Cricket Pundits and arm-chair critics all over the cricketing world have come
down hard on Bangladesh?s performances in the Test arena, and repeatedly
called for Bangladesh?s Test status to be revoked. One of the recurring
themes in this campaign has been the comparative performance of Bangladesh and
other Test nations in their infancy. It has been argued that Bangladesh?s
performance has been woefully below par when compared to other teams in similar
stages of their Test careers.
It is high time we discussed this argument, and examined its validity, since
it seems to have become the bedrock on which naysayers are building their campaign
to tamper with Bangladesh's Test status.
Simply counting the number of draws as a measure of competitiveness is an over-simplification.
Even complex mathematical gymnastics, such as comparing run differentials in
an innings between sides are an exercise in futility. The game has evolved at
the highest level so much so that such comparisons are redundant. Nowadays,
cricket is a highly professional sport where physical fitness is at a premium,
and going for a result is often considered so important that captains have at
times come to a mutual understanding in order to force a result. The Aussies
have revolutionized Test cricket. The run rates in the high 3s are a norm not
an exception, which also increases the likelihood of a result.
As such we present before you a few contentions which we believe may have placed
countries that got Test status before us at an advantage as far as catching
up is concerned. Our intention is not to criticize the performances of these
nations, but to put Bangladesh?s performance in proper perspective. Indeed
one may counter that the other Test nations have had their own challenges to
face in their early years, and we certainly do not deny that, but that only
reinforces the main theme of this article which simply put is,
?It is grossly unfair to measure Bangladesh?s initial performance
at the Test level relative to those of nations from a previous era?.
So what are these contentions that may have put these nations at an advantage
in their initial years? Some of them are pretty common, and been widely publicized
in the media. Others are surprisingly less talked about. But all of them have
to do with cricket's evolving status as a top-tier professional sport.
India, Pakistan and NZ played their initial cricket in an era where a draw
was considered a competitive result, and the levels of physical fitness (rather
the lack of it) ensured that the gaps in skill levels made less of an impact
as far as results were concerned. Cricketers with generous waistlines were not
an uncommon sight. Whitewashes were rare. One of the reasons was that the stronger
teams (in terms of skill) would fail to sustain their intensity through out
a series due to a lower fitness level (compared to today). By contrast, stronger
teams today are better placed in terms of their fitness levels to drive home
their skill advantage to the maximum. If one considers the above as mere speculation
and open to debate, then perhaps some lessons in history are in order.
In those days, the minor teams rarely got 5 day Tests. India's first three
tours of England all contained 3 day Tests. NZ played a series of 3 day Tests
in England as late as 1949. Only at the turn of 1950s did this begin to change.
Even accounting for the faster over rate in those days, those teams had to play
around 100 overs less than these days to save a Test. In fact, the 90 overs
rule has made a dramatic difference to the "length" of a Test match.
Arif Butt of Pakistan , infamously tied his bootlaces for 6 minutes in Melbourne
1964/65 , helping to earn a draw. Such instances today will only mean coming
back the next day earlier and / or paying a hefty fine. Even rain or bad light
does not help much now-a-days. Draws have virtually disappeared from the game.
Simply put, many draws earned by weaker teams then would have resulted in defeats
Besides, the weaker teams rarely faced the first XI of the stronger sides.
Until the sixties, England never really sent a full squad to India or Pakistan
as many of the established players would not want to travel there. Stalwarts
like Trueman and Hutton never visited India or Pakistan. England - against whom
most of the Tests were played at the time - regularly fielded second rate sides
against non-Australian teams.
NZers claim that they managed to draw a few Tests of their
first series. Fair enough. What is overlooked is the quality of the teams. In
that season, two England sides simultaneously toured West Indies and New Zealand.
In one memorable occasion, both teams played a Test match on the same day! 1,
Most top English players made neither tour. Many of the early South African
Tests also hardly deserve to be considered as Tests.
