The question circling around social media and among many fans in the cricket fraternity of Bangladesh is, should the 34-year old Mohammad Ashraful be picked in the national team again?
The ban is over. The much-awaited ban of former Bangladesh captain Mohammad Ashraful is over. Now the question circling around social media and among many fans in the cricket fraternity of Bangladesh is, should the 34-year old Ashraful be picked in the national team again? If yes, then when? Right now, or later?
The chief selectors of the Bangladesh national team clearly informed that there are a lot of things Ashraful need to prove before getting back into the team. Firstly, he needs to play exceptionally well in the upcoming domestic season. He also needs to improve his fitness level for international cricket. But there is one more thing he needs to prove. And that is, regaining the trust. Yes, regaining the trust among his teammates and team management.
Only performance and fitness may not be enough for Ashraful to return to the national squad at the moment. Trust is another important factor.
Ashraful was punished for spot-fixing in the BPL T20 2013 season while playing for Dhaka Gladiators. Current national team players like Mashrafe bin Mortaza, Shakib al Hasan, Anamul Haque, Liton Kumar Das and Soumya Sarkar had shared the same dressing room with Ashraful in that season for the Gladiators. Now imagine, if Ashraful returns to the national team right now, will these players be comfortable to share the dressing room with him, knowing the fact that Ashraful was involved in corruption last time they played together?
Will it be a comfortable situation for senior players like Mashrafe, who are playing with the outmost dedication for Bangladesh for years, despite going through several career-threatening injuries? Will it be comfortable for senior players like Mushfiqur Rahim or Tamim Iqbal, who often get praised for their superb efforts during training sessions season after season?
Will it be comfortable for Shakib, who is playing all three formats of the game for the Tigers, despite his busy cricket schedule for the franchises around the world?
Involving a player in the national team immediately after his ban expired, someone who was caught for wrongdoing, will certainly underestimate the dedication of several players who have been playing for Bangladesh for years.
All the players might have good relation with Ashraful off the field and respect him as a player. But sharing the same dressing room and wearing the national colours might be a bit uncomfortable for some players at the moment. And if that happens, it will not be surprising.
From a bigger perspective, Ashraful’s inclusion in the team right now or even later may send the wrong message to the youngsters out there. It might set a wrong example for the future. There are quite a few promising youngsters playing in the BPL every year. Picking a player in to the national team straightaway after his ban ends might relay the wrong message to the youngsters.
If Ashraful gets selected, then a 20- or 21-year old youngster might think, “Okay, next time if any lucrative offer comes my way with regards to spot-fixing, I may say yes. Because there would be no lifetime ban. If I get caught, I will confess emotionally in front of the media. After the investigation, I may be banned for five-six years. No problems. Still there would be a chance for me to regain fitness and get back to the national team. So my career will not be over.”
If that happens and the youngsters start to think that way, then will it be good for our cricket future?
Bangladesh cricket has advanced in many levels since Ashraful last played for the Tigers. Defeating a “big team” is not considered as an “upset” anymore. The players’ mentality and performance have also improved a lot over the last few years. Expectations on the team Tigers have been raised quite a lot. Now Bangladesh play for victory, either at home or away. Fans also expect the Tigers to win almost every series.
Is Ashraful ready to meet such lofty expectations?
Imagine for once, Ashraful has returned to the playing XI right now, and after getting well-set, he gets out off an average delivery playing a poor shot, just like he did several times in his career. Will people start to think that Ashraful is involved in fixing again?
What if such question arises? In that cases, what if, people start to think he is not giving 100% effort for the team? The board and the team might face some embarrassing situations then.
Now coming to the point of performance. How exactly has Ashraful performed in the last two years after the lifting of his domestic cricket ban?
He scored five centuries in the last season of the Dhaka Premier Division Cricket League for Kalabagan Krira Chakra. But what was the fate of the team? Did they become champion? No. Did they even qualify for the top six? No.
Kalabagan were relegated from the premier league despite Ashraful’s five centuries. And Kalabagan only won one match out of five when Ashraful scored centuries. Ashraful’s 127-run innings against Agrani Bank was the only match-winning knock. The other four centuries did not help his team to win the game. And two of those five centuries came in the relegation battle matches against bottom sides in the points table - Brothers Union and Agrani Bank. Ashraful scored an unbeaten 103 off 137 balls as his team scored 246 for five wickets in their stipulated 50 overs against Agrani Bank. But the total was not good enough as Agrani Bank chased it easily.
And again, in the very next game, he made an unbeaten 102 off 137 deliveries against Brothers. Following his century, his team scored 252 losing three wickets in their allotted 50 overs. The scorecards suggest that he should have scored quickly in both of his unbeaten knocks. Because the wickets were batting-friendly and on both the occasions, the chasing team reached their target easily with plenty of overs in hand.
Let’s analyse Ashraful’s performance in the last two seasons. He scored 665 runs at an average of 66.5 and strike rate of 74.13 in the 2018 season, batting at No 3. He also played for Kalabagan in the 2017 season, scoring 240 runs at an average of 26.66. Ashraful scored 123 runs in six innings in the National Cricket League in the 2016-17 season and made 264 runs in seven innings in the 2017-18 season. He scored 50 runs in seven innings in the Bangladesh Cricket League in the 2017-18 season.
