Cricket was second to football in Bangladesh even as recently as the mid-1990s. A number of failed ICC Trophy campaigns meant that the sport was losing ground rapidly. Around 1996, a new committee was inducted in the cricket board; in charge was a man whose vision took everyone by surprise. Four years later the dream was realised, with Bangladesh becoming the tenth Test-playing nation.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, BCB president (1996-2001): In my first board meeting as BCB president, I said we should have a vision for our five-year tenure. I planted the idea that we should do something extraordinary. We were an Associate nation at the time, but I wanted to reach the highest level. At the time the ICC didn't have objective criteria for a country to become a Test-playing nation. When Zimbabwe were applying for their Test status, they said that, having won the ICC Trophy thrice, if they didn't get Test status, cricket in Zimbabwe would be dead.
Ahmed Sajjadul Alam Bobby, BCB director: [The veteran journalist] Zaman bhai had written an article once, titled "Waiting for the ninth Test" which was basically about us playing Tests. We would think about playing Tests but didn't know when it might happen. Saber's idea wasn't really seen as realistic, as one former Bangladesh cricketer let him know at the time.
Saber: Just after we applied for Test status, a former cricketer asked me, "Saber, is this a joke? You will never get it." But we had the audacity to believe that it was possible.
Bangladesh went on to clinch a berth in the 1999 World Cup, after winning the 1997 ICC Trophy for the first time. Millions celebrated the victory and then gave the team a warm reception upon their return home. Saber, boosted by the most important achievement for an Associate nation, put forward his case to the CEO of the ICC in Kuala Lumpur.
"We had to do a lot of cricket diplomacy. I think the most important visits were to South Africa and Australia"
Saber on mobilising support for Bangladesh
Saber: Moments after we had won the ICC Trophy in Kuala Lumpur in 1997, I told David Richards that we were going for Test status. He said, "I hear you."
After gaining ODI status in 1997, the BCB's next target was hosting major series, including the Independence Trophy and the first ICC Knockout tournament in 1998, and the final of the Asian Test Championship.
Saber: We held the first ICC Knockout, because I knew that our on-field performances alone wouldn't get us Test status. I told Ali Bacher and Jagmohan Dalmiya that Bangladesh is the most logical choice in terms of globalising the game.
Dalmiya, the ICC president at the time, was supportive of Bangladesh's cause, helping them with advice on how to run their campaign. He saw Syed Ashraful Haque, then BCB secretary, as a protégé, and guided him and Saber. Around 1999, Saber wanted to take a poll among the members, to find out who would side with them. They had made some friends outside the Asian nations.
Ashraful: Saber wanted us to take a vote in the ICC meeting in 1999, but Jaggu da [Jagmohan Dalmiya] thought it wasn't a good idea. He said that Bangladesh would get only three votes - India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But Saber wanted to have a look, and we ended up getting five votes, with West Indies and Zimbabwe voting in our favour.
What had happened was that Ian Bishop was leading a West Indies side to Bangladesh in 1999. During that series Enamul Haque Moni had taken a five-wicket haul and a few other things happened. Bishop told me that he felt we were ready for Test status. I told him, 'Please go and tell this to Pat Rousseau [head of the WICB].' We also had a friend in Zimbabwe's Peter Chingoka.
But Bangladesh's case still faced many obstacles. They needed votes from the major countries like Australia and South Africa, prompting Saber to visit those boards in person.
Saber: We had to do a lot of cricket diplomacy. I think the most important visits were to South Africa and Australia. We knew that we would get help from the Asian countries and West Indies and Zimbabwe, but I needed seven votes out of the nine Full Members. I wasn't too sure about England, so a lot of our focus went to Australia and South Africa. I did development deals between them and the BCB. Our off-field diplomacy compensated for our lack of playing standards.
At home, too, Saber and Ashraful found plenty of support. When the ICC sent inspectors, they saw a country primed to take on the international sport.
Ashraful: The whole board supported us. [Ahmed Sajjadul Alam] Bobby and Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed helped me put together the bid document. Soon the ICC sent inspectors - Graham Dowling, Nasim-ul-Ghani and Andy Pycroft - and they gave a good report.
Around the same time, Bangladesh appointed Eddie Barlow, the former South Africa cricketer, as coach to replace Gordon Greenidge, who had steered the team through the 1997 ICC Trophy and into the 1999 World Cup, before falling out with the board president. Barlow, like Greenidge, quickly became a father figure to the players.
Cally Barlow, wife of Eddie Barlow: Eddie was contacted by the United Cricket Board of South Africa. They had heard from Saber bhai that [Bangladesh] needed a director of cricket or coach. I can honestly say that it was one of the happiest times for Eddie and me. The Bangladeshis were so welcoming to us and so eager to learn from Eddie. It was a learning curve for Eddie, players and administrators. As with all things new, there were hiccups. Because of the monsoon, indoor facilities had to be found and we spent time in quite a few of the bigger cities looking at the old gymnasia with the idea of refurbishing them for nets.
