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Testing times for Bangladesh

By Ashish Magotra
July 07, 2003 08:00 IST
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Today, the International Cricket Council has 84 member nations. Three years ago, world cricket's governing body had just 45.

The message is clear: the sport's popularity is growing.

But though more nations are being accepted in the fold, it is becoming increasingly clear that the gap between the full-member nations (that can play official Test matches) and associate nations is too wide to be overcome quickly.

Year Result Opponent Margin
Nov 2000 lost India 9 wickets
Apr 2001 lost Zimbabwe innings and 32 runs
Apr 2001 lost Zimbabwe 8 wickets
Aug 2001 lost Pakistan innings and 264 runs
Sep 2001 lost Sri Lanka innings and 137 runs
Nov 2001 draw Zimbabwe -
Nov 2001 lost Zimbabwe 8 wickets
Dec 2001 lost New Zealand innings and 52 runs
Dec 2001 lost New Zealand innings and 74 runs
Jan 2002 lost Pakistan innings and 178 runs
Jan 2002 lost Pakistan innings and 169 runs
Jul 2002 lost Sri Lanka innings and 196 runs
Jul 2002 lost Sri Lanka 288 runs
Oct 2002 lost South Africa innings and 107 runs
Oct 2002 lost South Africa innings and 160 runs
Dec 2002 lost West Indies innings and 310 runs
Dec 2002 lost West Indies seven wickets
Apr 2003 lost South Africa nnings and 60 runs
May 2003 lost South Africa innings and 18 runs
If anything, the showing of the youngest Test nation, Bangladesh, has reinforced this perception. Bangladesh have lost 18 of their 19 Tests, 13 of them by an innings. More than the defeats, it's the sheer magnitude of the reverses that hurts.

Former Australian fast bowling legend Dennis Lillee has strongly criticised the performance of the fledging cricket nation. Writing in the West Australian newspaper about Bangladesh's forthcoming tour of Australia, Lillee said: 'Playing against Bangladesh is nothing more than a golden opportunity to get some easy wickets, easy runs, and easy money.'

To an extent, what he says is true.

Bangladesh's performances since gaining Test status have been mediocre, to put it politely, and only a fighting performance again the world's best cricket team next month can redeem their reputation somewhat. But if that were to happen, we might as well be living in Utopia.

Bangladesh's elevation to Test status came almost immediately after their stunning victory over Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup, though the result of the match continues to be viewed with suspicion.

When Bangladesh batted, Pakistan bowled 28 wides among the 40 extras they conceded. When Pakistan batted, they lost three wickets to run-outs.

But Jagmohan Dalmiya, who was then president of the ICC, continues to justify Bangladesh's inclusion in the Test fold.

"This is a time when the team is going through a transitional period," Dalmiya had argued during the just concluded World Cup in South Africa. "This is not the first time it has happened. New Zealand, who got Test status in 1926, took some 28 years to earn their first Test victory. India first visited England in 1928 and we won our first game abroad in 1951. So maybe at the moment they don't have the players, but they will slowly come up."

While Bangladesh thus have their share of detractors and supporters, the most balanced view, perhaps, is expressed by Andrew Eade, the ICC's global development manager.

Asked whether the ICC is continuing to help Bangladesh's cricketing growth, Eade said: "We don't at the moment, but the issue is arising from what is happening in world cricket. Probably from the ICC's point of view, it is important that we do start again.

"Bangladesh has struggled since they became a Test nation. The ICC rules clearly state that we are only allowed to work with associate countries. We are not allowed to work with full members, they have their own funds and programmes. And, maybe, that we need to have a look at and see if we need to make an exception in the case of Bangladesh."

A lot of players and administrators have suggested a two-tier system where the newest Test nation could play against the 'A' teams of other Test-playing nations. Playing in the second tier should help Bangladesh a lot more than simply being walloped all the time.

But, for the time being, current cricketers are supportive of Bangladesh and their efforts. Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist believes the team will benefit from the experience [of the Australian tour] even if it results in a thrashing.

Australian captain Steve Waugh, echoing his 'keeper's sentiments, said, "They [Bangladesh] have got to learn and they've got to catch up. Sri Lanka proved they could do it. Ten years after being given Test status they won the World Cup."

But the daggers are still out. Another faction believes that more than Bangladesh, it is Kenya who deserved Test status.

"If Bangladesh can play Test cricket, there is no reason why Kenya can't," said former Indian Test player Sandeep Patil, former coach of the African side which surprised the world of cricket with its stunning performance in the 2003 World Cup. "I think we are as good as them, if not better."

Yet, cricket is the second most popular spectator sport in Bangladesh, after football, while Kenya reportedly has just 400 cricketers at all levels in the country.

Bangladesh's future remains in doubt. Will they emerge from the trough they have dug for themselves? Or will we see a country being stripped of its Test status for the first time in cricket history.

Only time will tell.

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Ashish Magotra

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