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     Volume 9 Issue 1 | January 1, 2010|

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Cover Story:Sport

Consolidation is the Key

Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

One fighting for acceptance, one fighting to exist. The recurring theme for us Bangladeshis has always been the same. The metaphor holds aptly for sports as 2010 sees our cricketers fight for the right of acceptance amongst the so-called elite while football struggles to carve out a niche for itself. After a year in which both sports hit as yet unprecedented heights, consolidation will be the goal for both administrative bodies.

Tumultuous would be an apt adjective to describe the year just past for Bangladesh football. Kazi Salahuddin's promise of reforms was one he stuck with to the t, as the president of the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) oversaw wide-ranging changes within the game.

The last year saw us hire and then fire a Brazilian coach in Edson Silva Dido. It saw us win our first game for three years and perform admirably in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. It also saw us plumb new depths of despair in bowing out to a U-23 Indian side in the SAFF Championship at home soil. But it also saw stadiums packed to the rafters for cup finals and a huge upturn of interest for followers of the game.

So how exactly do we encompass the last year? Moderately successful might be harsh, but whatever brownie points the BFF gained by their positive reforms, was significantly lost at the end of the year which saw Dido relinquished of his duties and the national team fall to a plodding exit at the SAFF Championships.

All this makes 2010 pivotal for Bangladesh, if that is football truly wants to take off for us.

The age old questions of accountability and pressure groups within the federation reared its ugly head again late last year as departing coach Dido, fired off an explosive diatribe against certain quarters accusing them of working against the interests of the game.

Without Salahuddin football in Bangladesh might go back to the Stone Age.

This is exactly the kind of problems that have hindered progress in the past and if this were to happen again, it might forever spell the end of football for Bangladesh. As Dido eloquently put it, without Salahuddin, football (in Bangladesh) will go back to the Stone Age.

But in the case of Salahuddin his glory goes hand in hand with his doom. He has marketed the game vigorously and people who only recently never believed in the development of the game finally stood up and took notice.

Salahuddin can no longer afford to fail. For if he does, it will be spectacular.

On the field, the biggest challenges lie in the SA Games in late January and February followed by the AFC Challenge Cup. But performances on the field is just the tip of the iceberg.

If development is to continue its meandering path, Salahuddin first needs to steady a bobbing ship. That represents his biggest challenge come 2010. Also bothersome will be the selection of a new national team coach to take the team forward and ensuring the stability and growth of the country's professional league the Bangladesh league.

But what should be most important for the BFF is to ensure the training of trainers. Coaching, at a young age, is the single most important criterion that is missing from our players.

That and the ability to be self-critical. Both are issues that the BFF need to address and fast. Time is of the essence.

Consolidation is the name of the game for Bangladesh's cricket team come 2010. After a year of unprecedented success, the Tigers will look at 2010 as the year where they finally establish themselves as belonging to the elite clan. If it does happen, it will come in good time since Bangladesh are set to play hosts in the World Cup in 2011 and fans are hoping for a good performance. Last year, a side led by Shakib al Hasan, achieved admirable success in both the Caribbean and Zimbabwe to bring the home faithful to their feet.

But the youthful Tigers have little time to rest on their laurels as the year starts with a bang with a tri-series involving India and Sri Lanka in Dhaka. New Zealand are next and then a visit of England. The highlight of the cricketing calendar will then be the T20 World Cup in West Indies.

All this has the potential to be a banana skin for the Tigers. Heavy losses early in the year to a marauding India and an ever-present Sri Lanka team, might break the momentum of last season's exploits.

Therefore, building on their successes will be the key for Jamie Siddons' men and developing a winning mentality is crucial to harbour success both in the short and long term. The re-integration of a number of ICL players has emerged as a critical issue in this regard with many harbouring the opinion that it might hamper team spirit.

However, what is vital at this point is patience.
It is easy to get carried away in this wave of success but the brute realities are that most of it came against weaker opposition. That is not to say, that Bangladesh's ability to see off poorer sides is in question. It just means that bigger challenges lie ahead for our cricketers.

And the biggest challenge of all is for Shakib al Hasan. The left-hander hit a purple patch last season, to the point that he could do no wrong. Shakib had the so-called Midas touch and he ended the year as not just the top ODI all-rounder in the world, but also as The Wisden Cricketer's Test cricketer of the year.

No mean feat for any cricketer.
However, all careers are a mixture of peaks and troughs. Shakib's could very well be around the corner, and if his performances in the Premier Division Cricket League are anything to go by, his lean patch could be closer than many imagine.

However, what has set Shakib apart from his peers so far is his ability to dust success off and not let it get to him. If he can do the same with the wave of criticism that is bound to follow a poor showing, it will only improve his standing as a cricketer.

But while Shakib has glowed ever-present, one man noticeable only by his absence has been Mashrafe bin Mortaza. The man, who is still captain of the Tigers, missed a large chunk of the huge successes to injury and his comeback is eagerly anticipated in the country. For while the Tigers have spinners galore, Mashrafe is the only true international class fast bowler in our ranks. That, and his ability to pull matches out of the bag, make him an invaluable asset.

Both will be integral part of the team who take to the field come February 2011 at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium. But 2010 will be their true marker. It will separate the men from the boys.

For cricket, the gradient of progress has not been steep. It has been an uphill struggle on many occasions but just as the public have held sway, so have the cricketers, who have, albeit sporadically, given us moments to smile about and cherish. The fortunes of cricket and the people are somehow inexorably linked. This is why come 2011, when Bangladesh plays host to the biggest cricket show on earth the people of the country will be watching and hoping for a chance to smile.


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