Bangladesh's eight missing keys to a stable batting order

Liton Das celebrates his fifty AFP

Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah contributed a staggering 71% of all runs Bangladesh scored on their tour to West Indies and the USA. Tamim scored the only two centuries and the four senior batsmen scored eight out of the 10 half-centuries. But in stark contrast, eight of Bangladesh's best young batsmen could muster only 369 runs in 29 innings combined.

Liton Das, Anamul Haque, Soumya Sarkar, Sabbir Rahman, Mosaddek Hossain, Mominul Haque, Ariful Haque and Nurul Hasan scored only two fifties between them. It proved to be a major problem on tour, with much of Bangladesh's fortunes depending on that of these four batsmen.

Bangladesh's three top coaches - Mohammad Salahuddin, Khaled Mashud and Nazmul Abedeen - who worked with these batsmen closely, observed generally worrying patterns in their performances. They found a combination of technical and mental deficiencies, inadequate planning and scoring appetite and lifestyle choices as the cause of their overall regress. The trio acknowledged that talent and potential alone cannot take these athletes too far, especially at the elite level.

Liton had the most opportunities during the tour, batting in the top order, and was the highest-scorer with 158 runs among the eight young batsmen. Apart from his quickfire 61 in the last T20I, he made three decent starts. When Bangladesh were sinking in the first innings of the first Test, his response was to heave on the off side, only to be caught at point. He also got out twice in the Test series playing too far away from his body.

Abedeen, the BCB coach currently in charge of BCB's Women's Wing, was the national game development manager and head cricket coach in BKSP, the country's biggest sports institute where Shakib, Mushfiqur, Soumya and Mominul studied and learned cricket. In his opinion, Liton is equipped with the skills and technique but has to cultivate a hunger to prosper at the highest level.

"Liton showed that he belongs at that level but he got out to his own mistakes," Abedeen explained. "He wasn't uncomfortable like some of the others. Liton has to think big from deep within himself. I don't know [what] his full thought process [is like] but when you don't think big, you can't plan accordingly, for yourself or for the team."

Liton wasn't considered for the ODIs despite a 70 in the practice one-dayer in Kingston prior to the series. Mashrafe Mortaza kept faith in Anamul Haque, who disappointed with only 33 runs in three ODIs. The captain perhaps wanted to give him an extended run as Anamul had played four of the five ODIs in the January tri-series at home.

Bangladesh Premier League-winning coach Salahuddin, under whom Anamul played domestic cricket, said he has yet to develop a proper plan of action going into an innings. He was perplexed to see Anamul go all out on the West Indies attack in the second ODI, and then retire to the other extreme in the third game. Not picking enough singles, Salahuddin felt, is another cause of concern in Anamul's batting.

"I saw him bat in all three innings, and he had three different plans. There was no one style or pattern to it," Salahuddin said. "He was hitting everything in one game, and defending everything in the next innings. Someone like Liton stuck to his style: he got after the bowling regularly whether he got out or not.

"The gear change between all-out attack and playing defensively only happens when a batsman doesn't pick singles, whether voluntarily or because of his inability to do so. Even if the team management demands a certain approach, one cannot just go after every ball. Anamul should have stuck to a proper batting plan."

Like Anamul, Soumya was also given another go in the T20Is as he had been a consistent selection in the format since February this year despite losing his Test and ODI places. According to chief selector Minhajul Abedin, the team management had been asked twice to include Soumya in successive T20I series, against Afghanistan (in June) and, most recently, against West Indies.

Much of the investment of faith in Soumya has come at the expense of the Bangladesh team management fiddling with the top order in all three T20Is. In the first game, he fell for a golden duck, while in Lauderhill, he struggled against the pace and bounce. His inadequacies sounded an alarm since tackling such bowling is the prime reason behind Shakib & co backing him. But he finished on just 19 runs in the three matches, stretching his lean patch to 11 innings in which his batting average has been 7.91. More worryingly, Soumya failed to score a half-century against Sri Lanka A in the six opportunities he got earlier at home.

