746 wickets as against 455 in International cricket. That is the number of wickets that separates Zimbabwe’s Heath Streak from former Windies seamer, Courtney Walsh. In fact, Streak’s tally does not even match up to Walsh’s Test scalps, which stands at an intimidating 519.
But as the saying goes, good players don’t often make good coaches.
When Walsh took over duties as Bangladesh’s bowling coach, there was widespread anticipation and expectation. The West Indian started out with an aim of producing another Curtley Ambrose from the sub-continent.
“I want to see more consistency, control, variation, and to put more thought into what they are doing. They are young and exciting, but they have to be a little bit more consistent and keep the pace up. Once they get onto the park, they have to do it. We can’t do it for them. I have been telling them that ‘you are in control of your own destiny, just go out there and get the job done. Try to improve and learn all the time’. If they can achieve the first part – control and consistency – before competition starts, I will be very happy”, Walsh had said earlier this year.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t quite materialised. Statistics tell a completely different story as well. During the period under Walsh, Bangladesh bowlers have been downright pathetic. Across formats, none of the bowlers have an average less than 30. In fact, Mustafizur is the only one with an average below 35.
Shockingly, Shakib-al-Hasan, who is among the most consistent bowlers Bangladesh have ever had averages 35.60 across all formats during this period. In ODIs, Bangladesh have been disastrous. At one point during the series against the Proteas, they had bowled 450 consecutive balls without taking a wicket, a horror stat for a team that prides on its progress in recent years.
Bangladesh have now bowled 450 consecutive balls in ODI cricket without taking a wicket #SAvBAN
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) October 18, 2017
In the period that Walsh has been Bangladesh’s bowling coach, they have played 23 ODIs and their combined bowling average stands at 41.75, worse than that of Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Scotland, UAE, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea.
Streak, on the other hand, hails from a country which has struggled very similar to Bangladesh during his playing days. As such, that experience had helped the Zimbabwean churn out amazing results during his time with the team.
Under him, Bangladesh won a Test series and two ODI series against Zimbabwe, qualified to the knockout stages of the 2015 ODI World Cup and won maiden ODI series’ against South Africa, Pakistan and India.
Interestingly, during his tenure, Bangladesh bowlers averaged 27.44 in 29 ODIs, far better to that under Walsh. Their bowlers also picked up right four-wicket hauls and five five-fors under Streak whereas virtually the same group has managed just six four-wicket hauls and zero five-fors under Walsh.
They even had four players in the top 50 wicket takers across formats during Streak’s time at the helm. Those were unprecedented numbers for Bangladesh. Streak managed to extract the best form his players and managed them so well that the Bangladesh of old was no longer there to be seen.
“I think it is dangerous to set specific targets as you might get it done quickly and become happy,” Streak had said in his introductory press conference in Mirpur. “I would like to identify a group of eight or ten quick bowlers. We know spin bowling has been strong for Bangladesh. We can’t relax and expect for that to continue. I have to learn a lot about the bowlers. I have analysed these players as an opponent both as player and coach, but now I have to understand them as individuals and personalities. The mental side of the things is what I want to work on with the guys.”
It is this mental aspect that Bangladesh have struggled with. In South Africa, their bowlers were woeful, even against the Invitation XI that South Africa put together for them. None of their bowlers managed to put any kind of fear in the opposition batsmen. In fact, save for Mustafizur’s spell in one of the Tests, there has hardly been a spell of bowling that Bangladesh would want to remember.
Prior to Streak’s appointment, Bangladesh’s highest wicket-takers in International cricket in 2013-14 were Rubel Hossain, Mashrafe Mortaza and Shafiul Islam in that order but all of them averaged in excess of 30. However, in Streak’s time, the numbers were far better for every one of the above bowlers as well as the others.
It is worth noting that while Streak was a seamer himself, he understood Bangladesh’s strength lay in spin and gave enough focus on that aspect. Walsh, on the other hand, has had Plan A’s that go awry more often than not and the Plan B was never in place.
A number of bowlers like Taskin Ahmed, Rubel Hossain and Al-Amin Hossain had a superb time under Streak. The spinners, Shakib-al-Hasan, Taijul Islam and Arafat Sunny also enjoyed their golden periods. Walsh has been reluctant to use the right bowlers in right conditions and this has pegged them back often.
Taskin Ahmed and Subhashis Roy are attacking seamers but have been used as defensive options during Walsh’s tenure. Unfortunately, the captain has more often than not backed that approach and the results have been disastrous.
That Bangladesh have been competitive at home is no credit to Walsh. He was brought in to have an impact in Bangladesh’s performances outside the sub-continent too and so far it has been hideous. While Streak the player may not have the experience, skills or qualifications as Walsh the player, Streak the coach was a perfect fit in the Bangladesh setup. He knew to bring out the best from his players and his period turned out to be a golden period for Bangladesh bowling. With Chandika Hathurusingha, Streak managed to create quite a rapport and the partnership reaped rich benefits for Bangladesh cricket. Sadly, as South Africa continue their trouncing of Bangladesh, Streak sits as Zimbabwe’s head coach a few countries away. Bangladesh do miss their golden ‘streak’.