February 1976 - Robin Marlar examines the plight of a territory which no longer knows Test cricket
Bangladesh is not a member of the International Cricket Conference. She should be. Bengali cricket is numerically strong. Dacca is a Test match ground fit to rank with any in the world, and if the attraction to Pakistan for playing there in the 50s and 60s was as much concerned with revenue at the gate as encouraging local stars, that in itself was a reflection of the passionate interest in the game. And there have been talented players there, too. Something has to be done to restore the people of the seventh-largest democracy in the world to the international family of cricket.
During the last MCC tour of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, I detached myself from the party between the Kanpur and Bombay Tests - the fourth and fifth - and equipped with a precious visa obtained in Delhi from the infant Bangladesh diplomatic service set off for Dacca with only the vaguest idea of whom I was trying to see or even where I was to stay.
Once installed in the city, where the Press Club still bore the scars of 25-pounder shells, the welcome was overpowering to the point of astonishment. An appointment was made with the senior civil servants in charge of sport at the Ministry of Education. I waited at the back of the room while the Russian delegation pored over the small print in a document about soccer coaching: heavy stuff, but a distinct incident in the struggle for political spheres of influence. After that the first ball of the conventional innings was, `Sorry I have come without an agenda', against which a hearty laugh and `Thank goodness for that - I thought we would never finish' represented a hit far into the crowd. It was the start of two happy days.
Propped up by loans
Bangladesh is poor. Poorer now perhaps even than in 1973. The cost of cricket equipment is high and grows higher. India has helped. But when people are starving there is no time for circuses. Or is there? In fact the creation of a Bangladesh sports equipment industry had already been ` identified as a priority in the second rank. But getting started - the investment of capital for the acquisition of minor pieces of plant and major injection of know-how-that is proving an insuperable problem for a country propped up by loans from the rest of the world.
Dacca Stadium was being used for a hockey match. It could not be used for cricket. The square had sunk several inches. The grass was in poor shape. Deep splits, wide enough for a hand, appeared across a good length. And yet I was told with such conviction that I believed that it would take less than six months for the whole place to be in such order. A new Test wicket could be prepared, not perhaps as good as that which had been but true enough. In view of the history of high scores and few results, that, one reflected, could be an advantage.
As for the playing of the game itself, an embryo league was already in existence. University was in flannelled action. So - bless them - were the British Embassy with the Ambassador himself one of the keenest.
Furthermore an organisation in embryo existed as a foundation for a properly constituted Board of Control, with officers and a little money. It was clear that one of the events which would help to re-establish the game would be a tour from overseas, playing at Dacca and Chittagong and possibly in a delta town or up among the tea plantations in the hills. The thought of planning for such a tour would among other by-products help to unite those interested in cricket to pull together for a common purpose. There was, even at that time, considerable interest being aroused in the first World Cup.
On my return to London, I reported to Lord's on my visit and wrote articles which aroused interest and some small and helpful approaches. However it was then March and such is the bureaucratic machinery which now surrounds cricket that it was regarded as impossible for the International Cricket Conference of 1973 to consider an application for membership from Bangladesh. This is of course an essential step. The agenda for the meeting is completed early in the New Year even though the meeting itself is not held until July. Such is the inflexibility of the procedure that an item like this could not be expected to go through on the nod. Admittedly at that stage there were some political undercurrents and I had no wish to push cricket's permanent officials into a pool of political piranha fish.
Still no membership
It is now two years later. There have been two more ICC meetings. All manner of countries have appeared and been warmly welcomed - as indeed they should be. Cricket is essentially above consideration of race and politics. Put out the flags for all. But still there is no move to have Bangladesh included. Recently I talked to the secretariat at Lord's and there is no inclination to do anything except react to a request from Dacca to join. The fact is that the Bangladeshis - as in so many other, features of life - need a helping hand. They are unaware that they need a proposer and a seconder for their entry. They are unaware that they need a body which represents their cricket to communicate with headquarters. And headquarters, with a degree of head-in-air which I find deplorable, appears unable to get off its collective posterior and do something to help.
The only solution seems to me to be for someone from India to go to Dacca and help the Bangladeshis to organise the game in that sad country. It would, one imagines, not be impossible for either the Bengal XI or a representative Indian XI to stage a match in Dacca - if not this season then next. It ought to be possible, even at this stage, for MCC to spend a day playing in Dacca. It is, after all, only 45 minutes flying time from Calcutta.
Sadly, though, there is a degree of lethargy about the prospect. Yet it is so simple. All countries must now know that the World Cup will get better and better the more teams enter. East Africa and Sri Lanka were in some ways the stars of the 1975 spectacular. For my own part I shall not be satisfied unless Bangladesh takes its place in the next World Cup, wherever it is held.