The Bangladesh cricket team will be returning home later today (Friday) from the United Arab Emirates as the first team sent packing from the T20 Cricket World Cup (though it needed some convincing), and really quite the most unimpressive team on show in its Super 12s stage - at least. An unmitigated disaster where the team seemed absolutely incapable of turning, or even threatening to turn a tide of unrelentingly poor cricket. You talk about the batting - schoolboyish. The bowling - toothless. Field - beyond the pale.
Even their relationship with the travelling press corps - not the easiest perhaps, for cricketers to deal with, let's admit, but nothing if not well-meaning - was shot, early on in what has been a long, long time away from home. Captain Mahmudullah, a progressively forlorn figure, by the end was forced to admit he had no answers. No one should expect a more frank admission of defeat from a man. Besides, it was obvious. He didn't know what hit him.
Over the course of a long tournament, some 8 games of cricket, you expect something that you can take out of it. But this desert safari was unyielding. If not a result, at least a performance to look back on? Nope. Some individual brilliance? Something eye-catching? Maybe that spell Taskin Ahmed bowled with the new ball against the South Africans. But that game was over by then, as so many Bangladesh games were to be honest, before the second innings. So there never really was any release of pressure, no break or relief, no drizzle, or even a breeze. For supporters, an endless stream of dejection.
And in this day and age, it gets taken out. And it ends up in close proximity to the players, they cannot really avoid it, and if they become engaged, it is bound to get ugly. As it did, at some points during their stay in the Middle East. The poor relations with the press didn't help matters. Never have the Tigers felt so unloved, so prosecuted. If only they could give back with something in the field. But nothing was working. They had no idea even.
Mushfiqur Rahim is of a stature and experience worth discussing. Bangladeshis love boundlessly, and perhaps no one has been more loved among our beloved Tigers like Mushy, historically. Truly, if he had answered his critics with that bat...even among them, at least some would have prayed for it. And besides, the criticism of him was never unfair. It was as constructive as it gets - his batting suffers immensely when his mind becomes preoccupied with cute little scoops and reverse sweeps. That is not his game, they have never been among his most productive shots. Go back and watch the sublime 50 he made against Sri Lanka - his only contribution of note, and we're told just his second fifty in 30 T20I innings. Shockingly, in sixteen of those outings, the man who we obviously depend on as the lynchpin of our batting - certainly in the absence of Tamim Iqbal - has failed to reach double figures. It's a shocking statistic.
But go to that Sri Lanka innings, 57 off 37 balls, and you will see 37 balls without a scoop or reverse sweep in sight. Pull it up on Youtube. And being the premeditated shots they are, Mushfiqur needed to be told to cut them out. But that defiant stance he had struck out with, left room for no hope that he would listen. More than half of 30 innings without double figures, mind you. At what point does one start to listen? No Bangladeshi will ever be your enemy, you have a place in every home. You can swim in their adulation. You should be receptive to their critiques. Pressure, really?
And no one expects the players to get the ultimate blame for this total debacle, once the post-mortem is done, for which the time only begins after tonight. To the extent that they never looked upto the task, an overall picture has emerged of poor preparation, and that takes us off the field of play. We already know the answers ultimately must come from the BCB, and that means Nazmul Hasan Papon. Even he has admitted the omnipresence he carries as board president for 9 years now, during which the country's political culture has been surreptitiously transmitted into administration of cricket, and the vast national network its organisation entails, and how the enormous amounts of money flowing through it has turned it into fertile ground for greed and corruption.
Of course, hardly anyone believes there will be any tendency to initiate such a process of accountability. Is that even a thing today, in Bangladesh circa 2021? Will Nazmul Hasan, a child of the political arena, indeed as much a politician himself, as anything else. But even before the World Cup, valid questions on precisely the administration of cricket in Bangladesh have hung in the air. Former players and coaches, notably Sarwar Imran, probably the most qualified and experienced of all Bangladeshi coaches, have consistently complained about the lack of quality facilities outside Dhaka - even compared to a country like Sri Lanka, where there isn't as much investment in cricket, and hasn't been for the best part of a decade now. Can BCB satisfactorily account for all the money it makes, as in how it is subsequently spent?
Appearing on a tv channel after the Australia game - the last but also the worst embarrassment, posting a target that got knocked off in just 38 deliveries - the architect Mobassher Hossain proposed that answers be sought through utilising the RTI Act if need be. It would be disappointing to stretch it that far, but there will be plenty of time for that even. For now, you can only be turned off it.
After a T20 World Cup campaign that will be remembered as one of Bangladesh cricket's greatest catastrophes, Tigers skipper Mahmudullah Riyad said he is not thinking of stepping down as the country's T20 captain, nor is it in his hands.
Bangladesh endured defeat in all five of its Super 12s fixtures, after scraping through qualification in round 1 finishing second in a group with Scotland, Oman and Papua New Guinea.
The Tigers' dismal showing in all departments of the game left many observers surprised. Even Mahmudullah said he has no idea about what made them play like this.
"It's tough to say something after these sorts of defeats. We have to work on many things," Mahmudullah said after Bangladesh's eight-wicket defeat to Australia on Thursday in a game that lasted just 21.2 overs. "The wickets we often play on are not ideal for batting. So we have to work more on our batting."
