Couch Talk 142 (Play)
Guest: Habibul Bashar
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former Bangladesh captain and current selector Habibul Bashar. He talks about growing up playing cricket without knowing whether he’d ever get to play Test cricket, Bangladesh’s poor performance in the Test arena, the 2007 World Cup and his retirement soon after, amongst other things.
Welcome to the show, Sumon bhai!
Habibul Bashar (HB)– Thank you very much, Subash!
SJ– It is my pleasure having you on.
When you grew up playing cricket in Bangladesh, Bangladesh wasn’t a Test playing nation. So, what was the motivation for a youngster choosing to play cricket for Bangladesh in the 1980s and ‘90s when the highest level of the sport wasn’t available?
HB– I struggled a little bit to choose a career as a cricket player. Bangladesh has got some kind of history of cricket. The tradition was there. For me to choose to become a cricketer wasn’t easy because my parents never wanted me to be a cricketer because in those days you cannot take cricket as a profession. So, for my family, because my dad and mom wanted me to do – accompanied with studies and do something out of it. As I mentioned, in those days we cannot take up cricket as a profession. We had to do something else. Most of them used to play cricket a second option – they would do some kind of work and then play cricket also. Also, cricket season used to start in October and end in March, and then there was no more cricket.. Around the year, there is not much cricket.
I just loved this game. That was my only motivation. I loved this game and I have got a lot of passion about this game and I used to enjoy playing cricket. That was the only motivation that I had to play cricket in my time.
SJ– As you said, you had to do something along with cricket. What were you doing along with cricket in your time?
HB– I was quite lucky because when I had to choose cricket as a career, by that time Bangladesh had got Test status. So, It was easy for me to become a professional cricketer. I started my cricket very early. I played during my school-age and college. I used to do my studies and played cricket. My parents used to tell me that you should be studying for the exams, in some point of your career you can choose whatever you want to do. But, in the middle of my career, we got Test status and we started taking cricket as a profession. So, for me, I didn’t have to go and do something else. I got lucky.
SJ– Who were the batsmen that you modelled yourself after, while growing up? Who did you admire, who did you want to emulate?
HB– We didn’t have all the TV channels at that time. It was the 1980s and the ‘90s, we didn’t have the STAR and ESPN and others. We didn’t see a lot of cricket and we didn’t get a chance to watch a lot of cricket. When the World Cup was on, we got most of the games live, and because I used to live at a place – my hometown is Kushtia – which is close to India, we used to get Doordarshan. I used to watch some amount of cricket on Doordarshan. I have seen Mohammad Azharuddin a lot, he is my idol. Some of the Bangladeshi players too, but I used to love Azharuddin. He used to be my idol when I started playing cricket.
SJ– When Bangladesh got its Test status in 2000, you didn’t have a well developed first class system in place. Perhaps the players didn’t have the experience in playing 5-day or 4-day cricket when Bangladesh got the Test status. So, how did you guys cope with it? Did you have to play long duration cricket as you were playing it?
HB– It wasn’t easy for us to play Test cricket, that is a fact. Before we got the Test status, I only played a couple of first class season. Before playing the Tests, we didn’t have a lot of experience in playing first class cricket. So, it wasn’t easy for us. For us, playing Test cricket was like something that we had to learn and survive, but that [getting the Test status] changed Bangladesh cricket.
We started getting all the modern facilities only after getting the Test status. Before that, there was nothing in our days – no training facility, no indoor facility, no trainers. We weren’t prepared to play Test cricket. We just had training sessions. “Bangladesh Cricket” started only after we got our Test status. Before that, there was nothing much for us.
SJ– But also, if you look at the current generation of Bangladeshi players – Mushfiqur (Rahim), Shakib (al Hassan) and all these guys- they grew up watching international cricket played in Bangladesh. What sort of impact does it have on the upcoming generation of players?
HB– When we played cricket, we didn’t know that there would be a chance to play Test cricket in our lifetime. We never thought, and it was just in our dreams that some day we could play in Tests. These guys, when they started playing, they knew that they are going to play for Bangladesh. The facilities are a lot better and they got everything [they needed] when they started playing cricket. They were more prepared than us.
SJ– I want to get your thoughts on this – Test cricket is now a 10 nation group – going from Australia, England all the way down to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. It is a 10 nation group, and there doesn’t seem to be a push to include other nations like Ireland and Afghanistan even though they say that there is meritocracy and all that. what do you think? Should the Test status be expanded to include more and more countries?
HB– I think it should, actually. I can say that from our experience. If you don’t get the Test class facilities in your home, it is tough. If you get sponsors, then you actually start to get everything. The difference in cricket between Test playing countries and non-Test playing countries is big. . We only can reduce the gap if you keep playing them continuously. We should play active members regularly, because else we will find it very hard to compete against very good teams. If you get Test status, even if you don’t get many Test matches, when you start playing other [Test] countries your cricket will definitely improve. And that is better for cricket all around the world.
