Lessons from Siddons
Jamie Siddons was Bangladesh coach for over three and a half years, and in that time his most significant contribution was perhaps the way in which he changed the mindset of a side who had long been derided for their lack of batting acumen. Under him, Bangladesh's batting improved considerably, with players like Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Junaid Siddique and Raqibul Hasan proving, at various times, that they have the gumption and the talent to build an innings.
It is instructive to consider the comments of former players. Chief selector Akram Khan has observed that the current team is far more professional than previous generations, and spinner Enamul Haque Jnr, who played the majority of his internationals under Siddons' predecessor Dav Whatmore, before being recalled in 2009, recently spoke of how Shakib Al Hasan's men are mentally stronger than their predecessors.
Siddons did not have it all his way. Bangladesh endured defeats to Ireland and Netherlands during his tenure, and also failed to reach 100 in one-dayers on four occasions. The most recent of those humiliations occurred on world cricket's biggest stage: in the 2011 World Cup, Siddons' team were first bundled out for 58 by West Indies and then dismissed by South Africa for 78 a few weeks later.
Siddons made his name as a batsman in the unforgiving terrain of Sheffield Shield cricket, and was renowned as a tough cricketer with high professional standards and steely resolve. His most enduring legacy will be the belief he instilled in his players, and the understanding that patience is a greater virtue in building an innings than sheer bravado.
Siddons also managed to convince the Bangladesh Cricket Board of the need for professionalism when developing a fledgling team, and during his term Bangladesh were able to boast, for the first time, a complete contingent of full-time coaches. Siddons' back-room staff comprised a bowling coach - Champaka Ramanayake and later Ian Pont - a strength and conditioning coach, Grant Luden; a fielding coach, Julien Fountain; and occasionally an assistant head coach - Shaun Williams, followed by Khaled Mahmud. For a time the team even benefitted from the services of a sports psychologist. With the notable exception of a spin-bowling specialist, Bangladesh under Siddons came the closest they have to a coaching unit structurally comparable to the ones the likes of India, England and Australia have.
The effect was clear. In addition to looking more at home on the international stage, Bangladesh improved in all three key disciplines during Siddons' tenure. In particular, promising strokemakers like Tamim developed some consistency, and inexperienced fast bowlers like Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain received the guidance needed to develop variation and nerve. If Bangladesh are to compete with the world's best, they need to at least speak the same language; under Siddons they began learning it.
|Tests||19||16||2||350 or more 2|
|ODIs||84||53||31||250 or more 14|
|Twenty20s||8||8||0||150 or more 2|
Bangladesh have always relied heavily on their spinners, and this did not change under Siddons. However, games are rarely won through spin alone, and despite the progress made by the likes of Shafiul and Rubel, Bangladesh urgently need to address their fast-bowling production line. During Siddons' tenure Bangladesh regularly fielded just two seamers in home conditions, allowing the bulk of overs to be delivered by a coterie of spinners (mostly of the left-arm persuasion). It was while on tour, in conditions that favoured seam, that the absence of good fast bowlers was most obvious.
At the start of his reign, Siddons sought out domestic performers with potential. Mahbubul Alam was first favoured, but despite encouraging performances against South Africa, he fell from grace shortly afterwards. Syed Rasel was invariably omitted due to his perceived lack of pace, while Nazmul Hossain was in the mix but failed to cement a place as the preferred back-up.
Against England in 2010, Robiul Islam was rewarded for a fine domestic season with a national call-up. After a promising start against the England Lions, his inexperience was cruelly exposed against Andrew Strauss's men at Lord's, following which he was quickly discarded.
There are some exciting fast bowlers emerging, such as the former Under-19 star Kamrul Islam Rabbi and academy bowler Subashis Roy. However, Bangladesh's next coach will need a strategy for managing young fast bowlers to ensure the transition to the national side is smooth and fruitful.
One of the defining aspects of Siddons' tenure was the way he sought consistency in selection. While a noble aim, this often led to batsmen who were clearly out of sorts being persisted with despite their lack of form. The most notable cases were two of Siddons' favourite pupils: Junaid and Raqibul. Both generally improved under the coach's guidance, but they suffered significant dips in form too. Siddons was reluctant to replace them and frequently said the best cricketers in Bangladesh were already involved in the set-up.
Yet when new players were selected (normally when the coach's hand was forced by injury or by defections to the ICL) they performed admirably. Imrul Kayes and Jahurul Islam were brought into the fold due to their exceptional domestic form, and they did not disappoint on the international stage. The lesson here is that extending the talent pool can be productive. Any future coach should not ignore proven domestic performers when the need arises, despite the limitations of Bangladesh's first-class structure.
Siddons' legacy has been blighted by some disappointing performances towards the end of his tenure. But to focus on these is to do a disservice to a hardworking and thoughtful coach. He was primarily appointed to address Bangladesh's batting deficiencies and did so with relative success. He had his faults and he may yet regret his outspoken nature, selection policies, and lack of sensitivity when dealing with his political masters and former players.
Siddons was not Bangladesh's most high-profile coach; Eddie Barlow, Dav Whatmore and Trevor Chappell all came to Dhaka with bigger reputations. However, history should look kindly upon him. He brought with him a strong work ethic and helped a much maligned cricketing nation earn a degree of credibility in world cricket. His successor, whoever he may be, would do well to emulate those achievements.
Abu Choudhury is a regular contributor to Banglacricket.com. He lives in London