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Bangladesh need to be treated with patience as even South Africa spent years as minnows

Bangladesh have lost 68 of their 82 Tests since gaining full status in 2000 © AFP
Bangladesh have lost 68 of their 82 Tests since gaining full status in 2000 © AFP

As the Sri Lankan batsmen feasted on a weak Bangladesh attack at Dhaka, more and more voices clamoured about the credentials of Bangladesh as a Test side. However, Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the history of the game to find that minnows have always been a significant part of Test cricket.

As the Sri Lankan batsmen set out to bat on the third day of the Test match against Bangladesh at Dhaka, there was a sense of ennui in many quarters. The Test was already predictably one sided and a non-contest to the point of boredom. In fact, very few enjoyed the almost farcical feats of run-making throughout a day that witnessed yet another Mahela Jayawardene double-hundred and a 700-plus total by Sri Lanka.

It begged the question for the umpteenth time whether Bangladesh was really a team of Test standard. Not only does their 13-year-old Test playing record stand at a miserable four wins and 10 draws against 67 losses, it also seems to have skewed cricket statistics in an unprecedented ways. Zimbabwe with their 11 wins and 56 losses in 93 Tests have not really helped matters either. It does seem that meaningful analysis can be carried out only if numbers are categorised into minnows and non-minnows.

Thus it was not quite surprising to hear the lament of ex-cricketers that the Lankan batsmen were lining up to boost their averages. Some thoughts were cast back on the fascinating contest between the bat and ball as seen in the two years of World Series Cricket courtesy Kerry Packer. Against lethal fast bowling talent from around the world, each run was earned with the sweat of the brow and the looming threat of bodily harm. Yet, those games have not even been credited with First-Class status. And here one saw a group of batsmen, smacking their lips in anticipation, waiting for a leisurely feast on bowlers who would struggle to make decent First-Class teams.

Yes, there was cause for discontent. However, is all this chagrin justified?

It is true that Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are as yet far below the standards at which other teams compete — but are we perhaps a bit too harsh in handing out our judgement? Has the cricket world not seen other cases like this earlier?

The cricketing development of a national team is a function of both time spent at the top level and the number of matches played. Bangladesh has spent 13 years at the top level, and their calendars have been crammed with 81 Test matches before the Dhaka Test. By the time South Africa had played 81 Test matches, they were an experienced cricketing nation playing at the top level for 46 years. Similarly New Zealand had already played 38 years before playing their 81st Test. India and Pakistan similarly spent 30 and 25 years respectively to reach the same number of Tests that Bangladesh has played till now.

In each of these cases, the progress had charted quite different paths than the 13-year history of Bangladesh. In those countries, new generations of players had taken to the game in the interim years, experience and learning from older cricketers had gradually been passed on to them. They benefitted from the improvement that took place between generations. Hence comparisons using just the number of Tests will not really give the full picture.

So, let us find out how new entrants to Test cricket performed both in their formative years, and through their exposure to Test matches, till they reached where Bangladesh is standing now.

We will obviously omit the pioneering Test playing nations England and Australia from this analysis. Our study will start from the day South Africa became the third Test playing nation in 1889. Yes, as the numbers will show, they also became the first minnow in the cricket world.

Bangladesh has been playing Test cricket for 13 years and two months. The table below shows how the rest of the countries fared after the first 13 seasons at the highest level.

First 13 seasons for each new entrant to Test cricket (barring Australia and England)

Team Period T W L D W/L
South Africa 1899-1903 11 0 10 1 0.00
West Indies 1928-1948* 28 6 12 8 0.50
New Zealand 1930-1950* 20 0 6 14 0.00
India 1932-1952* 28 1 15 12 0.07
Pakistan 1952-1965 50 10 14 26 0.71
Sri Lanka 1982-1995 66 7 31 28 0.23
Zimbabwe 1992-2005 83 8 49 26 0.16
Bangladesh 2000-2014 81 4 67 10 0.06

 

* The Second World War years have not been considered

The table demonstrates two stark, if surprising, truths. Firstly, barring Zimbabwe, no one played as many Tests as a young cricketing nation in their first 13 seasons as Bangladesh. And more importantly, their record after the first 13 years is not the worst. The Test playing nations with even more records at this stage were New Zealand, and, surprisingly, South Africa.

Given that South Africa has turned into a super power of Test cricket from the 1960s, does it not seem that our trashing of Bangladesh is a bit too hasty and harsh?

Now let us see how sides fared in their first 81 Tests.

