A journey into the unknown
It has been less than a year since the Bangladesh women's side was formed and now they are preparing to take on India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup starting Friday. This may be an insignificant entry in the chronicles of cricket but should they go on to achieve the success that their male counterparts are struggling to reach, this entry shall act as a reference to how it all began.
Bangladesh qualified for the Asia Cup after winning the Asian Cricket Council tournament in Malaysia last August. That was their first tournament and Zafrul Ehsan, their coach, said he had no idea how they would play when he took charge. "When I saw these girls I realised that even though they were older than the age-group players I had been training, as senior coach of the National Academy, they needed to be taught the basics. So I started training them as one would be train first-timers and they were very enthusiastic."
But Ehsan wouldn't have had a team to coach unless the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) had set up a women's committee. In March 2006, with the ICC pressuring each of its Full Members to start a women's wing, the BCB set up a committee and appointed Sahima Hossain, a former MP, as the chairman. "In October that year, using eight lakhs given by the board, we organised a tournament involving 10 districts, Hossain said. "[Out of those] 31 girls, who scored 50 plus, or took five or more wickets, were picked for a four-month long national camp, beginning in April 2007."
The objective of that camp was to form a team that would participate in the ACC tournament. "Our aim was to get a good result," Hossain said. "All other teams were new as well and no one had participated in an international tournament." The budget for the tour was 19 lakhs. Bangladesh were clearly a level higher than the rest and they won the tournament without dropping a single game. The victory not only meant a place in the Asia Cup but also recognition from the people, the media and officials back home. "A lot of people didn't know there was a national team for women," Ehsan said. "We won convincingly and everyone was surprised as to when these girls had learned the game and won. We got a lot of praise, money, and appreciation."
Interest also grew among more women to play the sport. "At first the thought that girls would play cricket was shocking to people, Hossain said. "Now that is not the case. Previously I wouldn't get enough girls but now I'm not short of girls for any tournament." The budget, now raised to 35 lakhs a year, was divided between a schools tournament, the district championship, a services tournament and a coaches training programme.
If winning a tournament, which had teams from countries not known for their cricket, could create so many ripples in the women's game in Bangladesh, imagine what a credible performance at the Asia Cup could do? But success in Sri Lanka won't be easy. "To be honest we haven't got any video footage of the opposition teams," Ehsan admitted. "I don't have much idea of the teams. We don't have a situation in Bangladesh where we can have two women's teams play each other. We have enough only for one team. We've played against some boys and we will just try to achieve what is within our capability." As a warm-up to the tournament, Bangladesh hosted Hong Kong for a week-long series. "We wanted India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka to come and play us but we couldn't get any side to agree," Hossain said.
Ehsan's expectations from his side are not very high. "I don't expect we will be the best team in Asia. We want a place for our flag in Asia. Now that we've come this far, I want to show everyone we are worthy of playing at this level. We are arriving in world cricket and will try in future everyone should recognise us. You may think this is just talk but this is what we want to achieve."
Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at Cricinfo. Interviews by Akhila Ranganna