Pakistan v Bangladesh, 1st ODI, Lahore April 8, 2008

When bits fell to pieces


What would Bangladesh have given for another quick bowler like Mashrafe Mortaza in Lahore? © Getty Images
 

Bangladesh are not this bad. Surely they can't be. But they are still poor enough so that when they do have a bad day, it becomes, like today, an awful one. Mohammad Ashraful looks even younger than he is, and as the oldest member of his squad is not yet 26, it's perhaps not surprising that he appeared quite overwhelmed by night's end.

Ashraful rightly wants this squad to stick together over the next two to three years so they develop as a unit, but the same perhaps cannot be said about the final XI that turned out here. Continuity is an admirable aim in cricket selection, but picking the same XI as the one that played and won the series against Ireland was unwise.

The rationale behind this side and the one that played Ireland is based on that curse of modern-day cricket: the multi-dimensional player. Like salesman who no longer sell but provide solutions, no longer are wicketkeepers just wicketkeepers. They now bat, preferably in cavalier fashion. Bowlers need to bat too, so that they can someday aspire to the giddy heights of that vital No.8 slot. And if they can't field, they can't play.

But, as Pakistan will no doubt vouch, a wicketkeeper who can just hold on to catches, is pretty useful too. Pakistan's Mansoor Amjad and India's Irfan Pathan, to name just two, are men who have almost sacrificed their primary bowling skill at the altar of multi-dimensionality. Bowlers who can take wickets, as Bangladesh hopefully learned from today, are priceless regardless of whether or not they can hold a bat or a catch.

Bangladesh played essentially with just two specialist bowlers in Mashrafe Mortaza and Abdur Razzak. The rest bowl some, bat a bit but can't do enough possibly with either. They used three bowlers as their fifth option, their ten overs leaking 106 runs.

How they could have done with another Mortaza, who provided some real zest through his ten overs, on a pitch that wasn't as cruel to seam as first appearances had suggested. Instead Shahadat Hossain, who scared South Africa in a Test very recently, and who looks the real deal, sat out, as he did in the clean sweep against Ireland because he can't bat or field. Syed Rasel, a niggardly little left-arm swinger who gives away, on average, four runs an over, also sat out, leaving Pakistan to plunder Aftab Ahmed, Ashraful himself and Mahmudullah.

Ashraful acknowledged nervously that the strategy was a mistake, though the thinking behind it seems embedded. "Everyone looks for two skills in a player these days, like Farhad Reza, who does both. But yes we missed one seam bowler today. Mortaza and Reza bowled well for us in the first 20 overs but after that we missed a bowler."

Jamie Siddons, the coach, explained later that they wanted to beef up the batting and could've done with a fast bowler who bats. They could also have done with another fast bowler. "We tried it against Ireland, but it backfired here," Siddons said, admitting that the policy would be revisited before the next match in Faisalabad.

 
 
A match such as this is best gotten out of the system early in a series rather than towards the end
 

The irony of ironies, of course, was that in sacrificing bowling options to strengthen the batting there promptly followed a properly abysmal batting performance. Sohail Tanvir and Rao Ifikhar Anjum, who shared five wickets between them, will know in their hearts that they could bowl till they are 95, but easier wickets will not come their way again. "Our batsmen didn't play well today. We didn't stick to our team rules and got out to rash shots," said Ashraful. "It is difficult chasing over 300 but we just didn't bat well on a good batting wicket."

Still, Bangladesh will console themselves with the belief that they cannot be this poor again. A match such as this is best gotten out of the system early in a series rather than towards the end. And while they are at it, they might also consider ridding their system of the reliance on the multi-dimensional player.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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