SJ– I see.
From your experience, when you started playing cricket in 2000 to when you retired from cricket in 2007, what was the change as a Test cricketer, as a Test batsman, and Bangladesh as a team? What were the changes observed personally?
HB– Huge! I got identity as a Test cricketer. Before that, I just used to be a cricketer, but as a cricketer, you always wanted to be known as a Test cricketer. When I started playing, I didn’t know if I could survive at this level. After playing 1 – 2 years, I understood that I can survive and I can perform also. [How] to perform as a Test cricketer][, I had to learn at that time.
I have seen the changes in Bangladesh. The facilities are getting better and better. There are a lot of changes now. When we started playing cricket in Bangladesh, we used to lose a lot, then we started making improvements slowly and are becoming a better team. There are new cricketers coming up. the whole country is interested in cricket. When I used to play cricket, my parents didn’t want me to play cricket. But now, most of the time parents come to me and ask how their son can be a cricketer. If you compare then and now, in my days if 100 players came forward to play cricket, now there are 1000 people coming to play cricket. We can find more and more talent; and cricket is getting more and more popular day by day. That has been a big change.
But for me, the most important thing is that I have an identity as a Test cricketer.
SJ– For any batsman, the first Test century is a great moment to savour. You scored your maiden 100 against Zimbabwe in Chittagong even though it came in a Bangladesh loss. Could you take us through that innings of yours where you scored your first 100?
HB– [Actually], before that I had scored few half centuries. In the inaugural Test match against India, I had scored 70-odd. I was quite happy getting that 70-odd runs because in the first Test match, I was playing against my role model. For me, that was enough. I scored some half centuries after that in Zimbabwe and then we came back to Dhaka and I scored another half century. I had scored 4-5 half centuries before my first 100. I know I wanted to score a 100 in Test match. When I got there, it was a relief for me. I felt very happy.
SJ– So, you must remember every single shot from that innings?
HB– Yeah, remember them, I remember every shot in that innings. But, I remember that Test more because in 2nd innings I got a chance to score back to back 100s, but I just tried to hit Grant Flower over his head and got caught at long off. That, I remember the most. That was a 100 for the taking, and I could have scored back to back hundreds in a Test match. That is what I remember more from that Test match more than the 100.
SJ– But, Bangladesh as a team went through a long streak of Test losses. You had won only one of the first 50-odd Test matches that you played. What sort of psychological effect does it have on the team? As a captain that you were, how difficult is it to motivate your players loss after loss after loss?
HB– It was very difficult for us. You don’t like to be questioned about your ability as a Test cricketer. That was the last thing that you want as a cricketer. There were some people that said “No, These guys are not ready for Test cricket and got the status too early and they are not good enough.” That wasn’t easy for us.
People forget that when we got the Test status, the other Test playing countries played almost 100 Test matches. They had more experience than us.
In ODI matches, if you have one good day, you can win an ODI. In Test matches, you have to bowl well in two innings and you have to bat well in two innings. Test cricket isn’t easy. But the bottom line was that we weren’t playing well.
It was difficult to motivate every one to play well to win Test matches. So what I did was that every player has to be motivated about their own performance. If everyone focussed on their own game, it might help the team. If we get the experience and get individual performances, some day we will start we will win as a team – that we knew from the beginning. That is what I told the team.
SJ– When Bangladesh finally won that first Test match against Zimbabwe, what was the mood within the team? What was your thinking at that time?
HB– That series against Zimbabwe, we were playing at home. Before that we were very close to winning a Test match against Pakistan in Multan. We almost won that Test match. That innings from Inzamam (ul Haq) was really something that people would remember. That is something from which we could learn so much, we were not an experienced team. That is why we lost that Test match, but we were really close to winning that. In some of the other Test matches also we played well.
So, when we played Zimbabwe in Bangladesh in 2005, we realized this was the chance for us. We started preparing ourselves well and told ourselves that if we stick together, and, this is the opportunity for us, we are not going to lose this and we would do anything to win a Test match. There was pressure on us. We had to win one Test match for Bangladesh. So, while we had the motivation to win, at the same time, we had pressure on us too.
We started that Test match very well by winning the toss, because in Bangladesh batting in the 4th innings is difficult as its starts to turn. We won the toss and batted first because we knew there were higher possibilities to win the Test match. Throughout the Test match, we had the momentum and when we finished it and won it, people had gone crazy, we all had gone crazy. We started celebrating from the ground and we didn’t stop till late morning.
SJ– You just mentioned that the match in Multan against Pakistan that you should have won. There was this other Test match that you should have definitely won, and that would have been an even bigger win, perhaps.
HB– Against Australia?
SJ– Against Australia in Fatullah. And, Bangladesh had a big first innings lead also, but the game got away from you. Can you talk a bit about that Test match and what happened in the third innings?
