Five pacers have made it into the 15-man Bangladesh squad for the forthcoming ICC Twenty20 World Cup. One more has been included as a stand-by. The selectors clearly had the condition in mind when picking the squad. But heading into the global tournament, the pace attack is causing some headaches. Skipper Shakib Al Hasan has openly demanded a better performance from the pacers at the death. In an interview with Prothom Alo conducted over the phone on Friday, Bangladesh fast bowling coach Allan Donald, who is currently in South Africa, spoke about the performance of the pacers in the Asia Cup and his thoughts about the pace attack before the World Cup–

How would you rate the pace attack’s performance in the Asia Cup?

We’ve been working on a lot of processes for five-six months or so. And the one thing we have got rid of and I’m really, really glad to see, is our attitude with the brand new Kookaburra. We’ve spoken long and hard about our mindset in powerplays, especially in T20s. You know, the 50-over format is completely different. Nothing changes over the course of the first 10 overs and the mindset with two white balls is to be aggressive, use our bumpers.

And I think the great thing for me was to see how well this group has embraced that. They know that it’s ok to go for a six, it’s ok to get a top-edge for six, it’s ok to get hooked for six, because that is just the nature of the T20 game right now. And I think it’s awesome to see the guys that have been involved in white ball cricket, have embraced that mindset. We are going to strike and strike hard, we are going to go after batters. And that’s exactly what we did.

Ebadot (Hossain) was a fresh sensation. He came in, bowled first change and immediately had an affect on the game. He really put his stamp on it. He runs in and bowls at 140 kmph+. Post-powerplay (against Sri Lanka), we kept striking. Whether it was a spinner or pacer, we kept creating opportunities, we kept taking wickets against Sri Lanka. And even the game against Afghanistan, which was a very tight game, we kept creating chances. So, I’m really stoked about that.

Bangladesh pace bowling coach Allan Donald with Taskin Ahmed and Shoriful Islam at SuperSport Park, Centurion, South Africa on 17 March, 2022
File photo

But the death over bowling was extremely poor.

The toughest thing to do is to bowl at the end. There’s no question about it. In T20 cricket, it is where the game truly starts. From overs 15-16, is where the heat it at its worst. This is where their decision-making and their clarity in decision making is at its worst. We have been talking about having crystal clear plans, where we make quality and calculative decisions. When you stand at the back of your mark, you should know exactly what you are trying to achieve with this ball. We call it the micro-game that goes within the game. It is what the scoreboard needs from us now, what the situation of the game needs from us now, and let’s just say we have not been on the money when it comes to that. There’s no question about that. There are a lot of teams around the world that suffer the same fate and get it wrong when the pressure is at its highest.

Skipper Shakib Al Hasan has said he wants to see better bowling at the death overs in the T20 World Cup. Do we have that ability?

To be honest, I couldn’t have asked for a better preparation in Dubai leading up to the Asia Cup because we did not miss a thing. We have given ourselves options over and around the wicket. The guys have trained and trained out of their comfort zones. Where the real truth lies is when the game is really on. When you are sitting on the sidelines and seeing your bowlers doing what they are doing, there’s nothing you can do as a coach. You can only hope that they make the right calls when the pressure is at its most intense. We haven’t been at our best, we know that we can be a lot better. And I know that these guys are trying so hard to be the best they can be. We are going to have to do better in Australia,, there’s no question about that.

I think any team across the world would know that the greatest concern for them is when the game is on the line, can their bowlers close the deal. And that’s the concern for everybody. Yes, we can be better, we know we can be better. The good thing for me is that I’m seeing progress in aggression, in going after batters, in not being afraid to use short balls. And now that the shackles are off their shoulders as they know the coaches are not worrying about it. If they want to be aggressive and a little bit more expansive in their roles, then they can do so. This group is now realising that the coaches aren’t going to worry if someone goes for a six or four. That’s just the brutality of T20 cricket. But yes, we also know that we can be a lot better at the end.

Mustafizur Rahman's record away from home is poor
Shamsul Hoque

Mustafizur Rahman’s form away from home has been poor. Are you worried about him?

I think the expectation on Mustafiz is always going to be more with the new ball and of course at the end with his variations and of course with those yorkers we have seen him do in the IPL for (Sunrisers) Hyderabad in the past. Lately, he hasn’t been quite on song with that. And I know that feeling myself. I’ve never played a T20 international, I have only played two T20s. I’m speaking from a One-Day International (ODI) point of view that when you are not quite confident enough to nail those yorkers and when you just can’t rely on your slower variations, your pace-off deliveries, to bail you out, then it becomes a very difficult proposition to manufacture something that you are not quite believing in just yet.

I think Mustafiz and I have spoken very closely about this. I know, not just me, all the players and coaches know he has got it in him to produce the best that he can be. We have got a few more weeks. We had a camp in Dhaka and there is another camp in Dubai and of course, then the preparation in New Zealand leading into Australia. So we got plenty of time now to focus on that. So, yes, all the greats go through highs and lows and I’m pretty sure I can get Mustafiz where he should be. It’s just a confidence thing, it really is. It just needs to be better executed, maybe it would take a little more time to set the believe in getting it right. But I’m not worried about him. I think he will be back when we need him in these big games coming up.

How do you view Ebadot Hossain’s inclusion in the World Cup team?

I’ve been very impressed by Ebadot’s attitude, with his willingness to learn every single day. He is a fit man, he is an extremely fit guy. I love his attitude, I really do. I’ve really just enjoyed working with Ebadot. Ebadot has just risen in the last five or so months that we’ve been working together. He has really embraced everything that we have spoken about. He is just a natural athlete, a beautiful action, bowls 145km/h+, and he has shown now that in the white ball format he is a handful. I want to take my hat out to him especially.

