Turn off the party music and help Bangladesh get their mojo back

After the rejoicing at the achievement of a second-string West Indies side in pulling off a remarkable 2-0 series victory in Bangladesh, it is surely not long before people put away the party streamers and start to ask: what might this mean for Bangladeshi cricket and, by extension, the world game?.

Humiliated at home by a team that was given no hope of competing when they left Caribbean shores, a series that might otherwise have gone barely commented upon has suddenly made people sit up and take notice.

But while the cricket world is celebrating hints of a rejuvenation in the West Indies it seems almost unseemly to cavort too obviously when the Test world seems to be shrinking into itself rather than expanding, and one of the poorer nations, having only recently marked 20 years of competing at the highest level, appears to have stalled in its development.

Three years ago Bangladesh enjoyed a first Test victory over Australia and It is only two years since they swept a West Indies side, on paper much stronger than the one that has just finished touring; the second match was won by an innings and 184 runs. But In both the recent Tests, Bangladesh have let promising positions slip away: they had a lead of 171 on first innings in Chattogram and the openers took them to 59 as they chased a mere 230 in Dhaka.

So what has gone wrong, is there a route map for improvement and what will happen if it can’t be found?

The lack of Test cricket for Bangladesh is often cited, and the numbers would certainly back that up as a reason, if not an excuse: in the time since Bangladesh won that series at the end of 2018, they have played only 10 more Test matches. In contrast, England have played 25, India 19, Australia 19 – even Pakistan, who are readjusting to home comforts after 11 years in the UAE wilderness, have played five more than that.

The figures in the World Test Championship are even more stark.

But writing in his column for the Dhaka Tribune, Minhaz Uddin Khan, suggests that this is too simplistic, arguing that the country’s domestic competition needs to be stronger and that there is “a lack of care” for the longer forms of the game.

He points out that the two first-class tournaments, the National Cricket League and the Bangladesh Cricket League, are often held when players from the national team are tied up in the international schedule.

However, when it comes to the two premier white-ball tournaments, the Dhaka Premier Division and the BPL, the board, he says, “makes vigorous efforts to find free slots in the calendar to ensure the national cricketers’ participation”.

The domestic tournaments have been suspended since last March because of the coronavirus pandemic but, even if the BCB gets the four-day NCL up and running next month as it hopes to, most of the leading players will be in New Zealand for a tour comprising three ODIs and three T20s.

“The lack of care for longer version games is perhaps the biggest reason players are failing to adapt as Test cricket is not a place to learn but rather an ultimate place to show one’s mettle,” concludes Khan.

“Without being properly equipped by playing domestic cricket, it is impossible to get good results in the Test arena.”

Writer and podcaster Tawhid Qureshi seems inclined to agree, stating that “the shortage of Test match-ready players has been exposed” and calling for a thorough investigation into what went wrong.

On his Sight Screen Cricket Journal blog he says: “No area should be off limits: team selection policy, the spin-reliant bowling attack, the preparation of pitches, the domestic first-class structure and the makeup of the board itself should all be under the microscope”.

Most of these were also mentioned by an incandescent BCB president as he fired off in all directions in the aftermath of the defeat.

“You cannot allow running things this way,” Nazmul Hasan raged. “I did not say much after the defeat against Afghanistan [in 2019] but I want to say we are in need of a change.

“Look, we can lose a Test but we cannot just declare that a 250-lead is enough to beat a visiting side.

“We couldn’t defend 395, and a batsman went on to score a double-hundred on the fifth day. These are unacceptable.”

Of an over-reliance on spin bowling, Hasan, who has also been frustrated with the communication difficulties caused by not being in the bio-secure bubble, said: “Since the Afghanistan Test all I have heard is ‘spinning wicket’. Recently our pacers did well in the domestic tournament. We have a number of pacers. But we didn’t play the pacers. We took five pacers, closed down any room for an all-rounder but we played only one pacer. Why did we then take these pacers?”

“Captain (Mominul Haque) and coach (Russell Domingo) are the decision makers and I will of course ask for an explanation. Not only them, I will ask everyone involved.”

Beyond the immediate anger, however, Hasan exudes an air of confidence – and determination – that the problems can be sorted out. “The solution is simple and it will be solved, he said.

Quereshi is not convinced and questions whether more of the same might even raise questions about the country’s Test status.

“The embarrassment … should hurt the players, coaches and team management. But the practical implications could be far worse,” he writes: “Bangladesh’s Test status has always been a bone of contention and whether it survives into the next edition of the Test Championship, or whatever replaces it, is uncertain.

“Even being involved in a second tier of Test nations would be a backward step – the BCB needs to face up to these concerns and do so immediately.”