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Why can't Bangladesh produce big hitters?

With overseas players filling up the power-hitting slots in BPL teams and no real T20 culture in Bangladesh below the franchise level, the rare talent that can smack sixes on demand has nowhere to go

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Getty Images/Sportsfile

Getty Images/Sportsfile

You've probably never heard of Ezaz Ahmed, Salauddin Pappu or Hasanuzzaman. You may have seen Ziaur Rahman hit a couple of sixes in passing, and only if you are a die-hard follower of Bangladesh cricket will you have heard about the almost mythical presence of Nazmul Hossain Milon.
They are big hitters in Bangladesh's domestic competitions but even the BPL, the country's only T20 competition, doesn't really want them. They are mostly on the lookout for foreign talent, whether through agents, foreign coaches, by watching another T20 league or even by just seeing their clips on Youtube. BPL franchises haven't started to send scouts abroad to find talent but if they have the budget they probably will, soon.
When a BPL owner, CEO, manager or coach spots an interesting fast bowler playing in the IPL, BBL, CPL or PSL, they are quickly on the phone with an agent. But they haven't shown the same interest in finding local talent.
To be fair to them, they are not expected to, since there are no good or even remotely regular T20 competitions in Bangladesh. Local uncapped players get picked through first-class and one-day tournaments.
In a country where one-day cricket is king, big-hitting batsmen are seen as risky flashes in the pan and without their body of work properly evaluated. After all, this is where a six followed by a dead defensive block earns serious praise for sensible batting.
So when a Pappu, Ezaz or Hasan hammers a six, a club official shifts in his seat. If he plays and misses the next ball, he swears under his breath. And if the big hitter gets out caught in the deep, at nearly any point in an innings, he will earn the official's wrath. The coach will then explain to him how he should have played it straight, with his head down.
The 38-year old Rangpur-based Pappu has spent a lifetime hearing such things, but has always stuck to his style while working through nine different clubs in 17 years. This year, he finally played in the Dhaka Premier League for Khelaghar Samaj Kallyan Samity, though his performance wasn't great. Pappu, as a result, feels he has missed out on a shot at playing for a BPL franchise.
"I have always played this way," Pappu says. "Dhum-dharakka batting for every club but I always thought I could take on the bowlers in the BPL. I have never been in the draft or auction list. I should have played better this season which may have made people notice me."
Ezaz too had the reputation of being a clean hitter for the best part of the last 11 years, yet he has only played a single competitive T20 match, and that too not even in the BPL. He has regularly scored at a high strike-rate and DPL teams have picked him to provide quick starts, although like Pappu he too is coming towards the end of his domestic career.
While they have missed out on playing the BPL despite playing regularly in local competitions, there are others who have made it quite far but haven't convinced anyone in Bangladesh cricket fully.
There was a lot of talk around Milon, whose lower-order hitting and medium-pace off the wrong foot made him an interesting talent. In his first season, Milon struck nine sixes and 11 fours in a 89-ball 144 in a List-A game, batting at No. 8. In the BPL's second edition, he smacked five sixes in a 14-ball 36*, but utility cricketers in Bangladesh tend to be better treated when they are spinners, and as a result he never really caught the selectors' eye.
When Bangladesh realised they badly needed a big hitter in their T20 line-up, they picked Ziaur Rahman, soon after he scored an unbeaten 69-ball 104 during a Bangladesh A tour of England. But he lasted at the top level for only two years despite doing almost everything necessary to prove he could come good as a seaming allrounder if he was given some leeway. But playing for Bangladesh meant he had to connect every time he swung for the gallery, and when he didn't he was swiftly ejected, never to be seen in Bangladesh colours since June 2014.
Still, some talent slips through, almost by accident.
Last year Khulna Titans picked the little-known opening batsman Hasanuzzaman at the draft, surprising many. A couple of rapid knocks in the Dhaka Premier League (List A competition) some months earlier had brought him to notice. In the Kalabagan Krira Chakra team, Hasan had to wait for his turn but Mashrafe Mortaza, luckily, had seen him blast off in the nets. Convinced of his talent, he picked young Hasan who smacked a 53-ball 95 in his first outing and became the latest addition to the country's sparse list of hitters.