Team

Period

Duration (y)

T

W

L

D

W/L

South Africa

1899-1935

36

81

15

43

23

0.34

West Indies

1928-1960

32

81

25

30

26

0.83

New Zealand

1930-1968

38

81

4

39

38

0.10

India

1932-1961

29

81

8

33

40

0.24

Pakistan

1952-1977

25

81

13

22

46

0.59

Sri Lanka

1982-1998

16

81

11

34

36

0.32

Zimbabwe

1992-2005

13

81

8

47

26

0.17

Bangladesh

2000-2014

13

81

4

67

10

0.06

Yes, Bangladesh is definitely the worst with respect to their record after 81 Tests. But, again, this seems linked to the rapidity with which they played Test matches.

Another striking fact is that the team immediately above Bangladesh is not Zimbabwe but New Zealand, who also managed just four victories in the first 81 Tests of their cricketing history, spanning over 38 years.

Of course, the allegation of batsmen lining up against Bangladesh to improve their averages does have more than an element of truth. However again, is that unique to Bangladesh?

The table below gives us an indication of the way the all-time greats capitalised on the weak South African bowling before World War Two, with occasional helping hands from India and New Zealand.

The early batsmen who capitalised on minnows

 

Batsman Career Ave Minnows Ave Against Minnows Ave without minnows
Don Bradman

99.94

SA, Ind

190.12

88.30

Wally Hamnmond

58.45

SA, Ind, NZ

73.68

47.82

Herbie Collins

45.06

SA

85.00

38.92

Jack Ryder

51.62

SA

111.33

44.16

Victor Trumper

39.04

SA

81.62

32.79

Clem Hill

39.21

SA

62.66

35.46

Jack Fingleton

42.46

SA

74.00

30.82

Warren Bardsley

40.47

SA

61.37

33.04

Warwick Armstrong

38.68

SA

57.58

35.03

The table is indeed full of surprises.The hallowed name of Trumper and the famed one of Fingleton are just two of the many who massively exploited these weak attacks. Plundering runs at 111.33, Jack Ryder hauled his batting numbers beyond 50. And of course, one suddenly finds out that Wally Hammond would not have touched the 50 run mark, let alone hovering near the stratospheric 60, had he not enjoyed 39 of his 85 Tests against the paltry attacks of New Zealand, South Africa and India.

What about the bowlers? We once again find that some early trundlers like Johnny Briggs and, later, Bert Ironmonger enjoyed a spellbinding amount of success against the South Africans. And so did the bowler often considered to be the greatest ever to grace cricket grounds. The record of Sydney Barnes does not look as remarkable after removing the matches he played against South Africa.

Bowlers who skittled the minnows out before World War Two

 

Bowler Career Ave Minnows Ave Against Minnows Ave without minnows
Johnny Briggs 17.75 SA 4.80 20.55
Bert Ironmonger 17.97 SA 9.54 24.04
Syd Barnes 16.43 SA 9.85 21.58
Clarrie Grimmett 24.21 SA 15.57 29.00
Bill O’Reilly 22.59 SA, NZ 15.88 25.36

Similarly, in the 1950s and 1960s we see plenty of batsmen and bowlers who maximised their returns against the weak New Zealand sides.

Batsmen who capitalised on weak New Zealand attacks

 

Batsman Career Ave Minnows Ave Against Minnows Ave without minnows
Seymour Nurse 47.50 NZ 111.60 40.93
Vinoo Mankad 31.47 NZ 105.20 25.53
Vijay Manjrekar 39.12 NZ 84.50 35.53
Jackie McGlew 42.06 NZ 64.70 32.68
Chandu Borde 35.59 NZ 55.72 32.64

It was by feasting on the New Zealand bowling that Nurse moved his average from good to the realms of very good. With the help of the Kiwi attacks, Mankad’s batting numbers became respectable rather than ordinary. The man to benefit most was most probably Jackie McGlew, who heaved his less than flattering numbers by almost 10 runs to end up in the 40s.

But down the years, these very New Zealanders became more than a force to reckon with when Richard Hadlee, and later Martin Crowe, provided the features of greatness to a largely nondescript side.

Minnows have been a part of the game from the very day a third side was added to the Test world. Except West Indies and, to some extent, Pakistan, every new team taking their first steps into the Test world have had to struggle for a while before managing to challenge the best in business. And irrespective of that, most of these teams went on to become competent outfits, some really great ones.

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are not really the first teams in history to have been plundered for runs and wickets. Perhaps all they need is some more time, patience and support to catch up with the rest of the world.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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