kids in the rural area then they would realize what they mean to the nation...sports has the power to unite a nation...1995 South African rugby team has proved it...yea we might not have politician as like Nelson Mandella.. but we do have spirited supporters as South African had....so come on Bangladesh team if you are listening go and check how it feels like when you guys are on top.

  • Bang on February 1, 2010, 14:26 GMT

    What really still amazes me is, what the media and pundits saw in Ashraful to highlight him as a genius!! Even in the second test in Dhaka, Ravi Shastri, the meanest of all commentators, was braying that Ashraful had "huge talent". I tried to follow Ashraful's every game and what I noticed in general was his lack of sense of cricket. In the matches where he played well and Bangladesh won, his style of getting out was simply nonsensical. I feel, he is a below average cricketer performing special in few times when the opponents erred.

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2010, 11:10 GMT

    Bangladesh should give an opportunity to the other batsman in place of Ashraful, it will be benefical to bangladesh in 2 points of view: 1. Ashraful will try hard to make his latent talent awake & 2. There will be a competition & every body will try their best to be in the side So I think ALOK KAPALI & AFTAB AHMED should have a chance in the T20s . Raqibul Hsan should be out from hte T20s and one days for his CONTINUOUS POOR FORM THE OTHER GUYS WHO PEFORM well in domestic level should get opportunities

  • Kareem on February 1, 2010, 2:32 GMT

    I believe a certain somebody known as Jamie Siddons knows a bit more about cricket than all of us combined and multiplied by 100. If he has faith in Ashraful, so should B'desh fans. He tends to take a LOT of pressure on himself, you can tell that by the way he talks to the media, by his body language etc etc. Ashraful is trying to change his game over the past year or 15 months. He definitely has a better year and half ahead of him than the previous one.

  • Dummy4 on January 30, 2010, 8:33 GMT

    definitely he should be kept out as WATCHING AT HIM one can understand that he is rather an ordinary batsman. Now we have options as well. Alok Kapali /Aftab can come in or some one from U 19 could be picked up or musfiq/mahmudullah could be promoted .The postion where Ashraful is playing is very vital especially when some one like Imrul Kayes play and score 10-12 runs and got out and then in this postion comes Ashraful and through the wicket easily which plunge our team into defeat.I think our selector must consider this matter ,otherwise I will be bound to think that some influential person is backing him.

  • Dre on January 30, 2010, 0:35 GMT

    When Ashraful 1st came on the scene as a very young player, I for one excused him and thought that he was talented and would grow and play better with experience. It is clear,however, that a 25 yr old cannot be judged in the same way that an inexperienced 20 yr old would. Ashraful is 25! He has played many matches, he can no longer be termed as "talented" he has become unfulfilled. His long run highlights the low standards Bangladesh have been setting themselves for too long. In the recent past they seemed too comfortable, excusing their poor performances on the basis that they are a young team with alot of "talent". Look around the globe, every team has "talent". Ireland is not short of it. Nial O'brein, Rankin, Morgan and Ed Joyce put up a decent show in county and have shown better application and have made better use of their ability than Ashraful even though some are not as "flashy"(talented?) but poor Ireland does not have test status. Give them 10 yrs as well I say.

  • ZILLUR on January 30, 2010, 0:31 GMT

    I agree with Nipun along with Ashraful been given too many opportunity and he is not realizing that it's just matter of time selector will give up on him. 10 years 50 plus TEST'S and 150 plus ODI'S way too much for any player who wants to succeed in international circuit. 2011 World cup is not too far away so selector need drop him now not 6 months later, as that won't give another player enough time to get ready for big occasion. If you look at the stats Mitchell Johnson of Australia have better average and greater batting talent than Ashraful. Well it's not just Ashraful there are other guys like Raqibul Hasan, Imrul Kayes not only they are disappointing in their batting also in fielding. There is no proper application, no real test temperament honestly they should watch lot of cricket.

  • dinakar on January 29, 2010, 22:46 GMT

    Based on what we have seen in the most recent series with India - Mushfiqur Rahim is easily the best guy to bat at 3 or 4 and the best batsman on display after Tamim. I don't think Rahim batting down the order at 6 or 7 is any justice to his talent or potential. He has the best backfoot play on display in the entire Bangladesh team and should be given opportunities at the top of the order sooner than later.

  • Shihab on January 29, 2010, 18:33 GMT

    I agree with Nipun. He should be kicked out for a while. He is young enough to be able to fight his way back in to the team. Sometimes talent needs a bit of a push and a shove.

  • Prince on January 29, 2010, 17:23 GMT

    A batsman who hasn't learnt anything after playing for 10 years for 150+ ODIs & 52 tests is surely a demoralising factor in the Bangladesh dressing room.The likes of Mashrafe Mortaza,Shahadat Hossain would also manage an average of 23+ if they are given so many chances.

  • No featured comments at the moment.