Playing for Khulna, however, Hasan averaged only 14.40, having opened in ten BPL games. Quite predictably, the franchise hasn't retained him this season. But Hasan remains one of the few local batsmen likely to be picked up in the player draft based on the promise of his strike-rate, although he didn't enjoy a fruitful DPL this season.
Whether Hasan gets a BPL gig would entirely depend on the overseas players that have already been signed by the franchises.
Coach Mohammad Salahuddin, who steered Comilla Victorians to the 2015 BPL title, says teams will pick local players, especially this season, according to which gaps need to be filled in their rosters.
"We look at the team combination, making sure that we pick the foreign players first and then we fill the gaps with local players," Salahuddin says. "We sign players based on their name, reputation and recent record. I have coached in domestic competitions so that helps but I think we have very few T20 tournaments in Bangladesh; BPL is the only notable one. This season we have five overseas players in the XI, so I don't think many franchises would like to take chances with a local newcomer."
Salahuddin was in the senior team's coaching staff when Jamie Siddons was the head coach. He has also coached at the lower levels of Bangladesh cricket, but hasn't seen a T20 culture develop in the last 10 years.
"If there was a second T20 tournament, it would have certainly produced a lot of T20-specific players," he says. "Without such competitions, it is hard to find players who have those qualities."
In comparison, Indian domestic cricket offers talented T20 players a bigger chance to attract the attention of IPL teams, with the state teams taking part in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy every year, and state associations coming up with their own T20 tournaments such as the Karnataka Premier League or the Tamil Nadu Premier League.
Bangladesh cricket has also never been too keen on finding big hitters, although their maiden ODI win came mainly because of one. Mohammad Rafique, the designated lower-order slogger who for many years entertained fans with his abilty to slam straight sixes, hammered 11 fours and his customary six in his 77. Seven years later, when they needed a fast start against Zimbabwe in a series-deciding game, Rafique blasted a 66-ball 72 that included four sixes.
There have been some false dawns since Rafique. Mahmudullah broke into the scene with a six-filled innings in domestic cricket's first T20 final in 2005 while Junaid Siddique introduced himself with a cracking T20 hundred. While Junaid remained true to that style for a while, Mahmudullah turned into a stable run-getter in the middle-order for many years until, in 2016, Chandika Hathurusingha turned him into a power hitter.
Like Junaid, Mohammad Ashraful and Aftab Ahmed were said to be potential T20 stars after showing some promise in the 2007 World T20 but it wasn't to be. Ashraful's inconsistency spilled over into T20s while Aftab, who moved to the ICL in 2008, barely made a mark afterwards.
It is often felt that had Aftab been given a free reign in T20s, which in Bangladesh translates to a guaranteed spot in the format, he could have made something out of it. Instead, the only cricket he played after returning to the international fold was Tests, and he soon faded away.
Bangladesh have kept planning from one World T20 to the next but never really built a team that was good enough in the format. After every underwhelming campaign, someone from the BCB assures everyone of a better approach next time. Board president Nazmul Hassan said after the 2016 tournament that the selectors would look for new players, and the only place to find such T20 talent would have been the BPL, the country's only T20 tournament of note.
Among Bangladeshi batsmen with at least 10 innings in the BPL, Shakib Al Hasan has the best strike rate: 136.76. The trouble is, he is 24th on the overall list. Mushfiqur Rahim is the next Bangladeshi batsman on that list, with a strike rate of 128.50 in 47 innings.
The uncapped Mehedi Maruf and Mizanur Rahman are among the batsmen who have scored more than 60% of their T20 runs in boundaries, and that is the case with more than half the local batsmen. Sabbir Rahman hits a lot of sixes, but none of the three - Sabbir, Mehedi or Mizanur - has been consistently good in T20s.
They are all top-order batsmen, moreover, who are natural strokeplayers in one-day cricket and by extension do well in T20 at times. But Bangladesh are still without a proper hitter down the order, an asset they regularly miss in ODIs too. It all comes down, in the end, to the system: too few T20 tournaments, too little trust placed on hitters, and too much praise when a batsman hits a six and defends the next ball.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84