3-0 instructive, but not cataclysmic

On the face of it a 3-0 whitewash to the babes of international cricket, Afghanistan, may spell catastrophe for the Bangladesh cricket team, but it was hardly a surprise because a look at the ICC world T20I rankings reveals that Bangladesh are two places below Afghanistan. Perhaps the stench from the defeat would have been a little more tolerable if the Tigers managed to pull one back, especially in the last T20I on Thursday when just one run separated the two sides. However, there may be a silver lining to the dark cloud if the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) abandons a damaging policy of undue focus on the shortest format of the game.

Test and T20I skipper Shakib Al Hasan said before the series that Afghanistan — yet to play a Test while Bangladesh have played more than 100 — were favourites, and if it seemed like a typical exercise in quieting the hype, by the second T20I in Dehradun last Tuesday it was obvious that the skipper’s words were an honest assessment. Afghanistan are the better team in the format, but the operative words there are ‘in the format’ and it is high time that Bangladesh cricket realises that success in T20Is cannot be an end in and of itself, especially at the expense of focus on the other formats.

That is of course not to belittle Afghanistan’s awesome achievement in whitewashing Bangladesh. They have proven three times in a week that they have the wares to be successful in the format, and it can be measured by some very accessible figures. Afghanistan hit 23 sixes in three matches, Bangladesh hit 10; the series winners scored 44/0, 38/1 and 43/0 in the Powerplays while the corresponding numbers for the vanquished were 49/2, 42/2 and 35/3; and tellingly, in the last four overs Afghanistan’s numbers were 62/4, 37/1 (2.5 overs) and 36/2, and Bangladesh’s were 15/5 (3 overs), 32/3 and 47/2.

To break down those figures, Afghanistan’s players have proved to be more adept at six-hitting and are more capable of utilising the high-octane periods of a T20 game — the first six overs and the last four overs — that more often than not prove decisive. This is ideally suited to T20 success against a team not able to match those numbers.

This also is no surprise. T20I vice captain Mahmudullah Riyad has been saying since the T20I series against Sri Lanka at home in February that Bangladesh’s batsmen are better at hitting cricketing shots than putting on power-hitting displays. That is also borne out in the fact that Bangladesh had hit 36 fours over the three matches to Afghanistan’s 27. And there is little to do in this regard – it is not as if Bangladesh can suddenly unearth muscular batsmen who can hit sixes like Mohammad Nabi did against Rubel Hossain to win the second T20I.

More than the wholesome skill set that Tests — and to a lesser extent ODIs — reward, T20s reward the specific skills named above and in the recent series Afghanistan proved to have a comparative advantage over Bangladesh. The case may not be the same when the two teams face off in ODIs or Tests because in the batting at least, Bangladesh have more pedigree to bat longer and bigger than the Afghans.

Again, this is not to say that this 3-0 whitewash really should not matter and there is nothing to learn from it. On the contrary, it threw into stark relief weaknesses in planning and execution that have persisted across formats.

In a welcome twist, BCB president Nazmul Hassan was right when he lambasted the cricketers after the series loss, saying that the absence of a head coach had made the team rudderless and clueless. It was evident in how senior batsman Mushfiqur Rahim — after all the pre-series hype focusing on Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan’s wiles — tried to reverse sweep his first ball of the series and lost his off stump. It was also evident in how Rubel and Abul Hasan persisted in bowling at the pads of a batting line-up that while hard-hitting was also technically deficient, even though the ploy had proven damaging.

Bangladesh’s new head coach Steve Rhodes has been appointed till the 2020 World Twenty20, but one would hope that does not mean that the focus on T20 cricket will be renewed. There are lessons to be learnt from this latest debacle, but they are better off being applied to formats that do not hinge on 10 overs of play and more importantly, which are more suited to Bangladesh’s style of play.