J amie Siddons took charge of Bangladesh with expectations, from fans and pundit alike, at a sky high. Here was a young team that had knocked out of the game’s super powers in the 1st round of the world cup, slain one of the WC semi-finalists in the 2nd round and then followed up with some exhilarating, stroke-play filled performances in the Twenty 20. Taking helm of the side was one of the architects of the Australian juggernaut: their batting coach, himself an accomplished batsman and rated higher than Steve Waugh by a certain Shane Warne. Team full of inconsistent but naturally gifted batsmen being run by a batting guru - what could go wrong?
The results so far have been mixed. No major victories to speak of, a few abject performances, some good totals and a few centuries. The bubble of expectations having been rudely burst, fans and media have been clamoring for answers. Jamie Siddons was kind enough to provide BanglaCricket’s own Mirazur Rahman his take on things.
BanglaCricket(BC): What was your motivation for taking charge of the Bangladesh team?
Jamie Siddons (JS): I took the position as it was an amazing opportunity to coach an international cricket team, and it was a natural progression from my position as assistant coach of Australia, where we had won the World Cup, The Champions Trophy and regained the Ashes. I wanted to bring my knowledge and experience to Bangladesh and take them forward.
BC: In terms of cricketing ability where does Bangladesh stand now?
JS: It is not a question of cricket ability but a question of cricket schooling, where you learn the art of playing cricket. Coaches, competition, and facilities are some of the things that are just not preparing our players for the tough world of international cricket. Our players are as skillful but we are lacking the depth of consistent performers at the highest level of cricket.
BC: You have said you are trying to change the cricket culture of Bangladesh and also the way the players approach their game. Can you elaborate?
JS: We have no player in our side that you could say are truly successful international cricketers. This was so before I came on board. We love them (current players) and they are our heroes but they do not have results or statistics that their oppositions have. Our batsmen average in the 20s while our opposition batsmen average 45 - 50. Our bowlers average 45; opposition bowlers average 25. This suggested to me that things, and team culture is one of them, needed to change.
Accordingly I have taken a long term approach even if I may not be around as coach to see the results of my work. The players are learning to train and prepare in a more professional and responsible manner, where we are trying to improve so that we can be consistently competitive, not just when all the stars are aligned and we have a “good day”. We have several players in the team at the moment who I believe have the ability to lead from the front and be world class players; players whom we can count on each time we play. This is what I am excited about for Bangladesh Cricket and our supporters!
BC: But isn’t trying to force a change in an individual’s natural style of play fraught with risk?
JS: There is such a misconception about how I want my players to play! I will just say that the batsmen are instructed to think of every ball as an opportunity to hit a 4 or a 6, but if the ball is too good and the risk or percentage for success is not good, then we must do something else. The game is about making runs and I encourage my players to look to score at every opportunity.
Our supporters cannot have a team that entertains from ball one by hitting the ball in the air, and expect them to also score a lot of runs at international level. It won’t happen; we will lose wickets and fail 9 times out of ten. Just as we have done in the past. There needs to be a balance of responsibility and structure to our batting.
We used to be a team that passed 200 in our innings just 1 time in 4 at the crease. We now do this every second time we play. I look for success in lots of ways, winning is a result of a lot of successes in the process.
BC: How is coaching Bangladesh different from coaching Australia or any other international team?
JS: In Australia there is an amazing domestic infrastructure which culminates in the best first class competition in the world. The international players, when not playing for the country, simply go back to their state cricket system and train with their state team mates and coaches, fitness trainers, physios, doctors, and so on. In Bangladesh, our players must stay in Dhaka to train and get any coaching they need. There are just no real facilities for them in the home areas, but the Cricket Board and I have identified this and are planning to improve in this area.
Our players are just so inexperienced in terms of decision making and being ready for international standard. With Australia you are talking tactics and teaching new shots and small aspects of the game, with our team you spend every day just teaching them the basics of the game, things that they should know when they are 15 or 16. This is because our infrastructure and pathway is not good enough at present.
BC: What are the major obstacles that are holding Bangladesh back in international cricket?
JS: International cricket is as competitive as it has ever been at the moment. We have seen India beat Australia in Australia in a One Day series, then Pakistan has won the Tri Series in Bangladesh, this was then followed by Sri Lanka beating us all to win the Asia Cup in Pakistan. So all three of these teams are at the top of their games and are capable of pushing the world number one. We are still a young cricket country and are still to get our facilities and infrastructure to where it needs to be to produce world class success stories. We are aware of our deficiencies in this area and know that it will take time to develop them to the high standard required.
At the moment the players selected have still got many areas that need to be improved in order to perform consistently at the highest level. The pathway at present does not allow them to be ironed out before they are selected. Our players must learn the hard way, in the public eye, on the international stage. I know we have won games at times in the past, but I ask, have we really produced a world class cricketer that we can rely on year in year out?
