x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Challenge for Bangladesh to earn Test respectability

Osman Samiuddin believes Bangladesh could find form and confidence on the Test stage by playing more games against other countries' 'A' teams.

Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan is run out against Pakistan.
Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan is run out against Pakistan.

In nearly 20 years, not a single player from East Pakistan - as Bangladesh was before liberation - represented Pakistan in Test cricket. Some, like the child prodigy Raqibul Hasan very nearly made it. Others were ignored altogether (one who did play for Pakistan, Niaz Ahmed Siddiqui, was not a Bengali; he was born in India and lived in Dhaka before eventually moving to Karachi).

Pakistanis even now say there just wasn't the talent - or love for cricket - in a region with a deeper affiliation for football. It is a disingenuous assertion for what they really should say is that there were not enough resources spent in finding, nurturing and grooming players in East Pakistan.

And if they lacked an appreciation of the game, then nobody told the 80,000 who turned up over five days of the very first Test ever played on Pakistan soil, in Dhaka in January 1955, in a stadium built in three months (or the many thousands who continued to turn up thereafter for Tests).

There were not the quantity of quality players that were playing in Lahore or Karachi, but there was a committed, well-structured club and university scene in the East through the late 1950s and 60s. The problem was that when men such as Hasan were not being neglected, they were being actively discriminated against.

This was merely one part of the broad tapestry of what West Pakistan was doing to its Eastern wing as a whole, one part to add to the economic, political and cultural discrimination - even suppression - that led to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

It is important to remind ourselves of this especially on days when Bangladesh's full membership presents itself as a point of discussion.

Those murmurs have been swirling around again, brewing themselves into a conversation; losing a Test (and a one-day international series) to a Zimbabwe side who had not played Tests for half a decade is not a smart way to kill this conversation.

Today, they stand on the end of a predictable thumping by Pakistan. It is likely to be very similar to many they received at the start of the millennium, so that they'll look stagnant to historians.

The Cricket Couch blog put together recently a stinging statistical takedown. Few nations have started life as Test nations well, but Bangladesh have been worse.

Whereas most other countries possessed the gumption to not lose Tests if not the resources to win, Bangladesh have had neither, losing 61 of the 71 Tests they have played. They have also burned through players at a rate higher than all countries barring Zimbabwe.

Not only are they going nowhere, they do not know who will take them there. Nobody is expecting a 10-year plan but even a two-year one with vague direction would do.

Now, a case can easily be built for stripping their Test status from this. Strength can be added to it from the general shenanigans of their board; with a first batch of superstar players emerging, the mix is very subcontinental and so, potentially, a natural hindrance to growth.

But it would be wrong. First, it is an impracticality, needing the executive board of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to vote in favour of it. Bangladesh's full membership was borne from political compulsions and will continue to exist because of it. They will always be a useful vote for some board to trade-off on another issue. Just now Pakistan is trying to convince them to tour Pakistan in return for an agreement on a presidential nomination.

But even if it could happen, why should it? International sport isn't only about the best teams competing among themselves. It makes space for all kinds of standards and it needs that. In any case, if cricket became any smaller, it would be a glorified hobby, not an international sport. The question should not be so much how Bangladesh can improve itself, but how much more cricket can help Bangladesh improve.

Ways must be found. One could have been to induct more full members, such as Ireland or Kenya (this is not so straightforward) and to let them play more often in a Test second division, with promotion a reward.

Easier to arrange might be more cricket in domestic tournaments around the world.

They have flirted with this but never fully bought into it, sending a representative side to play in India's Duleep Trophy in 2004/05, and "A" sides to play in the Caribbean in 2001/02 and in Pakistan's Patrons Trophy in 2003/04. Why not do more of this? Why not keep their Test assignments - 50 games until April 2020 - but arrange more matches against "A" sides from other countries over the next nine years?

At a number of moments over the last 11 years Bangladesh have looked like breaking through; against Pakistan in 2003/04 when they competed throughout and almost won the Test in Multan; the Fatullah Test against Australia in 2006; the Test series win in the Caribbean in 2009; at the 2007 World Cup and parts of the 2011 tournament; when Shakib Al Hasan took over as captain.

They have produced players who have enriched cricket, from Mohammad Rafique to Tamim Iqbal, even the maddening Mohammad Ashraful, Shakib and a fair few besides.

Above all, anyone who has watched cricket in Bangladesh knows the organic nature of its ties to the game. It puts to shame all those Pakistanis all those years ago arguing it wasn't so (such passions don't sprout overnight), and those who now argue they will never prosper. It is inconceivable, with that depth of feeling, that one day, eventually, they will not prosper.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae