More than just cricketing reasons?
Bangladesh slumped to a 142-run defeat against Afghanistan in the second and penultimate ODI on Saturday to lose their first-ever ODI series against the visitors. The Tigers have enjoyed a healthy record at home and the series defeat was only their third at home since 2016. The question that most comes to mind is whether the defeat had more to do with non-cricketing reasons than cricketing ones.
"Please stick to cricket. Don't step outside of cricket. When players coming up in the future do well, write about it. When they play badly, write about that too and criticise them; that is all good. We all know that sometimes we overstep our boundaries," was a message from ODI skipper Tamim Iqbal towards the media during his retirement announcement on Thursday, July 6 – a decision he would withdraw on July 7. As a cricket reporter however, watching Bangladesh perform on July 8, it was difficult to just "stick to cricket".
Of course, there were cricketing reasons. The bowlers were not able to create pressure and keep a batter at one end for long. Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran had a field day rotating the strike; punishing loose balls which were aplenty. The Afghan spinners were a handful and it was once again portrayed that trying to read them, after the delivery had already landed, was a difficult task and the Tigers had a torrid time.
But beyond that, the larger picture and the reasons for that performance were beyond just cricket. The body language of the players, lacking in concrete ideas or execution of plans, were all on view. As if they had turned subpar in a matter of days.
Before every series there used to be some noise that used to distract players but for a few months or so, from the T20 World Cup to head coach Chandika Hathursingha's arrival and beyond, things had stayed relatively quiet. Barring the usual Shakib Al Hasan controversy, which usually stays as an individual's issue separate from the whole team, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) had not given fuel to fire and the Tigers enjoyed a serene time.
In an interview, the BCB president then brought along fresh controversy to the public eye regarding Shakib and Tamim's rift and division within the team. The can of worms did not open further due to subsequent quiet from the board president. He had also said back in February that it would be hard for the head coach to find him this time around in the Sri Lankan's second stint.
Despite that, when Tamim inadvertently talked about his fitness ahead of the first ODI in Chattogram on July 4, the BCB president brought up more information in another interview. He reiterated that Hathurusingha was not happy with Tamim's revelation. The ensuing chaos then came to a head when Tamim took the decision to retire from international cricket, followed by his withdrawal the next day.
These problems surface from the team management's, and in extension, the board's inability to solve the team's issues internally. While the media's task is to report on inconsistencies, as the governing body of Bangladesh cricket, BCB's officials need more nuance to handle the team's own environment. It should not be about giving the media half-truth or no information but about its own handling of the situation.
Now a complete quiet has come up. The board officials have been asked to not comment to the media as if the very air should stand still. Thus, opinions regarding what happened to the team are also being kept close to the pocket. As far as analysis should go, there is more than just cricket arching over the current passage of play.