At some point early in Bangladesh’s innings in Dubai on Saturday, Steve Rhodes must have felt he’d been transported back to early July in Antigua. Back then, West Indies had bowled out the visitors for just 43 runs, the lowest Test total in 44 years.
In Dubai, Lasith Malinga removed Liton Das and Shakib Al Hasan in the first over before Tamim Iqbal retired hurt. Bangladesh were effectively 3 for 3 in the second over. It all ended well, though, Mushfiqur Rahim’s powerful 144, Mohammad Mithun’s maiden ODI fifty and an excellent bowling performance leading Bangladesh to a resounding win.
Things turned out very differently in Antigua. At one stage, Kemar Roach picked up Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah – three-fourth of Bangladesh’s senior brigade – in the same over to reduce them to 18 for 5 within the first 30 minutes. Whenever the camera focused on the Bangladesh sitting area, Rhodes sat still, looking straight.
It was his first match day as Bangladesh head coach, his first job in international cricket. Rhodes’ new job was, at that moment, the least desirable in world cricket. What helped him cope, though, was his CV: a former England wicketkeeper who became a leading county coach at Worcestershire, a life of professional cricket.
“I wonder whether any of the coaches has had a baptism like this in international cricket,” Rhodes told ESPNcricinfo in a lengthy conversation before the Asia Cup. “Nobody could have imagined an opening day like that. But I have been involved in cricket for a long time. I understand that you have good and bad days, whether it is park, club, county or international cricket. It was a bad day for us.”
Previous Bangladesh coaches have also overseen poor starts to their tenure. Jamie Siddons lost his first series badly in New Zealand in 2007-08; Stuart Law’s first assignment in Zimbabwe in 2011 was a humiliating loss while Chandika Hathurusingha, too, made a losing start in the West Indies in 2014.
This time, Bangladesh recovered to beat West Indies in the ODI and T20I series – a remarkable turnaround given the Test drubbing and given West Indies’ relative strength in the shorter formats. Rhodes didn’t come in for too much public praise from the players but he understood how everything shifted once the ODI regulars, particularly captain Mashrafe Mortaza, arrived in the Caribbean.
“I could see that after the inclusion of some of the one-day players who arrived. There was a different vibe around the place. I think it was good to have some energy back in the dressing room. It was almost like [the Test series loss] was put to bed, which is what I wanted, and a fresh start with the one-dayers.
“We believed we could win the T20s but the rankings were far apart. They are the world champions. [Beating them] was very special indeed. We finished on an incredible high. Although it was low when it started, there’s a bit of realism in that, so I was happy that the tour went. I am not sure the last time we won two series away but it was very special for me with Bangladesh,” said Rhodes.
The overall win in West Indies and Bangladesh’s resounding win over Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup must have come as a relief to the BCB, who had spent the first half of 2018 looking for a new head coach. After Hathurusingha’s sudden resignation in October last year, the board faced refusals by Tom Moody, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Andy Flower, Justin Langer, Paul Farbrace and Geoff Marsh.
They called Richard Pybus and Phil Simmons to Dhaka for interviews but called neither back. Negotiations went into the final stages with Marsh and Farbrace, but both turned down the offers. When Gary Kirsten was approached, he suggested a consultancy role. The BCB then asked him to recommend coaches; Rhodes featured in both the BCB’s and Kirsten’s list, and the appointment was swift. Apart from his vast coaching experience, the venue for next year’s World Cup also came into consideration for BCB and Kirsten.
“It was the challenge and excitement for myself, personally, of being involved with an international team knowing that there was a World Cup in England coming up,” said Rhodes. “But I am also fully aware of the passion that this country holds for cricket. There’s a lot of people who work extremely hard for a living in Bangladesh. But there’s one thing in common in the 120 million people: their love for cricket.
“That passion, desire and excitement that they’ve got is sometimes daunting as a coach. But actually, what if we did something special? And if we do something special, what a smile we can put in the faces of 120 million people. I think it is a big thing for me to give this a go.”
Hathurusingha’s three-year reign was testament to how much power Bangladesh’s foreign head coach can enjoy if he has the BCB bosses on his side. The cricket operations chairman’s position was changed twice during his time after he had a run-in with Naimur Rahman in 2015. The selection policy was completely revamped to fit him in as a selector the following year, prompting the resignation of Faruque Ahmed, the highly successful chief selector. Hathurusingha was known for regularly overlooking the BCB’s cricket operations committee, and going right up to the BCB president Nazmul Hassan for minor to big things.
Whatmore and Siddons enjoyed a bit of power as they were credited with the rapid progress of the one-day side, as well as the rise of a second batch of cricketers including the likes of Shakib, Tamim and Mushfiqur. Pybus fell out with BCB directors during his brief reign as head coach in 2012. Shane Jurgensen resigned in 2014 after some BCB directors said they were actively looking for a new coach after Bangladesh did poorly in the Asia Cup and World T20 that year.
In his first three months, Rhodes has seen how unpredictable the Bangladesh cricket team can be. It is a similar situation off the field too. If things go wrong, as many former foreign coaches have found out, it can rapidly escalate into a crisis. But, as Hathurusingha saw all too often, success on the field is all that matters and, so far, Rhodes’ successful start as Bangladesh coach should serve him this exact lesson.