President in control, cricket in chaos - the Bangladesh story

Shakib is in charge of a team that isn't performing well, and the scrutiny - and interference - from the BCB bigwigs won't help

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Nazmul Hassan is more than just the BCB president, he controls everything to do with Bangladesh cricket  •  BCB

Nazmul Hassan is more than just the BCB president, he controls everything to do with Bangladesh cricket  •  BCB

On Monday, speaking about Bangladesh at the upcoming Asia Cup, BCB president Nazmul Hassan said, "There's not going to be a head coach. We have a batting coach, a spin coach, fast bowling coach and fielding coach. We have the captain. We also have a technical consultant for T20s. He will give the game plan. We will have the team director, Jalal [Yunus, the BCB's cricket operations chairman] bhai and myself. Who else do we need?"
It might have sounded odd, but Hassan was just being honest. The BCB has called Sridharan Sriram the "technical consultant for T20s", but he is the de facto T20 head coach, with Russell Domingo out of the picture in the format for the moment. Their back room does have Jamie Siddons, Rangana Herath, Allan Donald and Shane McDermott, as well as team director Khaled Mahmud. And, well, the Bangladesh team management, in reality, extends right up to the BCB president. If Hassan feels that line-up means having a designated head coach is unnecessary, it's only the truth about how the Bangladesh team actually operates.
But decisions being made by a group of Very Important People with Very Important Designations weigh heaviest on the captain. Right now, that's Shakib Al Hasan. He will take the on-field decisions, and match result notwithstanding, will be answerable to not just the coach/es or the selectors, but the board chief and the directors. As if having an underperforming team to shepherd wasn't tough enough.


The situation isn't new to Shakib, but that won't make it any easier.
The fact is that everything goes back to - and has for a while - Hassan in Bangladesh cricket.
The players know it. The coaches are aware. The selectors have had to get Hassan's sign-off on squads since 2016. Hassan has, in the past, openly criticised the team management for not consulting him on playing XIs. Hassan has exercised his power to make "drastic changes" to the coaching staff less than two weeks before a major tournament. Hassan can instruct players to appear in certain series and he really doesn't like it when they retire when he doesn't want them to.
He slams performances during and after series. It goes without saying that Hassan sits in on team meetings. He regularly calls players and coaches to his residence for discussions. And, of course, he likes to speak to the media about it all.
The BCB has had this reputation of being meddlesome when it comes to team matters for more than a decade, ever since AHM Mustafa Kamal became the board chief in 2009, actually. He liked to be in control of all matters to do with the national team. Unwittingly or otherwise, Hassan picked up the trait a couple of years into his reign. Over nine years as the board chief, he has established that whoever the coach or captain are, Hassan and the board directors will call all the shots.


So where does that leave Shakib, or Bangladesh cricket captains in general?
On August 19, Hassan was asked about Shakib's roles and responsibilities.
"Remember one thing, there's never an issue about who the coach is when Shakib is captain," Hassan said. "He decides the best XI. You should know this. He decides it on his own. Of course he takes the advice of the coach. But the coach also prioritises the captain in regards to the best XI. He probably explains the game plan that he can do. Even if we don't have a head coach, we will have Khaled Mahmud and Jalal Yunus."
When asked on Monday how difficult it is to captain a side in such unique circumstances, Shakib was diplomatic. "Challenges exist everywhere, whether it is our team, franchise cricket or another cricket board," he said. "There are different degrees of this challenge, regardless of the size of the cricket board or the franchise."
Playing it safe? Of course. The way BCB has treated some captains in the recent past is enough of a warning, even for someone of the stature of Shakib.
Mashrafe Mortaza, Bangladesh's most successful captain, was pushed out of the T20I team in 2017, and the ODI team in 2020. Mahmudullah, handed the T20I captaincy when the ICC banned Shakib, was sacked last month. When the controversy over Shakib endorsing a betting company erupted, Hassan named Mahmudullah as one of the captaincy candidates. Shakib backtracked. Now he is the captain.
Mominul Haque couldn't handle the Test captaincy on and off the field. On the field, his form suffered. Off the field, he appeared a nervous wreck. Eventually, he resigned from the role just days before the team left for the West Indies in June.
Among the current lot of captains, Tamim Iqbal is in the strongest position. He has led Bangladesh well in ODIs, keeping them in second position in the World Cup Super League table, winning five of their six series in the league. He has also been a prolific scorer during this run, but Tamim will be aware that things can go pear-shaped any moment. He has done well to continue the work of Mortaza with a side that loves to play ODIs. The 2-1 series loss against Zimbabwe recently was a blip, but since it didn't involve Super League points, it has escaped scrutiny.


But the next few months are different. Bangladesh have at least two matches - and a maximum of six - to play before the T20 World Cup, and a poor lead-up wouldn't just disappoint fans, it will put pressure on Shakib. With Hassan expected to travel to the UAE, the Bangladesh media contingent will expect a generous flow of news. He likes to host press conferences after every other game. If the team loses, like at the World Cup last year, there could well be hell to pay, especially for the captain. And the players learnt straightaway that they are not permitted to question, forget criticise, Hassan.
Shakib will play it cool. He will hope to engage constructively with the board chief and the directors, and get the team to focus on matters on-field, rather than on Facebook Watch. Mashrafe turned around a tough campaign in the 2015 ODI World Cup. It can be chaotic, but Shakib will hope for a similar turn of fortunes, and prove to the team and the board that he can lead through this chaos. If he can, he might be rewarded with a bit of peace and quiet.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84