Saturday, August 23, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 21, 2005
Zobair Anam and Sreeram Iyer
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 today.
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, 2
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 drift.
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 article.
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