Afghanistan can take Bangladesh as a role model to develop in cricket

Former Australian cricketer Stuart’s Law is a well traveled trainer. Currently in Chittagong to coach the Afghanistan team, the one-test wonder previously served the Sri Lankan national team as an assistant coach before taking up the head coaching job with the Lankans. The 53-year-old, who also coached West Indies and Middlesex, had a brief spell as manager of the Bangladesh side, remarkably guiding his charges to a place in the 2012 Asian Cup final. Law gave an exclusive interview to Dhaka Grandstand on his experience coaching Afghanistan, his coaching philosophy, his time with the Tigers and being a free agent after the Bangladesh T20Is. Here are the excerpts:

What prompted you to accept the post in Afghanistan, although it was very short term?

It inspired to work with a group of young players mixed with very good quality experienced players like (Mohammad) Nabi, Rashid (Khan). Mujeeb (Ur Rahman) and (Najibullah) Zadran, I previously worked in UK for Middlesex. Just to be up close and see how it works was the main reason and sitting at home in an English winter, the experience in Chittagong and Dhaka was a breath of fresh air. We have to figure out how it’s going to work in the future. This year is a very busy year with the Asian teams with the Asian Cup taking place in Sri Lanka in September and then the T20 World Cup in Australia. So it’s a busy time. It’s exciting to think that you could be part of it as a coach. It’s only young, I’ve been here for four or five days. I take advantage of what is happening. Players want to learn and want to improve. It’s a good sign. Who knows, the first few days, but it’s worth discussing and watching.

You have already lost the ODI series 2-0, with the third game to play, but surely you felt a positive atmosphere in the team…

The will to fight they showed in the first game we still lost, but the fight we put up to take the game to penultimate was great character, defending a relatively small total (215). There are areas where improvements need to be made quickly for Afghanistan to play very good cricket against bigger nations. As I said, there are great exciting young people. Fazalhaq Farooqi was brilliant in both games – his first spell in game one was outstanding and his first spell in game two was also high quality. He is a young player who entered this team with this tour, he was able to play the first match and he seized this opportunity with both hands. That’s all you could ask a player to do.

Afghan hitters are considered heavy hitters in limited cricket. What do you think are their strengths?

They are strong and it is natural. Genetics allow them to be strong. I think they have a very positive mindset and once they are sure of their strength they can hit hard. They have powerful throwing arms. The spinners are strong and they play at a good hard-to-reach pace. So there’s this whole natural ability that, as a coach, you can’t train them. It’s just a matter of putting some polish on it to make them understand the more technical side of batting and bowling. You can use your raw power and pace, but a little polishing can cause them to score 275 or 280 instead of 220 or 230. These Afghanistan cricketers just need to play more cricket to develop.

You were the coach of Bangladesh when they played in the 2012 Asian Cup. It is considered a big step for the team in terms of developing as a good team. What changes do you see in the Bangladesh ODI team now? They top the ICC Super League rankings…

You now see strength and depth in the team. The exposure the players have had on the world stage since I have been with them and the development of franchise cricket in the country as well as the recognized players away in franchise tournaments are also a big credit to Bangladesh. They grew the players and the game itself. You have Shakib al Hasan, the best all-rounder in world cricket. Tamim Iqbal is a devastating opener. He hasn’t shot in this series yet and I hope it stays the same for the good of Afghanistan. You also have the emergence of young players like (Mehedi Hasan) Miraz, he has been exceptional in this series. He’s been in and out of the team, but he’s shown a high quality of who he is and to put that into a consistent performance is to his credit. We’ve seen some wonderful innings from Liton Das and he’s one of the tough batsmen to play in these conditions. Mushfiqur (Rahim) keeps improving and continues to do his job. Mustafizur (Rahman) is one of the toughest bowlers to face in limited overs. Taskin Ahmed my word, he’s strong, he’s fit and plays fast, he’s been brilliant with his line and length in the first two games. So overall, what I’ve seen, the depth of players that Bangladesh have now is of such quality that if there are injuries or they need to make a change, the people that they could bring in can also do a fantastic job. It’s actually a very good model for Afghanistan to follow. I think maybe 10 or 15 years ago Bangladesh was the same place Afghanistan is now. Doesn’t play enough cricket, struggles to fund tournaments. Do their best with what they have but if Afghanistan can keep up with Bangladesh I think in five to 10 years they can be in a better place in five or 10 years giving young players opportunities to become better, and they have the talent. There is so much talent in Afghanistan. I keep telling myself that the local spinners are very good, there are also fast bowlers and the batsmen hit the ball a mile. To get an insight, they can talk with BCB (Bangladesh Cricket Board) officials about how they have progressed in the development of the game.

Miraz was one of your brightest students in Bangladesh U-19. How have you seen him grow and what do you think he has in store for the Bangladesh team in the future?

I think back to the conversations I had with him during the tournament where we lost to the West Indies in the semi-finals. Thinking back to how he played the first game of this series against Afghanistan, never say die, always in the contest, stand up when you think it’s time to take another step, he has it certainly did in the first game. He was a great leader in the U-19 arena, he led by example and not just by words. He is a passionate young man, highly qualified, he can beat and be brilliant in the field. It is not a mystery spinner but it is very difficult for the way it launches the off-spinner. He’s someone Bangladesh might consider for a leadership role in the years to come, he’s a feather in his cap.

You had seen Tamim as one of the best strikers in Bangladesh and now he is captain of the ODI team. How do you see him as a skipper having already played two games against him in the series?

His leadership skills were brilliant. You can only pick up a lot from watching the game, his understanding of the players’ play, the team on the pitch directs itself to some extent – ​​that comes from good leadership. The plans they have off the pitch, he carries them onto the pitch but the whole team knows what’s going on. He’s not a dictator. I think once everyone is fighting for one goal, you can’t just have one captain. You have 10 other players giving their opinion and the captain makes the final decision. It looks like Tamim has this inclusivity with his players to contribute, it’s a great way to lead the team and everyone feels responsible for success and it builds a great culture.

The 2023 World Cup is likely the last time you will see Tamim, Shakib, Mahmudullah and Mushfiq playing the 50th World event and it will be the fourth World Cup for them playing together for Bangladesh. What can be the best outcome for them?

Look, there’s been a lot to say about the last two World Cups where Bangladesh have played. When it comes to the World Cup, they were close in a number of games. I commented on a few of the games and Bangladesh was close to winning a few of the games. If you can turn that very close crossing the line, their fortunes may just turn. You look at the next World Cup which is in the sub-continent where they will be comfortable with the way they play the game, it suits the players. So they had an exceptional opportunity to cause headaches for many teams and they have already proven it. I saw them beat India and Sri Lanka in that Asian Cup [2012], there’s no reason why they can’t do it again. If they can play anywhere near how they played in this series [Afghanistan] – it will shake up a few teams. Going on and winning will be a fairy tale but it’s not beyond these players. Whether they have the mental toughness to take on the Indians, the Pakistanis, the Australians and the English remains to be seen, but the way they have played and the way they can play, if they can be on their front foot – they are a tough team to beat.

What if there is an offer from BCB to work for them again?

Right now, I have to find what’s right for me and the family. But I also have to take on a project where I can make a difference. At the moment, my work with Afghanistan is only a short-term consulting role, but there are positive aspects and differences that I can bring to it. And it would be the same everywhere else – in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, England or Australia. If I can make a real difference and bring valuable knowledge to the players, teaching them not only cricket but also how to be a better person, then it’s worth looking into. After the T20 series in Dhaka, I am a free agent.

Rebecca R. Santistevan