Report by Neil Robinson 30/05/05
It is traditional in western butchery to stun the animal before it is slaughtered, thus removing from the poor beast, as far as possible, all foreknowledge of its fate. Halal butchery, as practiced in Muslim countries, omits the stunning in favour of a swifter and cleaner end. It might have been kinder to stun Bangladesh’s cricketers before they arrived at Lord’s for the first Test last Thursday, for in truth they, like everyone else, were all too aware of the slaughter that would befall them there.
Some have claimed that Bangladesh’s sole Test victory, over Zimbabwe a few months ago, means that they have made the grade more quickly than some other nations who are now firmly established in the Test hierarchy after waiting years to claim their first scalp. But in truth one solitary win over a Zimbabwe side robbed of all its Test class players by political disputes proves nothing. The fact that 21 of Bangladesh’s 32 defeats in Test matches have been by more than an innings tells a truer tale. Some have also said that it is only by exposure to the highest level of cricket that Bangladesh can improve, but it is hard to see what progress they have made in the five years since their highly dubious elevation to Test status.
Back in 1984, just over two years after playing their first Test match, Sri Lanka made their Lord’s debut and had much the better of a drawn game. Their bowling lacked penetration, but was disciplined and, importantly, backed up by years of first-class experience below Test level. Their batsmen, notably Duleep Mendis, Sidath Wettimuny, Roy Dias and Ranjan Madugalle, backed up excellent technique with vivacious strokeplay just as Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge had against the same bowlers earlier that summer. Bangladesh, with far more Test experience now than Sri Lanka had then, showed none of these attributes. Their batting was characterised by a complete inability to get in line, move forward or leave alone good balls outside off stump. It is easy to understand inexperienced and untalented batsmen playing short pitched fast bowling from a position anchored firmly outside leg stump, that Bangladesh’s top five did so against full length outswing is inexplicable. It was like watching a team of Phil Tufnells without the comedy value.
The bowling too showed the degenerative effects of a schooling overwhelmingly based on one-day cricket; largely medium paced with one slow bowler who, while accurate, could hardly be described as a spinner. It isn’t hard to imagine how much easier it might have been for such elementary failings to have been ironed out if the Bangladeshis had toured England before achieving Test status (as both Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe did over several years during the 70s and 80s), how their bowlers might have learned how to use the swinging ball and seaming pitch and their batsmen how to combat them. But, sacrificial victims on the altar of an Asian Bloc vote at the ICC high table, Bangladesh had no time to develop a strategy which might have allowed them to compete at Test level before attaining Test status. They were thrown in at the deep end and left to drown.
While those who claim that a country of 130 million with a passion for cricket can hardly fail, in time, to become a valued member of the Test family have a point, it is hard not to conclude that the tactic of making Bangladesh compete as a full member of the Test championship system could delay that development by decades. As anyone who has watched English cricket over the last twenty years would allow, a culture of defeat eats deep into the soul and is a bugger to root out. Going into almost every match with the certainty not just of defeat, but of complete annihilation cannot fail to destroy the morale of Bangladesh’s young cricketers. Each promising youngster integrated into the side will join colleagues scarred by defeat after defeat from whom he is expected to learn.
The low point from which Bangladesh began their Test history, with little first-class experience to back it up, only compounds this problem. Their tour began with a massive defeat at the hands of Sussex, destroyed with bat and ball almost single handedly by Michael Yardy. A more competitive showing against Northamptonshire followed, but it was a Northants side containing just three first team regulars at a club which is currently among the weakest in England. Bangladesh’s current standard is roughly equivalent to the Minor Counties, or one of the better clubs in the northern leagues. To expect them to compete, or improve by playing, at Test level is a joke.
For those of you with a knowledge of English football, the following analogy might be appropriate. Imagine that Torquay United were suddenly and arbitrarily promoted to the Permiership where they had to play 38 games a season against Arsenal, Chelsea et al. They would not be permitted to buy any new players and no matter how badly they performed they could not be relegated. Is there any likelihood that they might compete with the big boys within the near future? I doubt it.
A far more realistic prospect for Bangladesh would be demotion to a representative level below Test status, where they could play 4 day games against the likes of Zimbabwe, Kenya and the ‘A’ sides from the Test club. Sadly, the political machinations of the ICC make this about as likely as Bangladesh winning the Test Championship in the next twenty years. A compromise might be achieved by which they and Zimbabwe could retain Test status (forgetting, for a moment, the moral considerations which ought to prevent Zimbabwe from competing at all for now) without being a formal part of the ICC Test Championship. They could play full Test series against each other once a year, with the rest of their schedule involving tours to the more established nations playing mostly against domestic opposition with the occasional Test match here and there. That, at least, would mean that most of their cricket could be played with at least some hope of success, and that when annihilated by England, Australia or some other giant of the game, they would not have to turn up a week later shaking in their boots to repeat the experience.
Sadly, I can’t see that happening either. Looking through the endless newspaper columns devoted to Bangladesh’s Test status this week, I came across a piece which suggested that India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka had threatened to break away from the ICC if Bangladesh were not granted Test status. Reading something like that I’m tempted to say “bring it on.” Do we really want the international game to be administered in this way? Do we really want to have anything to do with people who are prepared to manipulate the game like that to achieve their own ends? Asia may be the financial powerhouse behind the modern international game, but without the involvement of England and Australia any inward-looking Asian administration would be doomed to failure.
After all this you may be thinking, “what about the cricket?” Well, I’m sorry, but I watched all seven sessions of play in this mismatch and I just didn’t see any. What I saw was a group of perfectly decent young men from a young and proud nation trying desperately to keep their spirits up while being subjected to savage humiliation in the name of politics. That might be called many things, but it isn’t called cricket.
Bangladesh 108 (Hoggard 4-42) & 159 (Khaled Mashud 44, SP Jones 3-29)
England 528-3 dec (Trescothick 194, Vaughan 120, Strauss 69, Bell 65*)
England won by an innings and 261 runs.
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