This is the general pattern. Australia, on the other hand, fielded strong sides
and that is reflected in the results too. The first time NZ played Australia,
16 years after they played their first Test, they totalled 42 & 54 and the
Test lasted two days. Australia refused NZ another Test till 1974. Despite fine
individual performances, the similar things can be seen when India faced full
strength sides in Australia in 1947-8 and England in 1952.
Run rates mattered little. It was just the nature of the game at the time.
The battle between the bat and ball, the art of defense, patience and concentration,
attritional cricket, were what Test cricket was all about, and results (in every
match) were of secondary importance. Cricket was a less ruthless game where
being a Gentleman with Victorian attributes was the underlying theme. We are
not suggesting that it was a walk in the park in those days, but one gets the
The cricket played was few and far between, and that was okay keeping in with
the general pace at the time. It was beneficial for the weaker teams, because
it allowed them to rest and recuperate, incorporate what they learnt from the
previous games into their next one more effectively. But that is not all. Consider
this! How many generations of cricketers did India and NZ go through before
they got their first win? Having the Tests spread over such a long time meant
that all the other teams have had a first class structure in place for decades,
and churned out a couple of generations of Test cricketers before they got their
first win. Indeed it was the latter generation of cricketers who achieved the
best results not the first generation who got the Test status. There is no doubt
however that these teams score over Bangladesh in terms of the quality of individual
players even in the initial years. In the 1930s, India had CK Nayudu, Vijay
Merchant, Lala Amarnath, Mushtaq Ali and two fast bowlers who are still revered
in India. West Indies had George Headley and Learie Constantine in their early
years. New Zealand had Bert Sutcliffe and Martin Donelly in the 1940s. And there
was Hanif Mohammad and Fazal Mehmood for Pakistan. Of course this advantage
in quality can be attributed to the existence of a First Class culture in these
countries from before their Test Status.
Contrast that with Bangladesh's scenario. Please consider the amount of learning
that players like Bashar, Khaled Masud and others have had to do while on the
job, and put it into practice within a very short period of time. Md. Ashraful
and Rajin Saleh have literally grown up in front of our eyes.
Having said that, if you happen to be a well-wisher of Bangladesh Cricket,
you would think twice before recommending that Bangladesh be given a diet of
cricket similar to India, NZ and others in their initial years. We simply live
in a different era. Aside from the cricketing evolution, such as the advent
of high quality video technology and the introduction of Neutral Umpires, the
world and the society that we live in has radically changed. The attention spans
are shorter, and if something is out of sight it inevitably is out of mind.
Cricket is a cash-intensive sport, and sponsorships are vital. In the case of
a developing country like Bangladesh, such money will only come from private
concerns that see a commercial opportunity in it. Test Cricket is what has brought
money, media coverage and sponsorship in Bangladesh, and it is vital for the
game to survive and flourish.
International cricket is nowadays played in the full glare of a harsh and unforgiving
media, where every fault is magnified, and every short-coming is dissected to
its barebones with the superior technology that is available. The perception
that this kind of media coverage has created amongst the Pundits and general
fans alike about Bangladesh Cricket has been most damaging. Every Tom, Dick
and Harry can now sit in their living room and listen to Sunil Gavaskar, Tony
Greig, and other Cricket Pundits discuss Bangladesh's shortcomings ad nauseum.
Unfortunately, few have come to argue in favour of Bangladesh and stand up for
them (not because of shortage of arguments mind you), and I would put the blame
on our unfortunate lack of cricket personalities who have the necessary communication
skills (mainly the command of English language), and coupled with the lack of
a sympathetic media with global reach.
Bangladesh could have really used a successful sports channel (if they had
one at their disposal) and an anchorperson who may occasionally lets his personal
bias seep through, to get our points of view across. As it is now, people like
Athar Ali Khan, are waging a lone battle, and kudos to them for that.
It is our firm belief that one day Bangladesh will go on to become a top Cricketing
nation, and all these debates will become redundant. But until then, we must
do what we can to dispel any myths about Bangladesh's potential as a Test nation,
and actively campaign against any misinformation that can harm our cricket.
We must stand up for Bangladesh Cricket.
Special Thanks to Imtiaz Kabir (BC nick Imtiaz) for his contribution to this
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