Based on these performances in the domestic circuit in the last two years, some fans are demanding Ashraful’s return to the national team for the upcoming Asia Cup, especially considering his five centuries in this year’s DPL. But then again, there are other players who have scored more runs in the DPL this season, or more precisely, in the last two seasons. What about them?
What about Nazmul Hossain Shanto (749 runs for Abahani Limited), Naeem Islam (720 for Legends of Rupganj) and Fazley Mahmud (708 for Prime Doleshwar Sporting Club)? Shouldn’t these players get selected as well, as they are much fitter and younger, compared to Ashraful? What about Tushar Imran and Shahriar Nafees, who have scored plenty of runs in the last few domestic seasons?
Now coming to the point of available batting order in the national team in ODIs. At the moment, Shakib bats at No 3 while Mushfiq and Mahmudullah bat at No 4 and 5 respectively. These three spots are quite fixed as Shakib, Mushfiq and Mahmudullah are performing consistently in those positions.
As the partner of Tamim in the opening slot, several players like Anamul, Imrul Kayes, Soumya and Liton are competing intensely. Even Shanto was not picked in the playing XI during the tour of the West Indies in ODIs, despite scoring 749 runs in the DPL for Abahani in the top-order this season. Actually, Bangladesh are struggling a bit in the Nos 6 and 7 position, where Sabbir Rahman and Mosaddek Hossain are playing recently. The team need a big hitter there at the moment.
Some people are saying Soumya or Sabbir or Mosaddek should be dropped and Ashraful should be picked in their place right now for the Asia Cup. Let’s imagine, Ashraful has been picked instead of one of these three players. Then he might have to play in the Nos 6 or 7 position. In that case, is it legitimate to pick a player who boasted a strike rate of 74.13 in the latest DPL season? Then what about Ariful Haque, who is considered as a big hitter and performed well in the last two BPL seasons? Fact is, team combination did not even let Ariful to play for Bangladesh in the limited-overs format recently. Then, how come Ashraful should be picked straightaway, given that there are not enough spaces and better options available in the batting order?
On social media, someone has even opened an event titled “We Want Ashraful in Asia Cup”. People are demanding Ashraful’s inclusion in the Asia Cup. When this opinion write-up was filed, some 723 people clicked “going” while almost 27,000 clicked “interested”. Is it that much easy?
So once again, the question remains, should Ashraful be picked straightaway in the national team as he is eligible to play? Well, the BCB has provided a straight answer. And the answer is, no. The BCB has announced a 31-man preliminary squad for the Asia Cup, and as expected, there is no place for Ashraful there.
Whether Ashraful should be picked or not in future, that’s a debatable matter. But at this very moment, he should not get picked for the national team straightaway. After fulfilling all the criterion (performance and fitness in forthcoming season, among other things) Ashraful can be considered for the Bangladesh A team or High Performance team first, and if he performs there as well, then he can be considered for the national team. This is the general process for all other cricketers out there. And this process should be followed for Ashraful as well. The rule should be equal for everyone.
So dear fans, don’t judge emotionally. Judge practically. Ashraful’s ban might be over. But there are many things he need to prove first. If everything falls into place, then he might be considered for the national team once again. But certainly, not right now for the very next series.
Of course, he needs to perform a lot better in the upcoming domestic season and prove his fitness. But most importantly, he must earn the respect and trust among his team mates, once again. And that might prove to be the ultimate factor.
This is an opinion article and the writer is the Joint In Charge, Sports, Dhaka Tribune
HIGHEST DPL SCORERS IN 2017-18 SEASON
Player Inns Runs HS Ave 100/50
Nazmul Shanto (AL) 16 749 150* 57.61 4/2
Anamul Haque (AL) 16 744 128 49.6 2/4
Naeem Islam (LOR) 15 720 116* 55.38 1/6
Fazley Mahmud (PDSC) 16 708 120* 47.2 2/3
Md Ashraful (KKC) 13 665 127 66.5 5/1
Ashok Menaria (KSKS) 15 662 113* 60.18 1/7
Marshall Ayub (PDSC) 16 632 135 45.14 2/2
Abdul Mazid (LOR) 16 628 110 41.86 1/5
Mahidul Ankon (KSKS) 16 609 115* 40.6 1/4
Md Naim (LOR) 12 556 93 46.33 0/4
ASHRAFUL IN NCL (Dhaka Metropolis)
Batting Inns Runs HS Ave SR
2016/17 6 123 39 20.5 39.67
Batting Inns Runs HS Ave SR
2017/18 7 264 104 37.71 47.48
ASHRAFUL IN BCL (Islami Bank East Zone)
Batting Inns Runs HS Ave SR
2017/18 7 50 13 7.14 28.57
ASHRAFUL IN DPL (Kalabagan Krira Chakra)
Batting Inns Runs HS Ave SR
2017/18 10 240 81* 26.66 63.15
Batting Inns Runs HS Ave SR
2018/19 13 665 127 66.5 74.13