"Just after we applied for Test status, a former cricketer said to me, 'Saber, is this a joke? You will never get it'"
With almost every block in place, on June 26, 2000, Saber and Ashraful were at the ICC's annual conference in London, where they were asked to make the case for Bangladesh's Test status.
Saber: I made the 45-minute presentation, which was about all the potential and possibilities that would support our case for Test status. We were asked some questions at the end. Then it went out to a vote. We had targeted a minimum of seven votes, but we ended up getting all nine. It was a tremendous vote of confidence in the future of Bangladesh cricket. The Associates were also really happy that one of them had made it to the highest level. The mindset that cricket was a closed club could slowly go away.
The whole plan worked like clockwork, despite all the obstacles in our roadmap. We needed funds to buy air tickets to attend ICC meetings in those days. But there was great teamwork within the board, so it was a privilege.
It was a defining moment for Bangladesh. Cricket is more than a sport in Bangladesh: it is a platform for national unity. Cricket is a perfect uniting factor. After independence in 1971, the 1997 ICC Trophy triumph was the first time the country came together.
I had a quick call with the PM, and then I called my parents. Syed Ashraful Haque was with me, while Aminul Islam was waiting outside. Then we held a press conference with the ICC president, Malcolm Gray. Trying to express history in words is impossible. I think it was the greatest moment of my life.
But there was no let-up. Within days the BCB had sent out feelers to India and England for them to play in the country's inaugural Test, but the latter's schedule did not allow them. India came forward, and in August announced that they would be playing in the inaugural Test of a third team, after also having played in Pakistan's and Zimbabwe's first Tests. The BCB worked day and night to prepare for the Test in November.
Bobby: After we got the Test status, our focus was on hosting the inaugural Test. We wanted there to be no gaps in our organisation. Only when the umpires, David Shepherd and Steve Bucknor, arrived, did we really start believing that, yes, it is going to happen in Dhaka. There is no looking back now.
The team had already gone through one major change in May 2000, when Barlow fell ill in Dhaka and Sarwar Imran was handed the coaching job.
Sarwar Imran, Bangladesh coach: I became coach in May 2000, before the Asia Cup, when we didn't have Test status. Eddie Barlow had become ill, so I was given the job. Then I also took the team to Kenya for the ICC Knockout tournament but still I wasn't sure who would be the coach for the Test match.
I think it was a toss-up between myself and Dipu Roy Chowdhury, but when it was decided I would be the coach, I only had the South African physio Gavin Benjafield with me, during the training camp. I was doing the work for batting, bowling and fielding, not like these days when you have specialists.
"I can honestly say that it was one of the happiest times for Eddie and me. The Bangladeshis were so welcoming to us and so eager to learn from Eddie"
Cally Barlow, wife of Eddie Barlow, who coached Bangladesh
With everything set for the big day, the BCB members worked hard to put everything in place. There was plenty of passion among the public too.
Bobby: There was so much enthusiasm among the public. Around midnight on the eve of the game, the security found 10-11 people locked inside a toilet. It was just so that they could get seats at the ground on the first day of the Test.
By the second day, Bangladesh were in control of the game, with Aminul Islam becoming only the second batsman to score a hundred on his country's Test debut.
Aminul Islam: I was stuck in the 90s for a long time. Pilot [Khaled Mashud] was at the other end. I kept thinking of recent debut-Test centurions.
I was lucky to get to the milestone with one of my favourite shots - the paddle sweep. It was an unorthodox shot. The target was to keep batting as long as possible, and not [sink into] that feeling of accomplishment. It was just a great feeling.
We went through several levels to our cricket - Associate level, playing ODIs and winning, and then we got to Test cricket. It was a journey from Associate status to becoming a Test team.
There was much excitement in the dressing room too, where Cally Barlow was present with her husband. They were standing outside when Aminul got to his century.
Cally Barlow: As you can imagine, it was a hothouse in the dressing room. Everyone was so excited to be playing their first Test. I was in the press box, and one of the men asked me how many runs Bangladesh would make. I said I hoped for 300 but 400 was on the cards. He looked at me in amazement but imagine his face when they did indeed get 400 on the dot. Then, somehow, the wheels fell off.
Some believe that it was the sheer excitement of playing their first Test, and naivety that held Bangladesh back in the game as they collapsed for 91 in the second innings.
Imran: I was confident, since we had nothing to lose against India. But by the third day, people were planning to win the game after India lost seven wickets and were 34 runs behind us. I always thought that we should have aimed to bat out for a draw, but then we were bowled out for 91 in the second innings. But I still thought we batted well in the first innings.
But Bangladesh had arrived, both on and off the field, and they had given a first glimpse of their cricketing approach.
Ashraful: In a mid-game interview, Tony Greig asked me about the philosophy of Bangladesh cricket. I told him Habibul Bashar is our philosophy. He had smashed a half-century [44 not out] by lunch. So I said, this is our philosophy, to entertain the crowd.
See, I never thought Bangladesh would have ODI or Test status in my lifetime. But now we are going to play our 100th Test. It shows that anything can be achieved if you have the right intention.