Very few countries have drawn flak like Bangladesh, especially for a morbid approach towards Test cricket. The severe criticism that often surrounds them is understandable, for it’s implausible to justify a losing percentage that has often hovered in the late eighties since their entry in 2000. Of the 75 Tests they have featured in thus far, only three ended positively for them — two wins against a frail West Indian team in 2009 and one against Zimbabwe in 2005. They were beaten on 65 occasions, 37 times by an innings, and the manner in which they often faltered provided evidence of the fact that the side seldom learnt from its mistakes.
However, in the ongoing first Test at Galle, it appears as though Bangladesh has embarked on a new journey. A total of over 600 has been posted, for the first time in 13 years, and this after Sri Lanka had amassed 570 at a venue where they’ve often made hay. While responding to such mammoth challenges, it has been a trait of Bangladesh to surrender under pressure, but three fine youngsters — Mohammad Ashraful, Mushfiqur Rahim and Nasir Hossain — have resisted the trap and steered their side out of troubled waters in a stoic way. Their knocks could just be the shot in the arm that could propel Bangladesh to the next level.
At Galle, Sri Lanka has a win-loss ratio of three, and it’s noteworthy that the Bangladeshis have given the home team a run for their money at one of their most successful venues. Placid track notwithstanding, the fact that the visitors have posted the highest score there speaks volumes of the quality. Ashraful has slammed his fifth Test hundred, Rahim country’s first double-ton and Hossain his maiden century. Against an attack that features the likes of Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis, this is proof enough that Bangladesh are fit to compete against formidable opponents.
It is performances like these that put bums on seats. The stiffer the competition, the better it is for the sport. There is little doubt now that the next series in Bangladesh will receive greater attention, for no matter how intense the fervour, the levels of it can be increased, or sustained, only if the team constantly chips in with victories, or at least a fight. But the fact remains that their appearances in Tests have been few and far between. Since the last five years, on an average, Bangladesh has played less than five Tests per year, whereas New Zealand, the team placed directly above the former in both rankings and number of matches played, feature in at least nine Tests. That number increases significantly for England, Australia and India.
A different script would have probably been written had Bangladesh fared better on earlier counts, but, as history suggests, patience often pays off, and it’s unfortunate that they weren’t tested continuously. Rather than drying up the well of opportunities owing to lackadaisical results, they should have been made to compete against bigger and better teams on a regular basis. Yes, keeping the decline of Test cricket in mind, one feels that it’s best to refrain from creating a platform for one-sided contents, but it’s also imperative to keep in mind that allowing smaller nations to compete in the big league often is the only way forward and could prove to be beneficial in the long run.
The International Cricket Committee’s (ICC) Future Tours Programme (FTP) has 12 Tests scheduled for Bangladesh from now until February 2015. In the same timeframe, England are slated for 22 Tests, India plays 22 Tests too and New Zealand are set to feature in 21. This allotment is quite unfortunate, since it’s detrimental to Bangladesh’s progress. It’s also unfortunate that for a country that adores cricket, the fans are being handed a raw deal. It’s well known that the FTP is not penned in indelible ink and that alterations to it are not a rarity. If this performance in Sri Lanka can help Bangladesh squeeze in a few more Tests, then it could do immense good for the nation as well as the sport in general. India travel to Bangladesh only for three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in June 2014; why not add Tests and make it a full-fledged tour?
Bangladesh, on the other hand, must be proud of their showing away from home and should look to build on this brilliant run. In the past, they’ve squandered a good platform and must be wary of a relapse this time around. The fact that the current squad’s average age is just over 24 augurs well for the side’s future, and if they can keep driving nails into such strong opponents, then the powers that be will have no option but to stand and take notice. Can this Test be a watershed moment for them?
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)