By Suhrid Barua
Mohammad Ashraful was once hailed as the most naturally gifted player to emerge from Bangladesh. But the one-time poster boy of Bangladesh cricket is going through the horrors, struggling to find a place in the eleven owing to a frustratingly long period of poor form.
For someone who announced his arrival on the world stage by becoming the youngest centurion at 17 - against Sri Lanka at Colombo in September 2001 - it makes one wonder as to what has gone horribly wrong with this youngster.
This was the same batsman who gave spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan the charge, belting the bowler over his head. This was the same batsman who audaciously pulled Chaminda Vaas’s bouncers – his maiden One-Day International century paving the way for Bangladesh’s famous win over Australia in the 2005 NatWest series at Cardiff. This was the same batsman whose delightful 87 proved to be the cornerstone of his side’s Super Eight match win over South Africa.
So what went wrong for such a precocious batsman? Was it complacency? Or, was it his inability to exercise self-discipline?
A Test average of 22.38 from 55 matches and ODI average of 23.08 from 166 games doesn’t do any justice for the kind of talent he possesses.
As captain of Bangladesh, Ashraful was a complete disaster. Under his captaincy, (he took over from Habibul Bashar in June, 2007 and was replaced by Mashrafe Mortaza sometime in June 2009) Bangladesh failed to win a single Test, losing 12 out of 13 games while emerging triumphant in only eight games in 38 ODIs.. In fact, the seeds of his batting woes were sowed during his stint as captaincy.
The year 2010 would be something Ashraful would like to forget in a hurry. He was dropped for Bangladesh’s home series against England in March 2010, but was drafted in for the demanding England tour in May-June. He cut a sorry figure in the two-match Test series with scores of 4, 21, 11, 14 in four innings before floundering, again, in the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka.
His wretched run continued in the NatWest Series in England and finally the patience of the selectors ran out and Ashraful was axed for the tour of Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands.
Ashraful had himself to blame for the mess he has created. He was dropped for the October home one-day series against New Zealand which Bangladesh won 4-0 and again played just one game when the Tigers thumped Zimbabwe 3-1 in five-match rubber last December.
The results made one thing pretty clear: Bangladesh had the strength to win matches without Ashraful.
If Ashraful does some serious soul searching, he would realize that inconsistency has been his biggest problem. He is a batsman who has all the shots in the book and can score runs off even good balls, but injudicious shot-selection has had a damaging effect on his career.
There are whispers in Bangladesh cricket circles that captain Shakib Al Hasan isn’t comfortable having him in the playing eleven – a rumour which may or may not be true. But what one can be quite sure is that there is enough talent in the side with the likes of Tamin Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Junaid Siddique assuming larger responsibilities.
Ashraful looked like an unwanted man in the Bangladesh World Cup squad. He was kept on the sidelines for opening game against India but played against Ireland and West Indies and came a cropper in both the games, save for his two wickets against Ireland.
A 17-year-old budding player, who raised the expectations of the cricket-crazy nation with his majestic strokeplay is showing signs of fast slipping into oblivion at the age of 26 – almost to the point of being a liability.
What a sad tale of a career that promised so much at the start!
(Suhrid Barua is a cricket buff who invariably gets pumped up before every India match)