November 15, 2010

Ten tough years in Test cricket

To dwell on Bangladesh's failings would be inappropriate on such a notable anniversary, especially at a time when they are awash with the sort of optimism not seen since those heady first moments

Ten years ago this week, the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka played host to an event that the then-president of the Bangladesh Cricket Board, Saber Chowdhury, described as the third-most important in the nation's brief but troubled history. Such hyperbole may be standard in the self-aggrandising world of sports administration, but incredibly, on this occasion, it was hard to quibble with such an assessment.

As a squad of paratroopers drifted into the stadium to deliver the flags of each of the ten Test-playing nations - including, to massive acclaim, the red-and-green colours of the newest recruit - realisation dawned among the 40,000 spectators who had gathered to witness the opening day of Bangladesh's inaugural Test match against India. Less than three decades after a bloody war of liberation had left the nation traumatised and face-down in the global gutter, Bangladesh had secured entry into a singularly elite club.

The elation of the occasion lasted for roughly three-and-a-half days, which was time enough for Aminul Islam to etch his name into folklore with his country's maiden century, and for Bangladesh's then-coach Eddie Barlow, immobilised by a stroke but sharp in all other respects, to be vindicated in his belief that the team would reach 400 at the first attempt. India, however, reeled that total in before edging into the lead, whereupon all resistance crumbled - 91 all out and a nine-wicket defeat set the agenda for the decade of beating that would follow.

To dwell on the minutiae of Bangladesh's failings would be inappropriate on such a notable anniversary, especially at a time in their history when they are awash with the sort of optimism not seen since those heady first moments ten years ago. Their four consecutive wins in last month's ODI series against New Zealand mean that, for what it is worth, Bangladesh can lay a spurious claim to being the form team in world cricket. With the 2011 World Cup now just three months round the corner, cautious expectation is the order of the day, especially with the prospect of six home games from which to press for a quarter-final berth.

But regardless of how they fare in February and March, there is no escaping Bangladesh's past, and nor should there be. With privilege comes responsibility, especially in Test cricket, a form of the game that Bangladesh have consistently (if inadvertently) undermined through the paucity of their returns. In fairness, they've made impressive strides in recent months, taking a succession of games deep into the fifth day as they first learn how not to lose before translating that knowhow into a pursuit of victory. But a tally of 59 defeats in 68 Tests tells its own story, as do a trio of victories against under-strength opponents.

It is a state of affairs that has cheapened the record books and undermined the USP of five-day cricket - namely that it is the toughest test of skill that any player could wish to encounter. Instead, in one of their more humiliating early outings in 2002, two Sri Lankan batsmen chose to retire bored after reaching their hundreds. Even the team's most ardent supporters now accept that the country was promoted before it was remotely ready, lacking as it did a viable first-class structure and even such basics as proper practice facilities for the national squad.

To blame Bangladesh for that initial failing, however, is like punishing a toddler for flunking its A-levels. Had the ICC felt it necessary to set a time-frame for Bangladesh's accession, instead of rushing their application through on the strength of a solitary (and extremely dubious) dead-rubber World Cup victory against Pakistan at Northampton in 1999, they might well have decided that a ten-year development programme and a November 2010 promotion was a more realistic date for which to aim.

Had they done so, they might well have encountered a battle-hardened squad boasting the sort of world-class players that Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan have become, as well as a cast of reliable sidekicks such as the wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim, upon whom expectations can be heaped without any fear that he will crack.

But of course the ICC did not. Instead India, whose support for their fledgling neighbour is so underwhelming that they have never yet hosted Bangladesh in a bilateral contest of any length, gladly took receipt of an extra ICC vote, and with a four-square Asian Bloc behind them, set about transforming the priorities of the world game. When Bangladesh's quest for self-worth collided with India's pursuit of self-interest, a marriage of expediency ensued, and an erosion of the game's traditional values has been in evidence ever since.

To blame Bangladesh for their initial failing, is like punishing a toddler for flunking its A-levels

Nevertheless, the passion that Bangladesh puts into its cricket cannot be under-estimated, and nor indeed can the country's sheer volume of support. Those who have witnessed the unfettered joy that accompanies every rare victory will confirm ad nauseum how much potential lurks within the country, and as the standards of the national team have begun to rise, so too have the levels of interest and participation among the average punters on the street, many of whom had never paid any attention to cricket prior to 2000.

There is so much more that can and needs to be done to broaden the net within Bangladesh when it comes to international recognition. There are too few clubs with any links to the BCB, and hence no way for talented youngsters to make themselves known other than through luck, but overall the graph is heading upwards for the country, in a way that cannot be said for too many of the other Test nations.

The future looks especially bleak for the internecine West Indies and the exiled Pakistan; New Zealand is experiencing a crisis of relevance in the modern game, and if Zimbabwe's rehabilitation is finally in full swing, then South Africa's search for an heir to Makhaya Ntini could be the story of their coming decade.

By contrast Bangladesh - with their massive population and saintly levels of internal goodwill - could be said to have it easy. What that says about the game of which they are a part, however, is another question entirely.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Duncan on November 17, 2010, 0:24 GMT

    Andrew - good article and right on many points - they simply weren't ready and you're right that the ICC should have had a better plan for introducing them to the game rather than the policy of laissez faire - which could have destroyed cricket in Bangladesh before it ven started.

    It is a true compliment to the players and supporters that they still play (and support) with exuberance and passion despite 10 years of getting battered and much respect for that. In fact - as you rightly point out - the game needs this enthusiasm now more than ever!

    Sadly I fear that unless the administration and systems are sorted out, there won't be the production line of talent that's needed to sustain a top quality test team, but perhaps they'll be able to find just enough diamonds in the rough to keep going.

  • golam mohammad on November 16, 2010, 21:11 GMT

    Nice one Mr. miller. Though the results are bad, I do not think a 10 year development program would have helped Bangladesh given the fact 3-4 different generations of cricketers perished though the bitterness of huge defeats (Bangladesh distributed a whopping 60 odd test caps so far). May be a five year development program with certain promise in FTP could have been better options. A 10 year development program without promise of accommodation in FTP would mean nothing (may be Akram Khan would have been found developing the teenish average to twentyish... not his TIGER nephew Tamim bashing bowlers around the globe) Shakib, Tamim, Mushfiqur and Razzak are playing since 2007 WC and is the nucleus for years to come. Nafees, Ashraful and Mashrafee are there from before that. Junaid, Imrul, Mahmudullah are showing signs of patience to build innings. Shafiul and Rubel are hitting 140 kph on a regular basis and seem to matured as fast bowlers. Believe me future is simply bright.

  • w on November 16, 2010, 21:04 GMT

    Don't forget how long it took other countries to get the taste of first test win. Bangladesh is not doing bad. They just need some help from other top test playing countries and some unbiased umpiring. Instead of critisizing Bangladesh, lets get countries like Australia and India to play at least one test series with Bangladesh every year.

  • Prince on November 16, 2010, 20:26 GMT

    @Rezaul:-Yes,Bangladesh has often been at the receiving end of umpiring howlers,but their test stats don't lie my friend!& although I don't respect Sehwag's arrogance,he is damn right-Bangladesh is indeed an ordinary side.& who are we to criticise Dravid like the way you did?You disrespect a guy with a test average of 52+ in about 150 tests at your own peril,isn't it? :)

  • Rajesh on November 16, 2010, 13:01 GMT

    @JS82- Your statistical point is taken about India- Bangla 20 year progress. The love and the passion for the game should bring in talented youngsters who will perform consistently. In any field the money only follows the performance and not vice versa. How did cricket become a mania in India. I think it was after our world cup win in 1983. This was the jolt a nation starved of sporting success badly required. Ever since we have not looked back. This mania has bought in money and with money the power. That is how you find India controlling world cricket today. All that Iam saying is that the dilution of test cricket if one team becomes the whipping team of rest of the world. For all you know Bangla may be one in the top 5 test sides in the next 10 years. However one does not see any light on the horizon to even remotely bet on it. All the best to you folks who are passionate about Bangla cricket.

  • Mahmudul on November 16, 2010, 4:32 GMT

    Wahid, you make a very good point of Bangladesh not getting the use of BOTH home umpires like it used to be before.Your take on the fact that most cricket matches end in a result nowadays has not also gone in Bangladesh's favor.But I truly believe we really have a long way to go in test matches.However, it is not true that Bangladesh would be better prepared if they were given test status 10 years later.The Tamim's and Shakib's would never even develop to what they are now. Who would want to play for a team that did not have a future?Would the top teams visit Bangladesh?It is a shame that India have yet to invite Bangladesh. When Bangladesh plays in Australia and South Africa too many people do not go to watch them, either, but those countries respect their commitment to World cricket. ICC really has no control over India.It is sad that players like Gayle and others put more emphasis on T20 for money only.Things like IPL will make some cricketers very rich, but is destroying cricket.

  • Andrew on November 16, 2010, 3:00 GMT

    @Pari2109 - re: Sehwags comments, India struggled in that game! The fact is the Bangars are improving. I think Bangladesh are where SL was a few years before the 1996 World Cup. I won't be surprised if the Bangars start knocking off teams touring there soon. I think they have the nucleus of a good side, probably need to get one more pace bowler & one more quality batsmen. The other issue I see is - what role is Mahmudullah? Is he a batsmen who bowls handy spells, or a bowler who is very handy with the bat? I see him playing below Shakib in the batting line up yet doesn't bowl as much as Shakib.

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2010, 2:31 GMT

    They now have two definite world-class players. Tamim Iqbal is an explosive opening batsman much like Gayle/Sehwag, and Shakib-Al-Hasan is a brilliant spin-bowling allrounder.

    They have always had relatively servicable spinners, but the big question mark is their pace attack. Both Rubel and Shadahat have had outstanding matches but they are too few and far between. Shafiul Islam and Nazum Hossain are question marks, and Mashrafe and Rasel seem to be more in than out.

    I like the potential of Raqibul Hasan, Junaid Siddique, Imrul Kayes, but they need more consistency.

  • John on November 16, 2010, 1:57 GMT

    @muski - By dropping Bangladesh from test status, what would cricket gain? If the motto of test cricket is to keep it amongst the handful then why did anyone but England and Australia were ever granted test status? Bangladesh will be a competitive test side soon. We are not a big country with the IPL money to develop infrastructure and players. With limited resources we are making good strides. I think SriLanka should be a role model for us. They are also a small nation with limited resources but does very well.

    India's record from 1932 to 1952 was not any better than Bangladesh. India won only 3 test matches in 20 years. Bangladesh won 3 test matches in 10 years. See statsguru here:-;spanmax2=31+DEC+1952;spanmin2=1+JAN+1932;spanval2=span;team=6;template=results;type=team . I know it's not a fair comparison since things were different back then but I am not sure how else you can do comparison of progress.

  • Dre on November 16, 2010, 1:20 GMT

    Why all this delusional blame of umpires?! Grow up people. Umps r human and make mistakes vs ALL teams. You tend to only notice errors vs your team and then clog up Cricinfo's comment section with the nonsensical accusations. Anyway...the writer is correct, Bang would have benefited more from a 10 yr plan than being thrus into test cricket 10 yrs ago. They are now beginning to look like a unit capable of winning regular ODI's. Hopefully they will soon be able to draw tests and from there win a few. The talent is there.

  • No featured comments at the moment.