BC: The standard of domestic cricket is possibly the weakest link in the development cycle of Bangladesh cricket. As one of the most successful first class cricketer of Australia, have you proposed any change in the current system to raise the standard?
JS: There is potential in our domestic structure, but quite simply there are not enough quality facilities, including grounds, for our players to train and improve their cricket. For instance I believe there are just 1 or 2 working bowling machines in all of Bangladesh at the moment. I look at the cricket Academy in Australia and they have 5 bowling machines of their own. So for me it is the facilities and infrastructure that we must deal with first, then the standard may have a chance to improve! I know that improving facilities and creating a great infrastructure for our cricket is a massive and expensive task, but we are on the world stage and hope to be there a long time, so we need to get the foundations for success solidly built, or as happens with buildings, the house will keep falling down! The Cricket Board and myself are working closely to identify some of the areas that must be addressed urgently. We have purchased 3 more bowling machines in Australia on our last tour, which is a great start!
BC: Recently Bangladesh has shown signs of improvement in batting, but bowling has deteriorated significantly. Do you feel the need for a specialist bowling coach like Ramanayeke in your coaching staff?
JS: It is fantastic to have Ramanayeke in our system at the moment and he was a regular at our training before the Australian tour, so we have access to his assistance when we need or want him, his bowling squad regularly attends our training as well.
I have a bowling coach who was in place before I came to Bangladesh, his position like all of us, is reviewed regularly, and if we see no sign of improvement, then I am sure changes will be made.
BC: There is a wider perception among cricket fans and media that you are downplaying the successes achieved by your predecessor Dave Whatmore to cover up the recent failures of Bangladesh team. What is your take on this?
JS: I have the utmost respect for Dav, he is a personal friend and we speak from time to time. Success is measured in many ways, and I would love the team to grab a couple of wins here and there as Dav and the boys did in his time. However I am not here to have a team win a game or two. I am trying to develop this squad and the future of Bangladesh cricket to a point where they can compete regularly against the top ranked team. This will take time as the players have so many lessons to learn, and skills to develop. There are no easy wins out there at the moment, all the teams we have played recently are very strong and on the move forward.
I continually talk about success and improvement, we have a young team and when you are developing you must base success on achievement, not on win/loss. I hate the word failure when used to describe our team. They have had so many achievements in the 9 months I have been with them. It is long term that the people of Bangladesh must look and not for the immediate high of a win, though I admit it would be nice at the moment to get you guys of our backs and to increase the confidence of all. We now have more potential world class players than ever before, and the future is as bright as ever.
BC: There was a belief that Bangladesh can compete with any team at their day which appears a distant truth now. Do you think you are a bit too pessimistic about Bangladesh’s chance of winning against the top eight teams which is affecting the team morale?
JS: The problem is people have no idea how I talk to my team on a daily basis, the players are aware that our vision is to always improve. I am not interested in coaching a team that relies on luck or it being their day. I am concerned with improving skills and confidence in each other, so that we believe in ourselves every time we compete. We do believe if we play to the best of our ability then we can win.
The other thing I need to say that the team under Dav were given 18 games against the so called minnow teams prior to the world cup, this allowed them to win a lot of games in the lead up and gain some momentum, they then went on to win 2 very big games, in perfect conditions for our style of cricket. In my time so far we have been scheduled to play number 2 in the world in 2 series, and number 1 in the world recently. We also had a series in the very tough to tour New Zealand. We have had just one 3 match series against a minor team, a team that actually beat us at the World Cup. We completely outplayed them and won the series 3-0. There are no easy matches in international cricket. India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are all extremely strong teams at the moment, and we have been unable to grab a win against them yet.
BC: Are you happy with the progress Bangladesh has made over the last 10 months under your coaching? How can players improve their abilities at Test cricket?
JS: As I have said previously there are so many examples of success within our team lately, the elusiveness of winning is not helping the public see this though. We have scored our highest scores ever against India and Pakistan in the last 3 months, we have had 5 players make their 1st or 2nd ODI centuries. We have a 19 year old in Roqibul who has 3 times passed 80 against top teams and is looking to be an international player of the future.
To improve a cricketer to be successful at highest level of cricket is unbelievably difficult, the skills and temperament must be achieved from their development, not through practice while in the middle of a Test or one day game.
BC: How do you explain Bangladesh’s recent performance in Australia?
JS: I can say that the results were very disappointing, and the lessons learnt were hard ones. The players were simply overwhelmed by the world number one team. They know they are better than they showed us in this series, and are determined to gain some credibility back in the near future. We should have won the third match in Darwin, our bowlers and in particular our fielders were superb in keeping Australia to 198 in their 50 overs.
We were a little unlucky in the beginning of our tour to lose two opening batsmen before the first practice match, and then to lose Roqibul with a broken thumb in the first ODI. We simply don’t have the depth just yet to replace an opener and our best number four batsman. This left us very unbalanced and even more vulnerable than we were at the beginning. No excuses though, the team has underperformed and are embarrassed by their efforts.
