10 Years of Test Status: Where Do We Stand Now?
10 Years of Test Status: Where Do We Stand Now?
(An appraisal of Bangladesh Cricket after 10 years of Test status)
Khondaker Mirazur Rahman
Bangladesh started their campaign in international cricket through a 22 run victory in a low scoring match against Fiji in 1979 ICC Trophy. After playing 41 ICC trophy matches with mixed success (26 win, 14 loss, 1 no result) and an equal number of ODIs with even lesser success (3 win - Pakistan, Kenya, Scotland and 38 loss), Bangladesh was awarded Test status in June, 2000. One of the major driving forces behind Bangladesh’s Test status was passionate followers of cricket across the country and strong political support by the Government of Bangladesh. The Tigers played their first ever Test match in November 2000 against India at Bangabandhu National Stadium. After gaining Test status, we played 68 test matches with 3 wins and lost as many as 59 matches. We enjoyed some reasonable successes in ODI and managed 61 wins out of 197 outings.
Awarding Test status to Bangladesh was one of the most heavily debated decisions of ICC and Bangladesh still remains under the microscope of cricket pundits as a Test nation. After obtaining the elite status, Bangladesh suffered hiccups with religious regularity raising constant concerns about the future of Bangladesh cricket. However, very recently the Tigers have started to put up fights in the Test matches and showed encouraging performances where they have taken the cricket elite nations to the ropes, and extended Test matches to fifth day. Bangladesh’s journey in world cricket has always been a roller coaster ride although recent signs show that the Tigers are coming of age and learning basic tenets of Test cricket.
From 2000 to 2003 Bangladesh made headlines in cricket media for wrong seasons when losing Test matches inside 3 days by a large margin was a norm. On many occasions, the newly promoted Tigers laid down without even putting up a flight. Unfortunately for Bangladesh, during this period Bangladesh did not manage to win a single match in any format against any Test playing nations. After the infamous debacle in 2003 world cup, Bangladesh cricket went for a major overhaul. Dav Whatmore, the mentor of Sri Lanka's resurgence in world cricket was handed the coaching job to lift the sinking Bangladesh cricket. He took the charge in June 2003 and Bangladesh started to make slow but steady progress in both forms of the game. The improvement was more noticeable in the shorter version compared to the Test matches, but his main success was the ability to inject much needed confidence in the struggling team.
After the historic one-day triumph against Australia in Cardiff in 2005, Bangladesh enjoyed major successes in 2006-2007 which raised hope about the progress of cricket in Bangladesh. The young team had knocked the game’s super powers out in the 1st round of the world cup, slain one of the WC semi-finalists in the 2nd round and then followed up with some exhilarating, stroke-play filled performances in the Twenty 20. After the World Cup 2007, Bangladesh entered into Jamie Siddons era as Dav Whatmore parted company with the Tigers after a mixed stint of 4 years.
Jamie took charge of Bangladesh with expectations, from fans and pundit alike, at a sky high. Taking the helm of the side was one of the architects of the Australian juggernaut: their batting coach, himself an accomplished batsman and rated higher than Steve Waugh by a certain Shane Warne. A team that was full of naturally gifted batsmen being run by a batting guru - what could go wrong? However, the reality was very different than the anticipation as initially Jamie failed to lift the spirit of the boys and could not buy a single win in his first 6 months at the helm of Bangladesh cricket. The world cup success proved to be a false dawn of Bangladesh cricket as the Tigers failed to live up to the expectations and started to lose badly in both forms of the game. The results in 2008 had been poor although Bangladesh showed some signs of encouragement in 2008 home Tests and fought neck and neck against South Africa and New Zealand. No major victories to speak of, a few abject performances, some good totals and a few centuries. The bubble of expectations had been rudely burst, fans and media were clamouring for answers. Things slowly but steadily started to recover for the Tigers in the later part of 2008 as Jamie Siddons gradually found the mantra to get the best out of his players.
Bangladesh recovered well after the sudden ICL shock when some of their leading players deserted the national team for the more lucrative but unsanctioned Indian Cricket League. While the experienced ICL bound players were in the middle of a losing streak, the new breed of players who replaced them transformed the luck of the Tigers and won matches against teams like New Zealand, Sri Lanka and West Indies. The ICL storm has finally died down in 2009, and Bangladesh players returned to the national fold according to the guidelines suggested by ICC. However, it was very difficult for them to break into the national team again as the selectors and coach Jamie Siddons, who faced a very difficult challenge with the new breed, were reluctant to make any major changes and kept faith in his boys who had time and again showed their talent and determination, and won matches at the top level of cricket.
Bangladesh started their 2009 cricket calendar with a tri-series involving Sri Lanka and went on to the final only to lose out at the hands of batsman Muralitharan after defeating the same opponents at the group stage. Bangladesh rattled a hapless Zimbabwe and a weakened West Indies in 2009 under the much praised leadership of Shakib-Al- Hasan. He admirably raised his game after being forced to step-in after the injury of skipper Mashrafe Mortaza. This last minute change gave Shakib the opportunity to continue his good work with the team he led admirably for the most part of 2009.
