There is a reason why Australia are a five-time World Cup winner, and South Africa, despite being marginally worse, has failed to win a single time: The winning mentality. Or, more simply put, the feeling or experience of having won.
Think outside of cricket, for instance in sports like football where Barcelona have won just about everything there is to win with Lionel Messi but Argentina have not seen such success with Lionel Messi and a team that is just about as good as Barca’s.
Of course, there are many more aspects to a team or player’s success en route to silverware but the experience of winning big games is one of those things that cannot be achieved by just being more talented and more hard-working.
That is one of the main reasons why sports psychologists have managed to take up such a coveted position over the last decade or so.
Doesn’t mean that having sports psychologists will confirm success for teams. For instance, the scars of losing close World Cup games for South Africa have become a recurring theme, and it will take nothing short of a miracle for it to change.
The same can be said of Lionel Messi’s performances in tournament finals with Argentina. Even though he might not have been very poor in finals, his handling of the big moments -- the penalty against Chile in the 2016 COPA America Centenario Final, and the free kick against Germany in the 2014 World Cup Final -- are the images that has been etched onto everyone’s memories and certainly his and has been what’s poor.
The mental aspect can never be underestimated and is one of the biggest reasons for Bangladesh’s recent poor series against the Kiwis and is going to be at the forefront in the series against Sri Lanka where Bangladesh play their 100th international Test match in the second and final Test of the series.
Now while Sri Lanka might start off as favourites at home, especially in Tests, Bangladesh does have an experience advantage in their batting lineup, with Tamim, Mushfiq, Mahmudullah, and Shakib all having a decade or more of international game playing experience.
The memories of the Galle Test last time Bangladesh toured should also be ripe in the memories of the players, especially Mushfiqur Rahim who scored his maiden Test double hundred. The issues however, remain in bowling, getting out to rash shots and failing to close out games from winnable positions.
The experience of winning big games is one of those things that cannot be achieved by just being more talented and more hard-working
Take the first Test against New Zealand in the recent series as a perfect example. Even though the first innings total of close to 600 was good enough to put a team under a follow on, the bowlers could not back up the batsmen’s efforts with sustained intensity and then the batting failure in the second innings happened.
In the span of just seven Test matches, three dismissals to rash shots at key moments of the game come to mind -- Mahmudullah getting bowled trying to slog Zafar Ansari at the closing stages of day two in the second test against England at Dhaka, Shakib’s five-ball duck where he gifted Santner a wicket in the fifth days first session against the Kiwis, and Mushfiqur’s slog against Ashwin in the fifth day of the only Test against India. If we look further back, Mohammad Ashraful would often get out to rash or silly shots. And just recently, Shakib has stated that he won’t be changing his style of play even if he gets dismissed due to rash shots.
Yes, it may be Shakib’s game and he has numbers to back it up but not changing his game according to the situation of the match speaks volumes about a mentality that has not seen the team win Test matches, and carries many mental scars from not having won games that could have been won or drawn.
The shorter formats of the game, where we have had a decent run at home over the past few years has also seen us lose close encounters with notably India in the 2016 T20 World Cup which we remember all too well. But even in the first ODI against England in the 2016 home series was a game where our batting failed from a position of strength.
With the Tests against Sri Lanka, our mentality and strategies will be tested to the fullest. The Sri Lankans too have had a difficult series against the Proteas in South Africa but then have the memories of a 3-0 whitewash of the Aussies from 2016 at home in their memories.
Given that Sri Lanka might opt for spinning surfaces, it will bode well for our attack and with Mustafizur back in action, will give our attack an added fizz.
The key to achieve positive results will be to keep our heads during this series and revisit our historic victory against England in the second Test in Dhaka. Revisit that winning feeling.
Shahnoor Rabbani is a strategic planner at 7TEEN, radio show host, and cricket commentator at Radio Shadhin 92.4 FM.