• Sunday, April 20, 2014

STRAIGHT DRIVE

Twenty20 foresight

By Sakeb Subhan
 Bangladesh pacer and Mohammedan skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza disembarks at the Osmani International Airport in Sylhet last Saturday to start a much-needed T20 tune-up in the Victory Day T20 Cup.
Source: Photo: Star
Bangladesh pacer and Mohammedan skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza disembarks at the Osmani International Airport in Sylhet last Saturday to start a much-needed T20 tune-up in the Victory Day T20 Cup.

Couldn't resist that. The Bangladesh Cricket Board has displayed a rare bit of foresight in giving the national team as much Twenty20 practice as possible before the ICC World Twenty20 pays our land a visit next March. The national players are currently locked in a four-team battle for the Victory Day T20 Cup, a domestic tournament being played in Sylhet and Dhaka. The foresight is well-founded, as all foresight is, because Bangladesh have been quite a clueless team in international cricket's newest, shortest and most lucrative format.
The foresight, one imagines, is also born out of fear that Bangladesh might find the bouncers outside the door unwilling to let them enter their own party. Before the tournament proper gets underway, Bangladesh will fight to enter what may well be -- if the politicians get over themselves by then, that is -- the biggest sporting event solely hosted by this country. For those who have not yet been exposed to the sense of foreboding, let me be the voice of doom.
The top eight-ranked teams -- out of 16 -- have qualified for the Super 10 stage. Bangladesh are not one of them. They will have to fight it out in a four-team qualifying group with Nepal, Hong Kong and Afghanistan. Those who follow the fortunes of the associate nations will know that Afghanistan are not to be taken lightly -- they are a bunch of talented, passionate cricketers who have risen up the ranks at blinding speed and are well capable of an upset, if there is such a thing in 40 overs of biff. To make matters worse, the tournament opens with Bangladesh playing Afghanistan, and as only one team will make it through the round-robin qualifying group stage there is a very real possibility of World Twenty20 2014 getting off to a depressing start.
T20 cricket is a strange beast. Purists dismiss it as a crapshoot saying that luck plays too big a part in such a truncated game, and that it is basically a battle between bat and bat instead of the bat versus ball that cricket should be. But judging by its roaring popularity it is here to stay, and cricket cannot afford to balk at a format that is popularising the game among the young. What it has done is make the edges of the game sharper. Like ODI cricket when it was introduced in the late 1960s and early '70s, it has caused a refinement of out-cricket -- running between the wickets, catching, fielding and discipline in bowling. That is because with only 120 deliveries to play with, each single stolen becomes all that more precious, as does each sliding stop near the boundary rope that converts a four into a three or better yet, a two.
The BCB may have missed a trick in this regard. The tournament taking place between four domestic teams is very well-intentioned, not to mention, needed. But perhaps it would have been better had the national players been in the same team, instead of spread out over four outfits. As their results suggest, this is not a team well-versed in the wiles of T20. As mentioned above, the format does require -- despite its oft-derided slap-bang nature -- a measure of nous, a department where Bangladesh are outmatched not only by the top eight, but even Zimbabwe. Need proof? Before the ongoing tournament, the national team played a three-match T20 series against the A team, and lost 3-0. If there was fear that sticking the best cricketers in the land together against three teams of also-rans would make the contest skewed, the last sentence should dispel that. They won only nine of their 31 international matches, only four of those coming against Test opposition.
Playing together in a format in which, unlike the 50-over variety, the Tigers are yet to find their feet would have given the players much-needed scope for self-analysis. They would have found out what worked, which batsmen clicked in certain positions, their strengths vis-a-vis the format, etc. But we should be content that they are getting practice at all in such a climate.
For my part, I have enough faith in the team to know that they will do their best and come up trumps against Afghanistan, because they have risen to the occasion before. But the purists are right to a degree, it is a kind of crapshoot. While it will be bitterly disappointing if the hosts exit the venue before the party starts, it will in no way be the end of the world. It will mark a failure on the cricketers' part to adapt to the most popular format of the game, but probably will not say much about their ability to be competitive in the longer formats. After all, Pakistan and West Indies are two of the four winners of the tournament, and neither was anywhere close to ruling cricket's roost in the aftermath. So whatever happens, it will be 20 days of entertainment that we should all just enjoy. The Tigers would be well served to do the same.

Sakeb Subhan works as a sports journalist for The Daily Star. He has been an avid cricket follower for nearly 20 years and considers himself an armchair cricket expert. 

Published: 12:00 am Thursday, December 26, 2013

Last modified: 10:05 pm Thursday, December 26, 2013

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