What he meant possibly, was that the pitches in Bangladesh, by which increasingly it can only mean the national cricket stadium in Mirpur, are not ideal for learning to bat, particularly learning to bat against all kinds of bowling. Bangladesh continues to be found out against genuine pace and bounce for example, and top-order collapses were a routine occurrence during the T20 World Cup campaign.
Not that opposition spinners fared too badly against them. Adam Zampa, who became something of an object of ridicule when Australia toured for that series in August, looked like Shane Warne against the Tigers on Thursday, bagging a 5-for, which is so rare in T20 cricket. But the damage was done from the top, the very first over that Mitchell Starc bowled, and clean bowled the hapless Soumya Sarkar, before he could even sight it.
Mahmudullah's captaincy also came under scrutiny. According to many, he failed to lead the team from the front. But Mahmudullah said he tried his best to keep the team together and play their best cricket.
"It's (stepping down as captain) not in my hands. Maybe there was some deficit in my captaincy. But I tried my best to lead the team, and bring out the best of the boys. Now up to the board. They will decide about it," Mahmudullah added.
Bangladesh were sixth in the ICC's men's T20I rankings heading into the World Cup and came to the UAE on the back of series wins against New Zealand (3-2) and Australia (4-1), but those achievements owed much to extreme home conditions, playing on pitches with low bounce and turning from ball one, that contrasted starkly with the surfaces they experienced during heavy defeats to England and South Africa in Abu Dhabi.
Their latest defeat, an eight-wicket humbling with 82 balls remaining against Australia in Dubai on Thursday, highlighted the brittle nature of their batting line-up in the absence of Shakib Al Hasan (injured) and Tamim Iqbal (personal reasons), as they were bowled out for a double-figures total for the second time in three days. Bangladesh's 84 and 73 in their final two games ended up as the two lowest scores in the tournament by a Test-playing nation.
"We didn't perform well in this tournament. I'm still searching for answers, trying to find out what is missing, what we need to do. We sat together to work out where we are lacking and why we can't perform better. Except the Sri Lanka and West Indies games, we performed poorly throughout the tournament."
One could argue even that is really a stretch - just because they ran it close does not mean those were not poor performances.
Bangladesh's early exit means that they have still won only a single game against a full-member nation in men's T20 World Cups, a six-wicket win against West Indies in the inaugural tournament back in 2007. When pressed on why Bangladesh had not made more progress since then in T20 cricket, Mahmudullah suggested they were counting on a good start, but Sri Lanka's comeback in their opening Super 12s game had been a major setback.
But wasn't the die already cast, really, from that loss to Scotland in the first qualifying fixture?
"It is quite complicated at the moment," he said. "We are a team that works on flow. If we see how we played against Australia or New Zealand, we started well and we kept doing well. It's the same in big tournaments like the T20 World Cup: if we could beat Sri Lanka in the first game, we could have that flow and boost the confidence. [But] there's no point saying all this - we performed poorly.
"When you have these sorts of performances, it is hard to say much. There are a lot of areas we have to look at, especially our batting. The wickets that we have played on have been among the best for batting... we have a lot of things to figure out with our batting when we go back to Bangladesh. In T20 cricket, you have to have a good powerplay, especially when we don't have so-called hard-hitters... but we haven't done that at all."
Mash's finger on it
The Bangladesh players' inability to handle the BCB's criticism was a factor in their T20 World Cup blowout. That's the view of former captain Mashrafe Mortaza, who said that the board could have shown more patience with the team they believed was the best combination to go to the world event.
BCB president Nazmul Hassan, in his characteristic no-holds-barred style, blamed Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah for the Scotland defeat, in a press conference on October 18. Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur shot back in the post-game press conferences in the subsequent days, although Shakib said that he agreed with Hassan's broadside.
But it set forth a chaotic World Cup campaign for Bangladesh from which the focus kept deviating to what was being said off the field, rather than the cricket being played on it.
"The players succumbed to the pressure that came from the board's criticism," Mashrafe told vernacular daily Prothom Alo. "Cricketers try to find solace in the cricket board during bad times. BCB should have been more patient. If a player doesn't do well, you can drop him after the tournament but as long as they are in the tournament, it is better not to talk about them.
"The cricket board sent this team to the World Cup. You can't change the squad if someone does badly. You have to show patience. If you don't have that patience, you should have realised much before if this is your best team or not. When the coach, captain, selectors and board have all agreed this is the best team, you have to be patient with the team."
"Nobody from their board says anything about the team's poor performance, despite what is being said in the mainstream media and social media. This is because they know what to do next," he said.
Mashrafe admitted that the players, too, should have kept quiet when they were not performing well. "When players aren't doing well, nobody will receive their words kindly. All they can do is play better in the next match.
"Players don't really need to say much. They have to play well to get out of their bad times, which is why there should be coordination between cricket board and players," he said.
Mashrafe however said that coach Russell Domingo should be answerable for the team's performance. Mashrafe has been highly critical of Domingo on Facebook, terming the Bangladesh team management as a "rehab centre" for South African coaches.
"The coach has to take responsibility. I don't think he had a particular plan for the World Cup. My question is: why does the new coach always experiment with our team? Why does the cricket board agree to it?
"I think the coach should be held accountable, even when he is given the freedom to do his work. When there's no accountability, when their salary is guaranteed for the next six months, the coaches don't care about anything. I think we have to think about the coach now," he said.
Additional reporting and statistics: Saif Hasnat, Cricinfo
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