Home > Bangladesh, England, General Cricket, South Africa, Zimbabwe > Give Bangladesh a break….

Give Bangladesh a break….

Ever since their promotion to Test Cricket, Bangladesh have been at the end of everyone’s criticism. Most common criticisms are based on  the argument that they are devaluing the Test Cricket records and also are a threat to the integrity of the game.

When South Africa started playing the game, way back in 1890, their team was perhaps way worse than Bangladesh’s is today. Between 1890-1902, all the scorecards from South African Test matches are laughable. Their second test at Newlands in 1889 had Eng batting first and making 292, and in reply the south africans first were all out 47, and then following on were all out for 43. John Briggs took 7/17 in the first innings, and 8/11 in the second innings for England. After this masterful ‘Test’ performance, South Africa were given a break for 3 years, and England toured them again in 1892. South Africa, after having practised a lot in the last 3 years, managed 97 in their first innings and 83 in the second. Perhaps seeing that they hadnt improved that much, England decided to give them another 4 years this time and toured them again in 1896. England were bowled out in the first innings for 185, but SA again failed to cross the 100 run mark and were dismissed for 93. England did not enforce the follow on for some reason, perhaps to get some cricket going, and made 226 in their second innings, giving SA an approximate 315 run target. SA however surpassed everyone’s expectations and were dismissed for a fighting 30 !! Their highest invididual score was 10, with George Lohman getting 8/7 (8 wkts) for England in the second innings! Their scores for the next few games were the following:

1896 – 2nd Test: Eng 482, SA 151 & 134
1896 – 3rd Test: SA 115 & 117, Eng 265

It was 10 years after their elevated test status, that SA gave a close sembalnce of a test cricket nation. In the first test in 1899, they first dismissed Eng for 145, then put on 251 taking a 100 run lead, and then dismissed Eng again for 237 setting themselves up with only 133 or so to win. However, they ended up getting dismissed for only 99. The second test was similar. They first dismissed Eng for … surprise… 92, and then put up 177. Perhaps England were complacent in the first innings or something, but they put on 330 in the second innings, leaving SA with only 245 to win. SA managed another fighting 35 !!

However, from the 1902 series onwards, SA did manage to perform well, and I would actually count their 1899 series as a test performance as well.

But what about the first 10 years? Were Lohman’s or Briggs’s figures test level? Do they deserve a standing in test cricket, equivalent to what these bowlers were earning against Australia at that time? Does England deserve to have a test record for dismissing a test team for 30? or 43? or 47?

The point that I am trying to make is, that the integrity of Test Cricket was already dented quite a lot in the first 10 years of SA’s beginnings. Almost all bad records were against them at the time. Nobody cares today, because SA is one of the strongest teams today and people do not look at records that far back.

Assuming that Bangladesh were to become a reasonably strong team in 4-5 years, nobody would really care about what happenned in the first 10 years of their test life, just like nobody cares about SA test history going that far back. To SA’s credit, they have never really called for stripping of Zim or Bang test status; this shows that they know their history very well.

The reason why I state that SA’s 1890 team was perhaps much worse than Bangladesh’s is today is because the England team at that time was not a professional cricket outfit. They were amateurs, who played the game well, but it was a game for them, not their profession. They did their regular jobs, and showed up on weekends to play cricket, and eventually got selected. Plus, England perhaps did not send their strongest possible team to play SA anyway in those days. At least on one occasion, Eng were playing a simulataneous series against Aus in Eng and SA in SA, and in that case it is safe to assume that their stronger team was playing against Aus.

Some people also refer to the fact that it is not possible to compare eras, and that batting was much more difficult back then as compared to today. This argument is wrong. If batting has become easier today because of better picthes and better gear, it has also become easier for bowlers to study the batsmen, look at their footage, find areas of weakness and try to exploit them. The fielding standards have imporved dramatically, and catches are not dropped as much today as they were in the past. Along with batsmen’s gear, wicketkeepers gear has improved as well, and there are fewer catches popping out behind the stumps. But even if this argument was taken to be correct, and batting was more difficult back then, we are talking about comparative standards. If SA could not manage to reach half of Eng’s despite playing two innings, there was definitely a problem. It is definitely a comparison that tells you something.

Similar things have happenned with Sri lanka and New Zealand, although their losses were not as pronouced as Bangladesh’s are today. There are a few reasons why this is the case.

Today, test cricket is drastically different than what it used to be 20 years back. Today, teams try to play quicker and win, whereas 20 years back it was a big event if a test match in a series had a result. Majority of the games in those days were drawn, and teams played less and less attacking cricket. While the game has changed now, and it has changed for the better and is more entertaining for the spectators, the obvious byproduct is that the difference between the weaker test nations and the stronger ones is amplified.

The second difference is that there is now a global audience for cricket, so it would be fairly common to see people in Pakistan watching a test match between Bangladesh and England. This was unheard of even 15 years back, when countries would have live exposure to only the games featuring their own team. So while a mismatch would go relatively unnoticed back then, today there are people sitting and watching them, and the commentators are trying to find something interesting happenning in the match. Also, this whole hooplah about TV Rights etc has shown up and it is adding a new dimension to the development of the game.