Bangladesh cricket have made giant leaps in 2010 after commendable Test performances against England in the first half of 2010, and they whitewashed the Kiwis 4-0 in a 5 match ODI series with the other game being washed out. Bangladesh played 7 Tests in 2010 and although they failed to win any of those matches, they took 5 of those Test matches to the 5th day and even raised the hopes winnings against top quality oppositions. In previous years Bangladesh played reasonably well on home soil, but always struggled against fast bowlers in unfamiliar foreign conditions. They particularly improved on this front in 2010 as the batsmen hammered 4 Test centuries in away Test matches and the team posted well over 300 runs on a number of occasions. Although batting successes makes a happy reading, the scenario in Test bowling in recent years is pretty alarming. The spinners led by inspirational Shakib Al Hasan did their job on most surfaces, but nobody except the skipper seemed threatening enough to cause any headache to the opposition batsmen. On the pace bowling front, Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain have started to make their mark but both them need plenty of time to become true Test class bowlers. The injury of Mashrafe Mortaza and the inconsistency of Shahadat Hossain are major worries as there are not much left in the cupboard. The lack of quality back-up pacers will hurt Bangladesh unless we find someone really quick in the near future.
Despite making giant strides in the recent Test and ODI series against West Indies, Tests against England and ODI success against New Zealand, Bangladesh is still struggling to get a consistent top-order batting combination and also a penetrating pace bowling attack. In the top-order Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes have recently started to show their promise with some decent partnerships, but vital number 3 and 4 positions in both Test and ODI teams are still up for grabs. Bangladesh’s strength lies in their middle order batting and spin bowling department. A middle order consisting Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah and Naeem Islam is comparable to that of most other Test playing countries, and they have routinely rescued Bangladesh after the almost religiously regular shaky starts by the top order. Bangladesh has arguably the best spin attack of the among the current Test playing nations after retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka. In addition to the world leading SLA trio of Shakib, Sohrawardy and Razzak, Bangladesh have variations in tidy off-spinners Mahmudullah and Naeem Islam.
One of the areas where we are still lagging far behind all other Test nations is our inability to take advantage of match situations. It's really baffling to see time and again we are losing matches after matches after gaining some ground and reaching a position of strength. ODIs and Test matches alike, it's the same old story. We will dominate few sessions, few passage of play here and there and eventually throw it all out to succumb to a big defeat. Sometimes it seems that we are not probably good enough to challenge the opposition on a consistent basis, we probably don't believe in our abilities when we are on top, and lack the killer blow. If we look at our cricket history, it's a tale of lost opportunities. Multan, Fatullah, Chittagong, Darwin, Lord’s ... everywhere we failed to cross the line after positions of strength. Although occasional personal brilliance put us on top, but failures from others allow the opposition to come back strong, and we can't simply resist that. In recent memory, Rafiq, Bashar and Nafees put us on top against Australia in Fatullah, the rest failed to give them minimal support and we know the result. Same happened in Chittagong where Shahadat and Shakib put us on top against India and the rest simply didn't bother to turn up. Tamim's brilliance gave us hope in the England Tests in 2010 but the rest decided to become spoilsports. Our cricket administrators must look into this and take initiatives to arrange regular psychological sessions with leading sports psychologists and incorporate an experienced professional within our coaching staff settings for our Tigers.
Although the overall statistics in Test cricket might look depressing but it does not tell the full detail of the story of Bangladesh cricket especially the progress in recent years. The ray of light of Bangladesh cricket is the young generations who started playing competitive cricket knowing that one day they will feature Bangladesh in tests. These young players have dominated their counterparts in the age group level and they believe they can continue dominating them in the world arena. Players like Shakib and Tamim are establishing themselves as leading Test players of the world and won The Wisden Cricketer’s Test player of the year for 2009 and 2010, respectively. This only shows the level of progress of Bangladesh as a Test team. In addition to the core players identified by Jamie Siddons and his coaching staff, new players are declaring their emergence in the domestic circuit as well. It is really encouraging that we have emerging players in almost every discipline of the game. Players like Sabbir Rahman, Anamul Haque, Shuvagoto Hom, Nur Hossain can serve Bangladesh cricket for a long time if developed properly. Bangladesh Cricket Board has already taken initiatives to improve domestic infrastructure and formed long cherished Cricket Academy for potential young players. Now, it’s very important to guide and nurture them properly before throwing them in the deep.
Statistically, Bangladesh have made significant improvement in the last 2 years in both ODIs and Test matches. Bangladesh averages 29.32 per wicket, which is about 6 runs more than overall figures (23.53) in all ODIs, with the bat in the 44 ODIs played since 1 January 2009 and won 22 of them making win/loss ratio to 1.00. On the other hand in Test matches, the Tigers averaged 29.22 which is about 8 runs more than the overall figures (21.68) in all Test matches. These data clearly show a steady upward curve in the batting department in both forms of the game, and the coaching staff led by Jamie Siddons must be credited for the improvement. Now, if we can match our improvement in batting with similar improvements in bowling, we will be challenging top oppositions on a more regular basis and will be winning matches in that process. Overall, I must stress that Bangladesh cricket is now in good shape and is ready take the leap to the next level. Now, the cricket administrators of our country must take the initiative to keep the upward improvement curve going and provide facilities to our boys, and create proper cricket infrastructure for sustainable development. Rest assured, Bangladesh is well on course to be a top 5 cricket nation within the next decade.