November 14, 2000

Saber Chowdhury's ambitious plans for Bangladesh cricket

The Bangladesh team were defeated but not disgraced in the inaugural Test which concluded at Dhaka on Monday. But there was another team which came off with flying colours and that was the organising committee, headed by the Bangladesh Cricket Board president Saber Hossain Chowdhury. Viewed from any angle, the conduct of the special occasion can be termed successful. Organising an international event in Bangladesh is not a new experience. The Asia Cup (twice) and the ICC KnockOut tournament have already been conducted successfully. But then to organise something so very special was always going to be a logistical nightmare. But as Chowdhury put it today, ''everyone put in a lot of hard work and thanks to the dedicated members, everything went off smoothly.''

Chowdhury, who is also a deputy minister in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government, is very keen that Bangladesh should make rapid strides in the cricketing world and he knows exactly what is required for the country to achieve that objective. ''In five years, I would like Bangladesh to climb up two notches in the rankings and in another five years, I would like to see them another three notches up,'' he said with a lot of feeling while sitting in his comfortable office room in the Bangabandhu stadium today.

For that Chowdhury knows that there has to be a broad based programme in the country. And for this, the grass roots have to be tapped. ''Our first target is children in the age group 7 to 10. Since the symbol of the tiger is very prominent in Bangladesh we are calling this programme cub cricket. The boys will play with equipment especially made for them like a softer ball. We aim to scout around the whole country and my estimate is that we will be able to find about 100,000 boys and girls in this age group. Then we hope to have similar programmes for the under-13, under-15, under-17 and under-19 from the about 800 schools in the country.''

Chowdhury listed out some of the priorities of the BCB in its objective to uplift the standard of the game in the country, particularly in Test cricket. The National League which comprises three day matches will now be followed by a one-day game. In addition to toning up the stamina of the players, Chowdhury reckoned that it would serve a purpose in helping the cricketers to hone their skills in the shorter and longer versions of the game simultaneously. He was firmly of the view that if the standard of first class cricket is high, the national team would also benefit and cited the example in Australia where there was very little difference in standards between the Sheffield Shield and the Australian side.

Another priority area is the laying of matting wickets. He said this would help the players in getting used to the bounce of various kinds of pitches all over the world. On their recent disastrous tour of South Africa, the Bangaladesh batsmen fared miserably against the lifting deliveries. He admitted that playing on the kind of pitch made available for the inaugural Test was not the ideal kind of exposure the cricketers needed and he said the BCB was examining the various kinds of soil available in the country so that the right type of pitches could be prepared.

Chowdhury said another priority area was having more grounds fit to stage international events. According to him, Bangladesh did not need more than three Test grounds and he said there were two venues in Dhaka and available stadia in Chittagong and Rajshahi which could be developed to international standards. There was also an urgent need for qualified coaches at various levels. At the national level, he said a coach would be appointed in January 2001 after talking to a number of cricket boards. He admitted that Sri Lanka's Roy Dias was one of the candidates.

Another top priority was the need of qualified umpires. He admitted BCB's helplesness at the fact that there was no suitable official to stand in the inaugural Test. ''Now that we are a Test playing nation, we should have our own umpires to stand in the matches,'' he said.

Chowdhury also took the opportunity to thank the Board of Control for Cricket in India for their gesture in sending a team here less than six months after Bangladesh had been awarded Test status. He said the BCB had already chalked out the programme for 2000 and 2001. ''Hopefully we will have back to back Tests both here and in Pakistan in January 2001 but that is only if the Indian tour of Pakistan does not come off. Personally I feel that India and Pakistan must play each other. Then we tour Zimbabwe in April and possibly host a return visit by them in October. We also plan to tour New Zealand in December 2001,'' he said.