It’s never easy getting picked in a World Cup team, never ever. He has forced his way in from so many performances. He has now shown that he is going to be a force in all formats. It’s really a testament to how hard he has worked and how well he has embraced the chats that we have had and taken all the advice from the board. He has forced his way into this T20 World Cup squad. I just think that he has just knuckled down, put his head down and will do whatever it takes to get the job done.

And what a start the other night against Sri Lanka. He bowled quick and bowled accurately. Unfortunately through one devastating over things went south. I just saw his face afterwards. He was just absolutely devastated by how it all finished in that game. But that can happen to anyone. It’s his first game but he has shown that he is going to be a handful. We are playing in Hobart, we are playing in Melbourne, we are playing in Sydney. All those wickets are suited for T20 cricket. The ball comes on to the bat beautifully, there is no movement off the seam but I can tell you that with his extra pace, I think he will be a different factor. Like most quick bowlers in the world, pace has a significant effect on how batters make decisions. I have a lot of respect for Ebadot and how much he has grown in the last five months.

Allan Donald with Ebadot Hossain

Do you think Mohammad Saifuddin can be the solution to the death over problem?

I worked a little bit with Saifuddin the other day and in Dubai and to his own admission, he was very underdone. He is still making his way back. And I think with the two camps coming up and the trip to New Zealand, we are going to get a lot out of him, especially from his batting point of view.

I’ve not seen him bowl much, to be honest. But I think Hasan Mahmud and all these guys will be slamming the door to make it to the final XI come game 1. So it’s good competition, it’s great competition between these guys. Now is the time to put in the yards, now is the time to stick up their hands. Those games in New Zealand are going to give us a hell of an indication on where these guys are. So, I understand he (Saifuddin) is a fantastic death bowler, he has done it for his BPL side. So, that might be his role to come close out the game for us. But again, it will depend on confidence and how he builds his confidence from now on.

You had heavily praised Hasan Mahmud. Can we see him opening the bowling?

He is very impressive young man, first of all. I dealt with him a little bit when he was still fighting his way back from a stress fracture back in Dhaka when I first arrived here for the Test series against Sri Lanka. But I got to know him much better in Zimbabwe before, unfortunately, he suffered a horrific injury, rolling his ankle in the practice. I think the one thing Hasan provided us is good pace and accuracy and swing at front. He was very, very good. He quickly punched holes in that Zimbabwe line-up up-front by nicking off the front-line batters. He was absolutely magnificent, bowls at a good pace, he is just naturally such a good athlete. He is also very good at the death. He asks really good questions and is someone that we definitely missed in the Asia Cup, there is no question about it. I look forward to having him back.

And I think, that’s the dilemma we got is that we are sitting with a potential fight, and the dog fight will be who is going to be that new ball bowler. Hasan Mahmud, Shoriful (Islam), Taskin (Ahmed), Ebadot, Saifuddin, it’s going to be a really hard struggle to pick our best attack. And that’s what we want, we want that kind of competition amongst the guys. Hasan is an impressive youngster. And with him fit and ready, he will be a huge factor in our starting line-up for sure.

Allan Donald conducts a training session with the pacers
Shamsul Hoque

Shoriful Islam didn’t get a place in the 15-man squad. Did that surprise you?

Shoriful missed out from the Asia Cup. He would’ve been a little bit frustrated that he wasn’t in that Asia Cup team. Sometimes, it is very hard on the players how the game works. He is just another very fine addition to our group. Certainly, the left-arm over factor plays a big role, he swings it late. He is tall, so he gets some bounce and bowls at a lively pace.

Right from the top, you can look at everyone and the one skill that everyone needs to get better at is of course options at the death and how good we can be at the death. He is definitely up there in terms of what I’ve seen. He can nail a yorker, can nail a wide yorker. He is certainly one of the bowlers that we missed a little bit at the Asia Cup. But he has had some time to think about some things and work hard.

I’ve given him a programme to work on while we were away. So, he has been very busy with that. But he is very upbeat and I’ve been talking to him a little bit, just about his progress. He is happy, but it’s time for him to really stamp his authority on the team and say pick me. Shoriful has come a long way, I had seen him here in the Under-19 World Cup where he was such a big factor for Bangladesh. And yet again, now it’s time for him to really embrace the pressure.

In Australia, the pacers would have to bowl around 12-14 overs for Bangladesh. How confident are you?

A pace attack with Taskin, Ebadot, Hasan, Saifuddin, Fiz, Shoriful, goodness me, that is not the worst bunch of fast bowlers I have ever come across, I can tell you that much. It’s a good selection to pick from. If we keep bowling according to our processes, we can upset any team in the world.

I truly believe that if you can motivate a bunch of guys, you can upset whoever you want. I know you are going to have to play well as a team. And you are going to have to be spot on with everything you do. But if every team member embraces that kind of mindset, you can smash a lot of teams along the way. So, whether you swing the ball or you are a line bowler, or you bowl a 145km/h+ If you know that your game is sewn up and you got confidence in your game, then anything is possible. So, I look forward to this challenge. It’s going to be exciting, it’s another World Cup.

Hopefully, we make our mark in the World Cup and show the rest of the cricket world that Bangladesh is not a team to be messed with. So, it’s just me thinking ultra-aggressive and confident but let’s hope that we can put it together collectively and go show the world what Bangladesh is about.

*This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy