December 14, 2002

Bangladesh banged up

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It was, according to Saber Chowdhury, then president of the Bangladesh Cricket Board, the third most important event in the country's history, after independence and the re-establishment of Bengali as the national language.

More than two years on from Bangladesh's elevation to full Test status by the International Cricket Council (ICC), it has been exposed for what it always was: a decision made more on political than on sound cricketing grounds and taken on the misleading euphoria of a One-Day victory over Pakistan, the former governing power, in the 1999 World Cup.

It has devalued the game at the highest level and attached an unfair burden on Bangladesh's enthusiastic and talented cricketers who were clearly not prepared for it.

Just as significantly, as one crushing defeat has followed another, the high expectations of a passionate public have been undermined.

The few thousand spectators spread around the 30 000 capacity Bangabandhu Stadium on Tuesday as the West Indies completed the latest humiliation, by an innings and 310 runs, jeered their players. Their patience is wearing thin.

It was Bangladesh's 15th defeat in their 16 Tests, their 11th by an innings. They drew the other only because the weather intervened.

Their promotion, gained under the presidency of the canny Indian administrator Jagmohan Dalmiya, provided the Asian bloc with a fourth full member among the ten around the ICC table. But it did not provide Test cricket with a team worthy of the status.

Gordon Greenidge, the eminent West Indies opening batsman who was the national coach at the time, was a plaintive voice amidst the tumult warning that, given its domestic structure, Bangladesh would be embarrassed by such a move.

He had been hailed, feted and given honorary status when Bangladesh won the ICC Trophy for associate members that secured them automatic entry into the World Cup for the first time in 1999.

But he quickly turned villain for his honest and, as it inevitably proved, accurate judgement. He was dismissed even before the World Cup ended and has subsequently and unhappily witnessed his prophesy come to pass.

He was in Bangladesh again recently as television analyst for the three One-Day Internationals of the West Indies tour, now welcomed by those who have come to understand the merit of his original concern and by a new administration keen to have him return as national coach.

His original apprehension was based on cricketing common sense.

Players with talent

Players of potential obviously abound in a country of 130 million. Mohammad Ashraful became Test cricket's youngest century-maker with 114 against Sri Lanka, aged 16 and on debut last year. He was one of four teens in the first Test against the West Indies, a reflection both of the talent and of Bangaldesh's desperate move to make the most of it.

Had there been older players with more first-class experience to call on, such boys could be left to develop their game at their own level instead of being thrown in at the deep end.

There was, and is, another potentially constraining factor although it is not peculiar in this part of the world. The government appoints the president of the board and he picks his committee.

Chowdhury, who was at the helm for the inaugural Test in 2000 as a government appointee, was replaced and put in jail on corruption charges admittedly unrelated to cricket, when the party in power lost elections last year.

A new dispensation is now in office, not unmindful of the fallout if results continue to be as bad as they have been but always with a political constituency to consider.

So what can be done?

It is clearly unrealistic, and unjust, to expect the ICC to now kick Bangladesh out of Test cricket because of its original error.

Instead, it needs to commit more of its resources to improving standards here, exposing its junior and "A" teams to international competition and coaching.

For a start, the Indian board, of which Dalmiya is now president, can start by including a Bangladesh team in its annual Duleep Trophy zonal tournament, as the West Indies board did last season in incorporating Bangladesh "A" into the Busta Cup.

It's the least he can do after his role in their premature promotion to Test level.

For the time being, through no fault of the Bangladesh players, their opposing teams and players will continue to embellish their records with more victories and cheap runs and wickets.