Jamie Siddons would seem to be an optimist of the "glass half-full" variety. And he needs to be as head coach of the Bangladesh cricket team. Siddons arrived in Bangladesh in October 2007 from an Australia academy system that was accustomed to producing winners and world-class players. Now, guiding a team with just three victories in Test matches, the smallest of comforts mean a lot. They have pushed teams close on occasions, even the best sides like Australia, but rarely do they finish on top.
"When you come into a job like mine you want to win cricket matches," he said. "[But] we are ninth [and last] in the [Test] world so there are eight teams better than us. "They don't want to let us win but unlike earlier times they now bring their best game when they play us. But we do need to start winning games and to do that we need to play great cricket." Bangladesh have the daunting yet exciting challenge of a Lord's Test starting tomorrow against England, the newly crowned World Twenty20 champions, in the first game of a two-match series.
England have already announced they will be missing two key players in Paul Collingwood, out with a shoulder injury, and Stuart Broad, who is being rested. This is a series where more established Test teams traditionally believe they can omit top players and still win, as England did in Bangladesh in March when Andrew Strauss, the captain, and James Anderson, their best fast bowler, did not tour. An early season Test in England is a tough prospect for most teams but more so for Bangladesh, who are still battling just to compete since joining the top tier of world cricket a decade ago.
But Siddons detects progress. Defeats are becoming less severe, and the nucleus of world-class talent in the Bangladesh ranks keeps him positive and hopeful of a brighter future. "I am excited by the development. Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and [Mahmudullah] Riyad have all made hundreds in Test cricket, while Imrul Kayes has made a one-day hundred and is becoming more consistent," he said.
"They are all capable but the question remains whether they can put it all together and make big scores as a team. It's up to me to give them the confidence to go and do it day in and day out, like an England or an Australia." He added: "It's obvious we're still losing, we have not won a game now for six months, but we have played the top three or four teams in the world. I don't expect us to beat them every day but I do expect us to compete and now we are pushing teams.
"They are having to play their best cricket to beat us. England found that out earlier this year. We had them on the ropes a couple of times and if some things had gone our way we might have had a win or two." So what is it that keeps Siddons and the Bangladesh players smiling and confident of the next match bringing a more positive result? It may be stating the obvious but constant defeats usually lead to poor morale and eventually the dismissal of key figures like the captain, selectors, and more often than not the coach.
But this team cannot be judged like any other. The slightest improvement or development of a new star is seen as a victory in this team's circle. When Al Hasan soared to No 1 in the ICC's one-day world rankings for all-rounders, the whole country felt his success. Now he is the captain and set to become the first Bangladesh overseas player in English county cricket from July, when he will play for Worcestershire. These are the signs of progress that Siddons can savour.
"[When I started this job] I made a pact with myself and the team that my role was to produce world-class players," he said. "Tamim would definitely find a way into a lot of teams and so would Shakib as an all-rounder. "That is the way forward. If we worried about the win-loss ratio our boys would be deflated so they know they need to keep playing at their best to win games. The fact we now have three or four world-class players shows we have made great strides."
Despite the progress, Siddons readily acknowledges that even the current crop of burgeoning stars may not be enough to lift the country's results in the short term. "There is no way in world cricket you can suddenly get up to the middle of the pack or even begin to dream of reaching the top. To get there our players need to be even better than Tamim and Shakib. "It's probably a dream to think we are going to develop this group enough to reach those heights. Our infrastructure and quality of club cricket is paramount to ensure that future players become good enough to progress to those standards."
It is a tribute to Siddons that he has adjusted his style of coaching and leadership accordingly. He realised that operating with a win at all costs attitude may be the Australian way, but would not have been so effective for the Bangladesh team. Siddons, a former batsman who played a single one-day international in 1988 and may have played more had he not been up against greats like Allan Border and the Waugh twins, Mark and Steve, for a spot in the side, knows not to bring the Aussie method into the Bangladesh dressing room.
"I haven't really taken things down that path," he said. "I've been around enough players to know the techniques and work required to be a world-class player. I also know techniques that mean you won't be successful. "My job is to teach the players those skills and make sure they are ingrained so when I throw them out there against England they are not embarrassed, not frightened, not overawed at all and I think we are getting there.
"It has taken a while because we've had to come from a long way back. So that's the Australian aspect I am bringing, not the dressing room stuff because it's hard to pump them all up and send them out with confidence if they haven't got the skills behind them. I work hard on the technical side and with that I give them confidence." Whatever results lie ahead in England, one thing is certain: the players will savour the occasion and have the chance to see their names inscribed on the historic Lord's honours board on the dressing room wall hanging in the famous old pavilion. "It's an exciting tour and surprising in one sense," Siddons said. "When we toured Australia we got sent to Darwin, when we come here we go to Lord's!" @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
1999 Bangladesh pulled off a shock win over Pakistan, the eventual tournament runners-up, in the 1999 World Cup in England. The Pakistan side was full of big names like Wasim Akram, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, yet the minnows won at Northampton by 62 runs. 2005 The five-wicket one-day win over Australia, the world champions, at Cardiff in 2005 remains one of the greatest shocks in recent cricket history. The Tigers chased 250 and won, inspired by a magnificent 100 from 101 balls by Mohammad Ashraful (left), then aged 20. 2005 The country's first Test win came in January of that year. It was against a weakened Zimbabwe team, but a Test win nonetheless, which gave the cricket-crazy nation a huge milestone and plenty to cheer about. Zimbabwe chased 381 in the fourth innings but were bowled out for 154.