That Bangladesh cricket is resigned to talking about individuals over team building and governing ideas of their cricket speaks to the greater culture now omnipresent over the course of a decade or so but is more prominent across the last few years. A cricket culture, a culture that develops thinking about Test cricket in particular and an understanding of the game is a far cry from what is relevant in the present climate. Ironically, the Tigers were at their peak when an individual brought them together to bring out a collective high that was far more than the sum of the parts. That individual was Bangladesh's most successful captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza.
Even though Mashrafe did not hold Test captaincy, his ideas from T20Is and ODIs propagated a belief and ambition that translated to Test success at home against England and Australia and away to Sri Lanka between 2015 and 2017. However, looking at the Bangladesh's current outfit across formats, it is evident that they are lacking that unique kind of leadership Mashrafe provided.
A cricket culture ensures that the perpetual process of team building does not stop with one individual. That there is a lack of process related to all aspects from selection, meritocracy to national team's pipeline, has been evident before as was the evidence that there is no underlying philosophy which Bangladesh cricket abides by. In Mashrafe's absence, others have to take up the mantle.
Head coach Russell Domingo said after the tour of Sri Lanka that he made inroads with the players, but whether that would be precursor to success or lead to a change in coach's hot seat remains to be seen. Another change in individual, this time in the coach's role would not rectify the lack of leadership that was evidenced in Sri Lanka, particularly the body language waning with every defeat. Even players with years of experience in international cricket need guidance which was not present.
"Generally in the dressing room, everyone together creates an environment that motivates and acts as a driving factor. As an individual and as a team, there is responsibility to take that challenge, going out of your comfort zone and fighting it out. This kind of strength is built internally and we are lacking that," Nazmul Abedeen Fahim told The Daily Star, analysing the recent Test series against Sri Lanka.
"Motivation is not about giving speeches; the leader has to show clear path by which a goal can be achieved. The individual who can do that clearly sees the steps and the sequences he needs to achieve goals. It's about knowledge and how to show the clear path to goals," Fahim said.
He reminded that even though discourse should not be around individuals, there is no overlooking them in team's context. "Each player needs to be shown individually. I will show Mushfiq, who has 15 years of international experience in one way and Shanto in another way. This a about being an architect, using your resources, and one who understands such things can do that meeting and that meeting becomes strength," he said.
Where does team management come into this?
"We didn't have a particular culture having continuity in Bangladesh as can be seen in Australia where you can't change the cricket culture. When an Australian coach comes here he will try to do things according to his culture but I can't do the same if I go to Australia. Everything that comes is not good since our mental state, cultural beliefs and economic climate is different and it's important to understand what inspires our players. We have to go forward with our culture but what we see is someone new arrives with a whole new set of values and starts anew and lots of adjustments are needed. We don't have our own philosophy and that's why we enter a new philosophy every time with personnel change," Fahim opined.
As a Bangladesh captain, Mashrafe had to often do more off the field than perhaps other international captains, dealing with not just players but forces that dictates process. We see that teams like Pakistan perform when someone charismatic comes out to invigorate them but India, who also were in the same vein, were able to establish a process, a philosophy. That is why they could overhaul Australia without Virat Kohli.
What Mashrafe was able to achieve was reach the individuals with well-designed messages.
With no basis for a clear philosophy or culture developing anytime soon, Bangladesh will have to rely on the three captains -- Tamim Iqbal, Mahmudullah and Mominul Haque -- to fill the big shoes left by Mashrafe and collectively, even if not individually, bridge the gaps to a clear modus operandi.