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Inspiration - The medicine for Bangladesh cricket
by Chetan Narula
Jan 25, 2009
In the recent Hollywood movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, actor Brad Pitt plays the lead character with the same name and what is indeed curious is the fact that Benjamin's life story travels back in time. He is born old, wrinkly and he dies a baby. Watching the movie and seeing Bangladesh cricket traverse its path from the day they were granted Test status, one gets a feeling that this is indeed their story too.

Cut back to 2000. Against Sourav Ganguly's India, they first played a one off test at Dhaka and although they put up a valiant fight, were ultimately grounded into submission. And since then they have broken records for consecutive test defeats and their statistic of having lost 52 of their 59 tests so far, stands out from the other test playing nations. As one watched them struggle to win against Zimbabwe and that too at home, one couldn't help but wonder about this fast growing debate on their test status!

It was after their performances in the 1999 World Cup, where they had beaten Pakistan that the din over giving them test status grew louder. Jagmohan Dalmiya being the be-all-and-end-all of cricket at that time, pushed for making them a test nation and India duly obliged them in their first match. But since then, it makes for a sordid tale, whence they started out with players of great experience, Aminul Islam, Mohammed Rafique, Akram Khan, Shahriar Hossain, Khaled Mashud and Habibul Bashar. And this is where the Benjamin Button comparison sets in for they have grown from old to young, without moving forward in their cricket.

Starting with such experience in the side, they were expected to grow in international cricket, if not by leaps and bounds, but atleast with some consistency. The reason for this expectation was not without good reason. Bangladesh is the part of a cricket mad Indian sub-continent and the same passion for the game could be seen whenever an international match would be played in the country. Surely, with some support and definite structure guidelines from the ICC, this country was rich enough in talent as it was in the love for the game. They were expected to throw up young stars over the next few years who would take the mantle from these ageing players and then would go on to lift the Bangla flag high in the cricketing world, as well as inspire other youngsters to take up cricket.

Ah well, the entire script didn't really go to plan. As with the other sub-continental teams, politics was always a part of the entire structure which saw the experienced players out of the game (read forced to bow out of the game) soon after, thus the shift of balance to the younger players not taking place smoothly. But there were still bright sparks to be seen all around. Mohd. Ashraful, Mashrafe Mortaza and Alok Kapali were seen to be the stars of tomorrow and they shone bright though rather inconsistently.

The high point for Bangladesh can be said to be the coming of Dav Whatmore and the ascendancy of Habibul Bashar to the captaincy. Almost immediately they went not on a winning spree exactly, but a far more consistent run than previously seen before. They ran the Pakistanis close in their own backyard and then were able to save tests in Zimbabwe and West Indies. Even though losses, they are important because Whatmore had unlocked an energy and dynamism in their ODI game while at the same time taking it to the test level. It was reminiscent of the times when he had taken the reigns over at Sri Lanka and taken them to the '96 World Cup triumph along with Arjuna Ranatunga. Could he do the same for the Tigers?

Probably he could have but we will never know. As one sat and watched in abject dismay how easily Bangladesh dismantled the Indian challenge in the 2007 World Cup, one couldn't help but feel that a well-planned cycle is in motion across the eastern borders of India. That they needed maybe another four years to grow, the younger ones getting more consistent and gaining experience, and then, when the tournament comes here in 2011, maybe just maybe, the odds on Bangladesh to win would be 66/1, like they had been on Lanka in 1996!

Sporting history may be rife with underdogs pulling out miracles while everyone else is occupied but at the same time it is also strewn with instances of what might have been. With Whatmore and Bangladesh, it is the latter. The Aussie born coach was central to any plans that needed to bring this team up, slowly but surely and his exit after the Carribean world cup was a disaster. And this is where the blame shifts to India a bit.

Obviously the BCCI had their own interests in mind to get Whatmore to do what Chappell couldn't do and, let's be honest the lure of coaching India is far enticing. But the way the entire saga played out with the coach still in contract with Bangladesh left a bad taste in the mouth. What cooked the goose even further is that he was never the Indian players' first choice and the Board then placated him by making him the NCA Head. Is he more satisfied there, than say having taken Bangladesh to their zenith?

Bangladesh have moved on since but the report card doesn't make for good reading. Jamie Siddons hasn't had the same effect and with half the team leaving to play ICL, well, the crux of the team that had evolved under Whatmore is now gone. This is quite a blow for the measure of success Bangladesh can achieve can't come against the top notch teams. It has to come against teams like Zimbabwe, whom they have failed to beat in tests ever since 2000.

Now that Zimbabwe doesn't play tests and rightly so, the recent yardstick laid down by the ODIs isn't too favourable either. So what of a team who can't demolish Zimbabwe with ease. A team whose players' mentality is of T20 even while playing tests, where in more than one player performing at a time is sheer bliss and where the captain hails wins recorded over 30-rain-affected overs, not realizing fully that a complete 50-over match would have spelled doom for his team yet again. Ad to it, the present financial situation in the world, and the growing fondness of T20, it doesn't make sense for teams to be inviting Bangladesh for a test series.

India doesn't, Australia doesn't and now England are wondering whether Sky Sports will find enough adverts when Bangladesh visit their shores. So, is taking away their test status the answer?

No! For starters, the ICC cannot afford to reduce the number of participants in its test championship that is running on wafer-thin interests. And then there are the millions in Bangladesh who will give anything to watch their team play, unlike fans in some other cricket playing countries, so that ought to have a huge say.

So what's the answer? Maybe giving more incentive is the way to go about it. Splitting up the test championship when the FTP runs out in 2012 and a new tournament be formed to crown the test champions. If the top five teams are in one premier league and the rest in a second league, on a basis of promotion and demotion after a fixed period of time, it might just be enough to inspire Bangladesh to perform on a consistent basis and even encourage England - who may just end up in their half of the table - to invite them home for a summer of test cricket. Just an idea that needs to be developed a lot more than being just a thought in some review piece!

However, incentives are the way cricket is being run at the moment and the ICC desperately needs to brandish a carrot of inspiration for Bangladesh cricket.

More Views by Chetan Narula
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