November 14, 2000

Long and arduous road ahead for Bangladesh

Before Bangladesh, seven of the nine nations playing their first Test had lost the matches. In fact, West Indies and Pakistan were beaten by an innings while others had lost by margins that ranged from 45 runs to 158 runs, from seven wickets to eight wickets. Against this background, Bangladesh's defeat by nine wickets with a day to spare may be termed as an expected result.

Certainly on the eve of the game, the inaugural Test at Dhaka seemed to have all the makings of a mismatch. India's rating in world cricket at the moment is nothing to boast about. At best they would be at the top of the second half of the ten nations. Still it was accepted - even by Bangladesh - that they would be too strong for the debutant nation. There were too many factors against the home team doing well. There is not a very strong basic structure for first class cricket in the country. This has led to Bangladesh faring badly in the longer version of the game. They had not won any of the ten first class games they had played till the Test commenced and these matches were played over three or four days. They had never had a taste of five day cricket. The national team had just come back from a particularly disastrous tour of South Africa. Even in one day cricket, where Bangladesh by its own standards has a barely presentable record, the team had fared miserably against provincial sides. Certainly they were the most unprepared entrants to the Test arena.

There had been widespread criticism the world over against the granting of Test status to Bangladesh. Former South African batting great Barry Richards made a valid point in an interview during the Coca Cola Champions Trophy in Sharjah last month. Expressing his concern over the standard of some of the countries playing international cricket, Richards said, ''there is a huge disparity between the top teams and a few others. Just because you want to globalise cricket, one should not devalue the standard of the game. We should not let any country play Test cricket just to globalise the game. It will devalue the history of cricket. A particular standard should be maintained otherwise spectators and television will lose interest. Who will want to watch an ATP tournament final between a player ranked 495 against one ranked 520?''

Richards' message was clearly directed mainly at Bangladesh being elevated to Test status. And yesterday in an interview in Perth, where he now lives, Richards was more direct. Hinting that Test cricket might have to adopt a two tiered competition, Richards said his real worry in world terms was that Australia, South Africa and Pakistan would continue to broaden the gulf that exists between themselves and the remaining seven Test nations. ''You just wonder what's going to happen with Test cricket. Australia, South Africa and perhaps Pakistan are the quality sides. Of the others, Zimbabwe can't go anywhere, Bangladesh is an ordinary side, India blows hot and cold - it's like there are two tiers in Test cricket.'' He made these comments after watching the West Indies, once the undisputed champions in world cricket, humiliated by Western Australia in a tour match.

Richards has a valid point. Certainly there was a lot of ordinary cricket that one witnessed during the past four days in Dhaka. But then what can one expect from a contest pitting a No 7 team in the world against the No 10 and debutant nation, a point also driven home by Richards.

Considering the pre-Test scenario, the result at Dhaka was anything but a surprise. But what the average Bangladesh cricket fan, the team members and others who witnessed the Test have found it difficult to accept is how the side collapsed unaccountably on the fourth afternoon after having held their own against a fancied side till lunch on the same day. One remembers another inaugural Test - involving Sri Lanka in Colombo in 1982 - when the script was rather similar. Over the first innings, the home team held their own, scoring 218 and restricting England to 223. But a second innings collapse by Sri Lanka saw England romping home by seven wickets.

Lack of experience, temperament, technique, dedication, determination and concentration were the reasons cited by Naimur Rahman in his post match press conference. ''We played loose shots and the tendency to go for strokes caused our downfall. We needed to adopt defensive tactics. Also we did not apply ourselves as we did in the first innings. We are not habituated to playing so long and this was the main problem. Also a few might have been over confident after the big total we put up in the first innings. We have to learn the importance of temperament and concentration. We have to work on our faults,'' admitted the Bangladesh captain. Coach Sarwar Imran, while touching upon the aspect of poor shot selection added ''those who learn from this match will stay and those who do not learn will not play Test cricket for long.''

Indeed, the learning process for Bangladesh has just commenced. ''We are the next generation,'' said a banner put up by a fervent Bangladesh cricket supporter at the ground. Perhaps, but before that it is a long, arduous and bumpy road ahead for Bangladesh. Whether they deserve Test status or not, the fact is that they have been elevated. Now they have to rise to the occasion and with several systematic programmes raise the level of the game. The Bangladesh Cricket Board showed during the Test that they are capable organisers. Now they should turn their attention to their cricketers and chart out long term schemes for them so that the national team will be able to hold its own in the rough and tumble world of Test cricket.