Bangladesh claim unwanted 'chokers' tag
Bangladesh have yet again limped out of the ICC Under-19 World Cup after a successful and dominant lead-up to the tournament in which expectations were high and great hopes were expressed. Their failure was reminiscent of the last two World Cups, which they approached in good form and on the back of strong warm-up campaigns only to fall at crucial hurdles.
The current tournament should lead to some introspection over their inability to handle the 'big games' and perform under pressure. Even though nations tend to talk down their importance, U-internationals are seen as the pathway to international cricket and it must be acknowledged that their penchant for saving their worst performances for the crunch matches doesn't set a good precedent for those moving into what is a very young men's team.
Placed in Group A, the 'group of death,' Bangladesh sailed past Papua New Guinea in their first match by by five wickets, then lost to West Indies by one run and Pakistan by four wickets after holding the edge for long periods. The latter game, especially, is one they will rue losing, having had their noses in front for the majority of the game before losing with one ball to spare. Against West Indies, Bangladesh - chasing 250 - needed just two runs from four balls with two wickets in hand before collapsing.
Their 2010 pre-tournament campaign produced some outstanding results which included a 4-1 hammering of Sri Lanka at home, comprehensive victories against England 2-1 (away) and 5-2 (home) - against a side almost identical to the one that beat India on Thursday in the final Group A match - then disposing of Zimbabwe 5-0 (home). They had a slight hiccup in Sri Lanka where they failed to make the final of the Tri Series tournament, losing to both teams once and registering their only win against the hosts. Once they arrived in New Zealand they comfortably beat the hosts by 36 runs (D/L method) and encountered a star-studded Australian outfit which they beat by 20 runs to complete their warm up matches.
They had similar warm-up campaigns in 2006 and 2008. In the lead up to the 2008 tournament in Malaysia, Bangladesh beat the world champions Pakistan 3-2 (away), Sri Lanka 3-2 (home), losing a tri- series final to a rampant Indian side in South Africa and beating West Indies 2-1 at home. During the tournament, they went through Group D unbeaten, impressing with wins against Bermuda, Ireland and, most importantly, a 13-run victory against England in the final match of the group stages before succumbing to a very good South African team in the quarter-final by 201 runs.
In 2006, Bangladesh narrowly missed out on the final of the Afro-Asia Cup by losing to eventual finalists India and Pakistan but beating Zimbabwe, Pakistan and South Africa. Shortly after that series they demolished Sri Lanka and England in a tri-series at home. They conquered all before them in Group A with wins against New Zealand, eventual champions Pakistan, and Uganda. They actually won five out of six matches in the tournament, beating West Indies and the hosts to finish fifth, but lost the most important match, a quarter-final against a weak England outfit.
This shows up a pattern that in turn raises many questions - at that level, and at that age, how equipped are these youngsters to deal with such pressure? Who is on hand to help out? What are the safety nets? I know in my own experience playing in the U-19 World Cup in 2006 that it can be a very lonely tour for a captain in control of an under-performing group of young men and having to face up to the media immediately after losing crunch games. The coaching staff around you see what is going wrong, and can even see these mistakes made before they happen, yet their own heads are on the chopping block and so they themselves struggle to deal with the frustration.
The ability to handle pressure can simply be put down to experience by finding your way through the tight situations and coming out on top eventually. Without a doubt, the most important thing to learn from these events is how to handle the pressure better the next time. I know personally, I would've liked more preparation for our campaign back in 2006 to get a feel for the pitches we were playing on, to learn more about playing quality finger spin, and also, to get a better understanding of my players and their ability at that level. Unfortunately, Bangladesh cannot use that excuse as they are perhaps the most prepared U-19 team at each tournament.
One thing is for sure, if they can find a way to win those 'big games' and get through the difficult pressure moments, then their raw unharnessed ability as a cricketing nation could be freed to produce greater success not only at the U-19 level, but also at the highest level.
Marc Ellison was the New Zealand captain at the 2006 Under-19 World Cup.