The third reason is one that people dont really think about. Bangladeshi team has an unprecedented amount of pressure on them. Think about this. Usually, when a country starts playing cricket, the expectations are low, and the interest level is low. Once the country starts doing well, the interest level grows and the expectations become higher. Once the team starts doing exceptionally well, the whole thing becomes a passion. But Bangladesh, on the account of having been part of Pakistan for 24 years, already has passion for the game, yet their team has just started out. No other country in the first 5-6 years have had to bear the kind of pressure that the Bangladesh team has been subjected to from their crowd since 2000. This is new grounds as far as comparison of test nations is concerned, and needs to be taken into consideration as well. The added pressure definitely bears down on the players; they know that millions are following their performance passionately.

Talking about passion, if I were to select 1 country in the whole world which loves cricket, it would not be Pakistan, Australia, nor even India. It would be Bangladesh. Which other country can boast that they will get a 36000 capacity stadium filled with people for an U19 world cup final, in which the host country is not even participating? People have said that so many losses will make people lose interest in Cricket in Bangladesh, and that usually happens, but not in the case of Bangladesh. They seem to be getting more and more into the game.

So much passion and interest usually means that it is only a matter of time before the country starts becoming good in the game. In December 2005, this theory was proven correct to some extent when Bangladesh U19 beat Eng U19 3 times, Sri lanka U19 3 times, and Pak, Zim and SA U19s once within a span of 30 days. Going into the U19 World Cup, they are one of the stronger teams, even one which has a fairly realistic chance of finishing in the semi finals of the tournament.

Why is it that this has happenned? I mean, the U19 tournament has been taking place since 1998, and one never saw such a strong showing of the Bangladeshi team. The main reason is that because of the extra money that Bangaldesh has been able to generate, they have invested in a junior training program that was able to nourish their talent to the best of their abilities. And why has better talent started showing up? Because the kids now know that there is a good, stable, long term future in the sport. They do not just play cricket to represent Bangladesh in a single ODI once every 5 years in the Asia Cup, but they want to make a career out of playing cricket year after year, throughout their life. They have local heroes in M. Ashraful and Masharafe Murtaza who they want to emulate, and overall, they work harder at their game and want to improve to the best of their abilities. They know the stats and also want to play cricket that matters in the global history of the game. That is what passion, mixed with a regular cricket calender will do given due course of time (which seems to be about 10 years).

Gone are the days of 1890 South African team where you would play a series after 3 years, and still be able to hold public interest. Today, if you want to excite a country about talking up a game professionally, you have to show them the full path to what is possible, and you have to show it to them regulalry. If Bangladesh were to play 1 series every two years, then people would not look at the game favorably as a profession, and may perhaps even lose the passion for the game for some other sport like football which is shown regularly. The only way it seems that you can achieve that, and not have a significant dent in the test records is to have one weaker team for a few years in the big league.

Finally, the problem in Test cricket of mismatches today looks more pronounced because there is not one but two weaker teams. Zimbabwe recently have become even weaker than Bangladesh, whereas 3 years ago they would have been able to challenge the likes of New Zealand and West Indies easily. But Zimbabwe becoming weaker is not the fault of Bangladesh, it is the fault of the ICC and the member countries which are refusing to vote for a change in Zimbabwe cricket administration. In fact, if the ICC was to strip one team off the status, it would be the weakest team i.e. Zimbabwe and not Bangladesh. I personally find it extremely odd that the ICC member countries would constantly complain about the standard of Zimbabwe cricket, and at the same time prevent the ICC from interfering into their setup and fix the problems that have in the last 2 years destroyed at least 10 international standard careers in that country (Taibu, Ervine, Carlisle, G. Flower, Wishart, Streak, Campbell etc.). Zimbabwe and Bangladesh should not be put in the same boat regarding standard. In one case, there is great hope, and some results at least at the U19 level are showing even now. In the other, the future is as hopeless as the recent past.

Cricket is not an easy game like Football. There are a hundred and one things that a player has to master, and has to master at different levels in order to do well at the highest level. It takes a very long time to master the cricket, and if you are even found wanting in one area you can be excruciatingly defeated by the big boys. It is the mentality of the exclusive club which has led to only ten test teams today, and only a few more ODI teams now. Belgium and Holland have been playing cricket since 1905, but they were never given regular series against the big teams to get their standard up. If that had been the case, they would have had good standard teams today, and one would not be wondering about what to do quickly in terms of raising their standard today. So if the cricket world goofed up in the last 100 years in keeping the game exclusive to themselves, then in the era of expansion today they have to bear the byproduct of the mismatches. The same is the case with Bangladesh. Their passion and interest in the game is unmatched. Give their cricketers the oppurtunity to make careers out of the game and get serious beyond sunday league, give their spectators a regular calender to follow, and a team to follow. Things will improve quite a lot in the near future, especially if Bangladesh does not have the added pressure of the world scrutinizing each run they make.

At the momment the ICC has given ODI status to 6 other teams. Out of these 6 the top 2, namely Kenya and Scotland are going to be given 2 series against a full test member every year, and the rest are going to be given only 1 series against a test nation. In addition to all this, the ICC must have a team that they give unlimited exposure to, and that team at the momment is Bangladesh. Within a span of 3-4 years, Bangladesh is going to graduate to a competitive cricket team in all forms and hopefully then the ICC can make one of the the other teams a full ODI member and give that team unlimited access to ODI cricket. The Zim crisis is a totally different problem and needs to be solved differently, it has nothing to do with the development process. The problem with Zim is that getting them to play more cricket doesnt seem to be the answer, because their management keeps on firing their players and hiring 16 year olds to represent the country almost every year.

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