Jamie Siddons took the unenviable job of coaching Bangladesh in December 2007. His predecessor, Dav Whatmore was always going to be a hard act to follow, and Bangladesh's international schedule since - where they mostly played the top teams - didn't help. They may have won just four of their 20 ODIs since, but Siddons has set his sights on the long term. He still expects Bangladesh to be No. 9 at the end of his two-year term, but hopes a few young players will have developed into match-winners by then, helping the side compete, if not win, on a more consistent basis.
What was your motivation for taking up the Bangladesh job?
I took the position as it was an amazing opportunity to coach an international cricket team, and it was a natural progression from my position as assistant coach of Australia, where we had won the World Cup, The Champions Trophy, and regained the Ashes. I wanted to bring my knowledge and experience to Bangladesh and take them forward.
In terms of cricket ability, where do Bangladesh stand now?
It is not a question of cricket ability but a question of cricket schooling. Our coaches, competition, and facilities are just not preparing our players for the tough world of international cricket. Our players are as skillful as any, but we are lacking in depth when it comes to consistent performers at the highest level of cricket.
You have been trying to change the cricket culture of Bangladesh and also the way the players approach their game. Why is that important?
At present, and before I came on board, we had no players in our side that you could say are truly successful international cricketers. We love them and they are our heroes but they do not have the results or statistics that their oppositions have. Our batsmen average 20 and the opposition batsmen average 45-50. Our bowlers average 45 and the opposition average 25. This suggested to me that things - and team culture is one of them - needed to change. I have taken a long-term approach and may never see the results of my work. The players are learning to train and prepare in a more professional and responsible manner, where we are trying to improve so that we can be consistently competitive, not just when all the stars are aligned and we have a "good day". We have several players in the team at the moment who I believe have the ability to lead from the front and be world-class players that we can count on each time we play. This is what I am excited about for Bangladesh Cricket and our supporters.
Isn't trying to force a change in the natural style of play fraught with risk?
There is such a misconception about how I want my players to play. I will just say that the batsmen are instructed to think of every ball as an opportunity to hit a four or a six, but if the ball is too good and the risk or percentage for success is not good, then we must do something else. The game is about making runs and I encourage my players to look to score at every opportunity. Our supporters cannot have a team that entertains from ball one by hitting the ball in the air, and expect them to also score a lot of runs at international level. It won't happen. We will lose wickets and fail nine times out of ten as we have done in the past. There needs to be a balance of responsibility and structure to our batting. We are a team that in the past used to pass 200 in our innings just one time in four at the crease. We now do this every second time we play. I look for success in lots of ways. Winning is a result of a lot of successes in the process.
How is coaching Bangladesh different from coaching Australia or any other international team?
In Australia there is an amazing domestic infrastructure, which culminates in the best first-class competition in the world. The international players, when not playing for the country, simply go back to their state cricket system and train with their state team-mates and coaches, fitness trainers, physios, doctors and so on. In Bangladesh our players must stay in Dhaka to train and get any coaching they need. There are just no real facilities for them in the home areas, but the cricket board and I have identified this and are planning to improve in this area.
Our players are just so inexperienced in terms of decision-making and being ready for international standard. With Australia you are talking tactics and teaching new shots and small aspects of the game; with our team you spend every day just teaching them the basics of the game, things that they should know when they are 15 or 16. This is because our infrastructure and pathway is not good enough at present.
What are the major obstacles that are holding Bangladesh back in international cricket?
International cricket is as competitive as it has ever been. We have seen India beat Australia in Australia in a one-day series. Then Pakistan won the tri-series in Bangladesh. This was followed by Sri Lanka beating us all to win the Asia Cup in Pakistan. All three of these teams are at the top of their games and are capable of pushing the world No. 1. We are still a young cricket country and are still to get our facilities and infrastructure to where they need to be to produce world-class success stories. We are aware of our deficiencies in this area and know that it will take time to develop them to the high standard required.
At the moment the players selected have still got many areas that need to be improved if they are to perform consistently at the highest level. The pathway at present does not allow those flaws to be ironed out before they are selected. Our players learn the hard way, in the public eye, on the international stage. I know we have won games at times in the past, but I ask: have we really produced a world-class cricketer that we can rely on year in year out?
Recently Bangladesh have shown signs of improvement in batting, but the bowling has deteriorated significantly. Has having a specialist bowling coach like Champaka Ramanayake in your coaching staff helped?
It is fantastic to have Ramanayeke in our system at the moment. He was a regular at our training before the Australian tour, so we have access to his assistance when we need or want him. His bowling squad regularly attends our training sessions as well.
There is a perception among cricket fans and media that you are downplaying the successes achieved by your predecessor Dave Whatmore, to cover up the recent failures of Bangladesh team.
I have the utmost respect for Dav. He is a personal friend and we speak from time to time. Success is measured in many ways, and I would love the team to grab a couple of wins here and there - as Dav and the boys did in his time. However, I am not here just to have the team win a game or two. I am trying to develop this squad and the future of Bangladesh cricket to a point where they can compete regularly against the top-ranked teams. This will take time as the players have so many lessons to learn and skills to develop. There are no easy wins out there at the moment. All the teams we have played recently are very strong and on the move forward.
I continually talk about success and improvement. We have a young team, and when you are developing you must base success on achievement, not on the win-loss figures. I hate the word "failure" when used to describe our team. They have had so many achievements in the nine months I have been with them. It is the long term that the people of Bangladesh must look at, not the immediate high of a win. Though I admit it would be nice at the moment to get you guys off our backs and increase the confidence of all. We now have more potential world-class players than ever before and the future is as bright as ever.
There was once a belief that Bangladesh could compete with any team on their day, which no longer appears to be the case. Do you think you are a bit too pessimistic about Bangladesh's chance of winning against the top eight teams, which is affecting the team morale?
The problem is, people have no idea how I talk to my team on a daily basis. The players are aware that our vision is to always improve. I would love to know what "on their day" means. I am not interested in coaching a team that relies on luck or it being their day. I am concerned with improving skills and confidence, so that we believe in ourselves every time we compete. We do believe that if we play to the best of our ability then we can win.
The other thing I need to say is that the team under Dav were given plenty of games against the so-called minnow teams prior to the World Cup. This allowed them to win a lot of games in the lead-up and gain some momentum. They then went on to win two very big games [against India and South Africa], in perfect conditions for our style of cricket. In my time so far, we have been scheduled to play the No. 2 sides in the world in two series, and the No. 1 recently. We also had a series in New Zealand, which is very tough to tour. We have had just one three-match series against a minor team [Ireland], a team that actually beat us at the World Cup. We completely outplayed them and won the series 3-0.
Are you happy with the progress Bangladesh have made over the last ten months under your coaching?
As I have said previously there are so many examples of success within our team lately. The elusiveness of victory is not helping the public see this, though. We have scored our highest scores ever against India and Pakistan in the last three months. We have had five players make their first or second ODI centuries. We have a 19-year-old, Raqibul Hasan, who is shaping to be an international player of the future.
How do you explain Bangladesh's recent performance in Australia?
I can say that the results were very disappointing and the lessons learnt were hard ones. The players were simply overwhelmed by the world No. 1 team. They know they are better than they showed us in this series and are determined to gain some credibility back in the near future. We should have won the third match in Darwin. Our bowlers, and in particular our fielders, were superb in keeping Australia to 198 in their 50 overs.
We were a little unlucky at the beginning of our tour to lose two opening batsmen before the first practice match, and then to lose Raqibul with a broken thumb in the first ODI. We simply don't have the depth just yet to replace an opener and our best No. 4 batsman. This left us very unbalanced and even more vulnerable than we were at the beginning. No excuses though - the team have underperformed and are embarrassed by their efforts.
During the Australia series you were very critical about Ashraful in public. What were you trying to achieve? Was it a desperate attempt to bring some responsibility to Ashraful's batting?
I am always talking to Ash about his performances, both good and bad. We are trying to get him to be more consistent and contribute to the score more often. Ash has made maybe just four or five half-centuries in his last 50 innings and I felt it was worth a try to say that we need more from him as captain and a key batsman in our line-up. Ash was sitting beside me and I only stated the obvious. You might consider it as an honest attempt to make him aware of his responsibilities.
I believe we have been too focused on Ash and what he is capable of. We have many batsmen who have made centuries for us and who are real match-winners in our team. These are the players that will make us a successful team; one man cannot do it alone. I hope Ash can find the game that he needs to play his role for us. Everyone thinks he is one of our best players. He needs to show this by making consistent big scores.
It has also been said that I tried to remove Ash as captain of the team during the Australia tour. I have never, and would never, do that. He has the toughest job in world cricket and his players do not always back him up with consistent performances. I have told him that if he is under too much pressure and he feels his batting is suffering due to captaincy, then he should consider resting from it. A run-making Ash is better for his team than to have him as captain and not making runs.
Do you think the team is a bit too youth-oriented and lacks experienced players?
Yes, we lack experienced players, but you cannot have experienced players in your side who are failing all the time - they will not offer guidance when they are not performing themselves. We have no experienced players out of the team at the moment who demand selection because they are performing, or have performed recently in international cricket. If we had an experienced player who was demanding to be picked because of performances then I would be asking the selectors to pick him.
What about someone like Habibul Bashar?
Habibul is one of our centrally contracted players. He is not currently in our team but is a helpful and welcome addition at training. He understands better than most just how hard it is to be successful at international level. I would love to have a performing Habibul in our team. However, he is not at the top of his game and was omitted some time ago after many opportunities. A non-performing senior can't really influence the game of his team-mates. We would not leave a senior player out of our young team if they had the potential to be a match-winner or be in our team come the next World Cup.
What do you expect from the upcoming New Zealand series?
I do not base success on win-loss figures, as this is demoralising to a developing side - they would see every loss as a failure, irrespective of whether they have made a century or taken five wickets. Our young team, whether we like it or not, will lose a few games before they start to win consistently. I want to be realistic here; we have to raise our game to beat teams like New Zealand. The series is on our home soil, the conditions should favor us. If we can play up to our potential, there is no reason why we can't compete and produce some good results.
I expect us to have a lot of players achieving great things against New Zealand, and I also believe we will show that we are improving by winning games in this series. Winning would be amazing for all of us.
Where do you want to see Bangladesh at the end of your initial two-year contract?
We will still be ranked ninth in the world when my two years are up. What I have embarked on is not going to bear much fruit inside two years. What I want to see is that we have started to compete and are consistent in the plans and the processes we need to follow in order to push and beat teams regularly. My intentions have always been to produce some world-class performers who can carry the team to new heights on a consistent basis. And the exciting thing is, there are three or four players who may just do that.