BC: In the middle of Australia series you were very critical about Ashraful in public. What were you trying to achieve?
JS: I am always talking to Ash about his performances, both good and bad, we are trying to get him to be more consistent and contribute to the score more often. Ash has made maybe just 4 or 5 half centuries in his last 50 innings and I felt it was worth a try to say that we need more from him as captain and a key position batsman in our line-up. Ash was sitting beside me and I only stated the obvious. You might consider it as an honest attempt to make Ashraful aware of his responsibilities. Time will tell if this tactic will work for Ash and the team.
I believe we have been too focused on Ash and what he is capable of. We have many batsmen who have made centuries for us and who are real match winners in our team. These are the players that will make us a successful team; one man cannot do it alone. I hope Ash can find the game that he needs to play his role for us. Everyone thinks he is one of our best players. He needs to show this by making consistent big scores. When he does I hope he will be just one of six or seven batsmen in our team who contribute to us making big scores on a regular basis.
It has also been said that I tried to remove Ash as captain of the team during our tour. I have never and would never do that to a captain. He has the toughest job in world cricket and his players do not always back him up with consistent performances. I have told him that if he is under too much pressure and he feels his batting is suffering due to captaincy, then he should consider resting from it. A run making Ash is better for his team than to have him as captain and not making runs.
BC: What is your expectation from the up-coming New Zealand series?
JS: I do not base success on win/loss, as this is demoralizing to a developing side, as they would see every loss as a failure, irrespective of whether they have made a century or taken 5 wickets. And our young team whether we like it or not will lose a few games before they start to win consistently. I want to be realistic here; we have to raise our game to beat teams like New Zealand. The series is on our home soil, the condition should favor us. If we can play up to our potential, there is no reason why we can’t compete and produce some good results.
I expect us to have a lot of players achieving great things against New Zealand, and I also believe we will show that we are improving by winning games in this series. Don’t forget though that someone wins and someone loses. We hope to be the ones who achieves more on the day, and come out in front at the end. Winning would be amazing for all of us.
BC: Do you think Bangladesh team is a bit too much youth oriented and lacks the guidance of the experienced players? Do you feel senior players like Habibul Bashar can help the young Bangladesh team to approach their game more sensibly?
JS: Yes, we lack the experienced player, but you cannot have experienced players in your side who are failing all the time, they will not offer guidance when they are not performing themselves. We have no experienced players out of the team at the moment that demands selection because they are performing, or have performed recently in international cricket. If we had an experienced player who was demanding to be picked because of performances then I would be asking the selectors to pick him. I am sure the selectors have their eyes on them and the results they are getting in domestic cricket. We have no youth policy.
Habibul is one of our centrally contracted players. He is not currently in our team but is a helpful and welcome addition at training. He understands better than most just how hard it is to be successful at International level. I would love to have a performing Habibul in our team. However he is not at the top of his game and was omitted some time ago after many opportunities. As I said before, a non-performing senior can’t really influence the game of his team mates. We would not leave a senior player out of our young team if they had the potential to be a match winner or be in our team come the next world cup. Every team plans around the next world cup, and my thoughts are that we should do the same.
BC: Where do you want to see Bangladesh at the end of your initial two years contract?
JS: We will still be ranked 9th in the world when my 2 years are up as we have been since we started. What I have embarked on is not going to bare much fruit inside 2 years. What I want to see is that we have started to compete and are consistent in the plans and the processes that we need to follow in order to push and beat teams regularly. My intentions have always been to produce some world class performers that can carry the team to new heights on a consistent basis. And the exciting thing is there are 3 or 4 players that may just do that.
BC: How long do you want to associate yourself with Bangladesh cricket?
JS: It is a big challenge to develop Bangladesh as a competitive cricket nation and I have taken that challenge, I am as enthusiastic as ever. Staying up to 2011 world cup will be my first target. World cup will be a showcase event on our home ground where we will be able to show the extent of our development. We have a very good bunch of young players who have the ability to make their mark on world cricket in 3 years time. I do not know whether Bangladesh will keep me for that long, but I am eagerly looking forward to it.
BC: Finally, what will be your message for the Bangladesh cricket fans?
JS: My message to the fans is that your team train as hard if not harder than any team in the world at the moment, they are the youngest team in the world at the moment, and as such need the time to grow and learn how to cope with the situations they face in international games. Celebrate the successes of each achievement such as a century by your players. And imagine what we will be like when all these young players can be consistent with this kind of performance on a regular basis. Your team will be exciting to watch and competitive more often than ever.
Your coach sees beyond tomorrow and wants long term improvement and success from your players just as much as you do. Continue to support your team now in their development, as you will when they emerge in time as a threat to the game’s best. Look around you, it is not easy to be successful, and it takes time to develop your skills, we need time and your support and patience!