Salahuddin believes Soumya has technical deficiencies that should have been eradicated at least two years ago. "Soumya has some technical problems which he should have worked on a long time ago. Offspin is a worry for him, and so is hitting straight," he says. "He hits everything between mid-on and midwicket. He is a good strokeplayer but the same scenario has been played out for long.

"When he gets to a fifty, we say that Soumya is back in form but, in my thinking, he is only back in form when he plays to his strength. He has become quite defensive, and his aggressive approach is gone. I think his psychological change has roots in his technical problems."

Sabbir, too, has found himself short of runs recently but his worries are not limited to the field of play alone. He made only 27 runs in three ODIs although, in his defense, his batting opportunities all came in the last five overs. However, in most instances, he took guard after a big partnership had ended, which underlines his failure to build on the platform he had been provided with. Having been re-designated to be a lower middle-order hitter, Sabbir knew his role clearly too. But, with a wavering focus, highlighted by his alleged social-media fracas with fans, there's little he could do to arrest the slide in his on-field performance.

Mashud, the former Bangladesh captain who oversaw Sabbir's development as a cricketer since his early years, pointed to a carpet dearth of desire among Bangladesh's young players to sustain themselves at the highest level. Mashud has observed many of these young batsmen as a coach in domestic cricket over the years.

"Apart from Shakib, the other senior cricketers didn't start all that well in international cricket but Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah and Tamim have really come of age in the last four-five years. So what worked for them? They are unbelievably focused on performance," Mashud says.

"Working as a coach in a first-class team, I came across one of these batsmen who turned up just a day before a four-day game. They were putting foundation cement to their new house. Rather than being an icon to the younger players by being professional before a game, they were making excuses.

"They need to be separately monitored and motivated. Someone like Fahim bhai (Abedeen) should do one-on-one sessions with them, to get them invested in the game. Look at how Tamim, Mushfiqur and Mashrafe are hooked to the game. You cannot drag these guys out of the nets or gym. But I am afraid it is not the case for the younger cricketers."

He was also critical of the players' social-media addiction. "Why should they follow Facebook every moment? It should be the other way around. I see one player posting so much and chasing likes. Let Facebook 'like' you because of your performance."

Abedeen believes that some of these younger players have to be handed leadership roles in the Bangladesh A side. "I think we are putting some of these young cricketers in the shadow for too long. They need to be given leadership roles at some level. Mosaddek was terrific in the domestic one-day competition, so he should be the 'CEO' of the Bangladesh A team, when he is the 'accountant' in the senior team.

While Mosaddek's unbeaten five-ball 11 in the last over of the third ODI exuded promise, he deserves greater depth and extent of opportunity as a proper middle-order batsman. But having been out for six months due to an eye condition, he has had to relinquish his regular batting slot across formats. With Shakib having moved to No. 3, perhaps he could have been assigned a middle-order role anywhere between Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah, but in all three games Mahmudullah was more of a requirement in the last 15 overs, given the big top-order partnerships.

None of Mominul, Ariful or Nurul had much to show for during the tour either. Nurul made a mark with his counter-attacking, second-innings 64 in the first Test, especially in light of the collective failure of the rest of the line-up. But the pair he collected in the second Test exposed his technical frailties.

Mominul's outing in the Test series was his worst in five years, but he did admit after returning to Dhaka that an overemphasis required on negotiating the short ball and not so much the fast, full deliveries that hampered his fluency against Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel.

Ariful, meanwhile, is on the other end of the experience scale, though he would rue not making the most of the 10.3 overs he had at his disposal in the first T20I to muster a score higher than 15. He hasn't done enough to grab the No. 7 position in the T20I side, which means the selectors cannot yet consider him in the ODIs.

It is not that Bangladesh only have the likes of Sabbir and Mosaddek for lower-order positions, or that they are stuck in a cycle which warrants them to give Soumya, Liton and Anamul top-order opportunities. A cricket team with as many as eight considerably talented batsmen has to keep trying them regularly before they sync themselves with the rigours of top-level international cricket. For that to happen, though, the batsmen, on their part, have to show enough consistency and turn promise into performance.