HB– Well, that is because of not having the belief in winning. We didn’t win many matches, we didn’t have that winning experience. we just lost the flow in the match. We should have won that Test match against Australia. If we had a little bit more in the second innings, it could have won us the game. They didn’t bowl that well, just that we didn’t believe we could do that. If we play that match against Australia now, I am definitely sure that we would win that Test match, because those days we didn’t believe we could beat them. In a Test match, you have to bat well in both innings. We didn’t have the confidence to do well in both innings. It was mental barrier for us, that’s why we lost the game.
SJ– I want to talk a bit about Bangladesh’s ODI history, especially under your captaincy. There is a question from a listener, Arun. He says that you captained Bangladesh to an historic win against India in the 2007 World Cup and in the second round you beat South Africa as well. But, you would have thought that Bangladesh would have gone on to be a team that beats other teams more regularly. But it is still just one-off here and there. Why hasn’t that change happened?
HB– I think we are winning more games lately. It is only in 2014 we have lost a lot. We lost some of the close games. if you see our [performances in] 2011-13, I think we won more games than what we used to do. Bangladesh played in the Asia cup final [in 2013]. We also lost some close games; we lost a couple of close games in the Sri Lanka series. The team actually has been doing well. It is in 2014 that we haven’t won much. That is because some of the guys who score the runs for Bangladesh, lost their form, together. It doesn’t happen quite often. You always have someone in bad form in the team, but that would be one or two. But there were 5 players or so that were out of form together. That is why we didn’t win too many games in 2014. But as you saw in this [Zimbabwe] series, they have started performing and scoring lot more runs and I think we will do better in 2015.
SJ– In that 2007 World Cup, even when Bangladesh did well under your captaincy, your captaincy was under threat and you were made to give it up soon after. What went on between the team management, the selectors and you? Why weren’t you allowed to continue?
HB– In 2007 World Cup, we played well. We were based in Barbados for 2nd round matches. Barbados has a bit of pace and bounce and is a bit different from our conditions. If we could have based in Trinidad or somewhere else, and I am sure we would won a few more games in that World Cup.
But, ultimately, I didn’t perform well in 2007 World Cup, that is a fact. After that, the coaches wanted me to consider playing only Test matches. I think that was a wrong move. Our team was still young side. If I would have stayed as a captain for one more year, I think Bangladesh would have done much better. But, when I left they had to go through the learning and winning process again. Mohammad Ashraful was a young captain. When you change the captain of the team, sometimes you have to start again. In 2008-09 that is what had happened – we had to start all overagain. That’s what I believe.
SJ– You are a selector now. So, you are willing to give more time and chances to the players now than the selectors did back in your time?
HB– Yeah, I can understand that. I have two more selectors with me – Minahejul Abdein and Akram Khan, the former captain. They also know and I make them understand that, “Let’s not make it easy for someone to come in to the side.” Someone coming in has to work very hard to get in the side. if someone gets into the side, he will get enough chances to keep play himself in. it is like making it difficult coming in [to the team] and going out [of the team]. In that way, there are enough chances for the players. If he is good enough, he performs. If he is not good enough, he does not. If he is not good enough to be in the side, there are other options. Someone has to perform a lot to come into the side. If he comes, there will be enough opportunities, not just 1 or 2 or 3 or 4.
SJ– How do you compare the current team under Mushfiqur Rahim’s captaincy to the one that you captained in 2000 – 2007? How do you compare the two teams in talent and potential?
HB– I think this [current] team is a lot better because they have batsmen till number 8 in the order, isn’t it? Because of Shakib and Mushfiq, the team has the option of playing extra batsman or an extra bowler. That makes it a big difference from the team we had.
Talent wise, this team has some world class performers. Shakib started in our time, but he is more mature now, and he is a world class performer. Tamim (Iqbal) is playing well, Mushfiq is performing, and we also have Mahmuddullah and Nasir Hossain – even though he is not in the team now, he might make a comeback – and Mominul (Haque) in the team.
In our time, our line up wasn’t strong. After 5 batsmen, basically, we are out of time. Now, there is a lot of talent in the team and a lot of options too.
SJ– And finally, last question – and this is from a listener, Clive. What is your long term plan for Bangladesh cricket? And, what is your blue print to see Bangladesh win more consistently?
HB– We have a lot of ground work done. We have a lot of coaches in Bangladesh. We have to work very hard with our school teams and age levels. From schools, we have a lot of participants, but these school boys need proper coaching. I have suggested to the board that we should look after school boys and age group cricket more and more, and then put them through the coaching. We have the passion for cricket, and every boy wants to play cricket. They just need a platform to play well. I think we need to play a lot of 4-day games, the longer version of the game and [only] then ODIs, in age level. At age levels, they play a lot of 50-over, 30-over games but I think we should put more longer version games in the age group level. We have talent, they just need the platform so that we get more and better international cricketers for Bangladesh.
SJ– Okay, thank you so much for being on the show!
HB– OK. Thanks!
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman