Bangladesh’s maiden Test win against England came after more than 14 months without a match © Getty Images
The buzz surrounding Bangladesh’s two-match Test series against England is yet to wear off but the decoration at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, the home of Bangladesh cricket, has already changed to T20 colours. This was inevitable due to the schedule but the quick shift of attention on this occasion seemed jarring.
That’s because arguably for the first time since their inaugural Test 16 years ago, Bangladesh has been competitive in a Test series against a major team. The 1-1 result could have been even better for the home side had they overcome tight corners in the Chittagong Test but in Dhaka, they finally beat a team ranked much higher than them.
While the players involved will enjoy at least couple of days off, they will soon return to the hectic world of the Bangladesh Premier League, which is designed to swallow up attention spans, airwaves and column inches in the country. The win over England, a seminal moment in Bangladesh’s cricket, will not be given the rightful time to sink in, and be reflected upon.
The general apathy towards Test cricket has been around for a very long time, and much of it is due to better results in ODI, which was already a format highly relatable with the public due to Bangladesh’s historic proclivity towards one-day cricket.
It has also partly caused a disconnect between the BCB’s protection of Test status and its efforts to keep Tests as the primary format for the Bangladesh team. The BCB has vehemently opposed the idea of a two-tier Test system, and whenever discussions surrounding this proposal have come up, the board has successfully wiggled out of it.
In early 2014 a working group of the Finance & Commercial Affairs committee of the ICC proposed that teams ranked Nos. 9 and 10 (Bangladesh at the time) play in the Intercontinental Cup from 2015, but it was an idea that was ultimately shelved along with many other proposals of the “Big Three” era. The BCB also opposed the two-tier structure, which was discussed this year at the ICC, and ultimately prevailed after the plan was shelved once again. But its opposition in board meetings hasn’t necessarily contributed to an attitude towards giving the team more Tests.
The latest gap, which lasted more than 14 months, was the team’s longest period without a Test match. While it is true that Australia postponed their two-Test series in October 2015 due to security fears, and Bangladesh’s first-ever Test in India was moved from August this year to February 2017, the BCB also shelved plans to play Tests against Zimbabwe in November last year, January this year and even after the World T20 in March.
Scheduling around the Under-19 World Cup was given as one of the reasons for the postponement of hosting Zimbabwe but the BCB generally prefers to play the format of the ICC event in the lead-up. So after playing three ODIs and two T20s against Zimbabwe in November last year, Bangladesh played against the same opposition in four more T20s in January so that they were in the groove for the subsequent Asia Cup and World T20.
Previously, Bangladesh’s longest stretch without a Test was exactly 14 months (from June 4 2010 to August 4 2011), while there have also been gaps of 13 (once), seven (twice) and six months (three times).
Attentions will quickly switch to the return of the Bangladesh Premier League © BCB
Before the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, Bangladesh put all their focus on ODIs, which for the first instance was reasonable because they had a poor 2003 tournament in South Africa. But ahead of the 2011 World Cup at home, postponed Tests against New Zealand were hardly given a thought because of a 4-0 victory in the ODIs.
Most teams schedule more ODIs before a 50-over World Cup but Bangladesh’s focus shifted away from Tests in 2000 – when they gained Full Member status – to ODIs by 2006 mostly due to the lack of progress in the longer format during this period. Their only series win was against Zimbabwe at home in 2005, and only after they had lost most of their top players, and the next wins came against a third-rate West Indies side in 2009. Beating Zimbabwe in Harare back in 2013 was perhaps their most well-earned win, given how they had to bounce back from a massive defeat in the previous game; another notch in their belt was drawing against Sri Lanka in Galle that same year. But these are slim pickings for a Test nation that promised much in the beginning.
What has also been frustrating of late is the absence of A-team tours, which has disappointed many in the Bangladesh team management. If they had been arranged, then Test specialists like Mominul Haque and Taijul Islam could have been in touch with top-quality cricket. Instead, they had to rely on long net sessions and some domestic first-class matches in the build-up for England.
Even for the Test series against New Zealand, Bangladesh’s preparation would entail four weeks of BPL followed by a ten-day camp in Sydney and then three ODIs and three T20s in New Zealand. Then they play the one-off Test against India after which a tour of Sri Lanka with Tests and ODIs is also being discussed before they head into the Champions Trophy. Even afterwards, there will be a push for ODIs as they would also like to ensure automatic qualification to the 2019 World Cup, though the BCB president Nazmul Hassan has suggested that is already within their grasp.
Bangladesh cricket has a lot on its plate in 2017, with more focus on ICC events like the World T20s as well as in the home front where the BCB elections are knocking at the door. Test cricket will continue to have less attention but if they are really interested to get better at it, perhaps proper succession planning is the answer. It should include four-day matches against Afghanistan and Ireland, which sounds unsexy but even if Bangladesh A play the games, they would get opposition that is better than the fare at the domestic level.
The talk of two-tier Test cricket will not die down any time soon so if Bangladesh wants to keep itself relevant as a Test-playing nation, focusing solely on keeping their status won’t be enough. Playing more Tests gives them more chance of winning, which would in turn make them more watchable and commercially viable as a cricket nation. The win against England should not be treated as an exception; it is a firm stepping stone for Bangladesh towards greater progress.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo