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Point-blank : Bangladesh and Test cricket

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Bangladesh’s poor performance in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Dhaka once again raises the question about their status at this level of cricket. They were beaten by an innings and 248 runs soon after lunch on the fourth day to suffer their fourth heaviest defeat in their Test history.Bangladesh’s defeat comes in the wake of the International Cricket Council (ICC) putting forward a paper to have a two-tier system for Test cricket separating the stronger teams from the weaker ones. For now the threat is still only on paper, but if Bangladesh continues to perform in the manner they did against Sri Lanka, it won’t be long before the top nations will try to force the two-tier system.

Bangladesh has been playing Test cricket since 2000 when they were granted full membership of the ICC and to-date has played in 82 Tests and recorded only four wins (2 each against Zimbabwe and West Indies) and lost 68 which is not a healthy record for any Test playing nation.Coach Shane Jurgeson partly blamed the ICC draft proposal controversy for his team’s poor performance calling it “bad timing”.

“There were a few distractions before the game which probably didn’t help either, with the ICC thing,” Jurgensen said. “More than just discussions, there was disappointment. It was bad timing for the whole thing to happen ahead of a Test match. At the same time, we are representing Bangladesh in international cricket, and we didn’t play well.”

Whether that had an overall effect on the Bangladesh team’s performance one cannot say, but it certainly cannot be touted as an excuse for the crushing defeat. Bangladesh has been in the business of Test cricket for 14 years and it is time they had come to realise what they require to become a forceful Test nation and start beating other opponents at home, at least. What better platform to perform in front of their passionate supporters under their own conditions and pitches. That Bangladesh has failed in that aspect is not due to external factors like the ICC draft proposal and things like that, but because of their inability to have a strong first-class domestic structure.

Bangladesh don’t need to look all that far because Sri Lanka too does not boast of a domestic structure that can be compared to countries like Australia, South Africa or England, but they keep producing world class performers year in year out.If one compares Sri Lanka’s record to Bangladesh, during the first 14 years (1982-1996) Sri Lanka played 71 Tests and recorded seven wins, but they also won a fifty-over ICC World Cup, which changed the whole complexion of the game in the country. Since winning the World Cup Sri Lanka’s cricket has only progressed upwards and they have been up there with the best for quite a long time in all three formats.

Perhaps Bangladesh needs something like that - a shot in the arm to revive their cricket and put it on the top pedestal.But initially Bangladesh must get their mindset sorted out to play five-day Test cricket. It is not that the country lacks talent, there are plenty of them but the absence of a proper first-class domestic structure is their main stumbling block.

From the manner in which the spectators kept cheering the Bangladeshi cricketers during the first Test against Sri Lanka, it is quite evident that they are more aligned to the shorter versions of the game - 50-over and T20 - two formats which Bangladesh has done exceptionally well in recent times.They came within a whisker of lifting the Asia Cup the last time it was played in 2012 in Dhaka losing to the eventual winners Pakistan by a mere two runs. Bangladesh qualified to play in the final for the first time in the tournament’s history defeating both India and Sri Lanka. The 2014 version is also going to be hosted by Bangladesh next month and they have a grand opportunity to put that record straight.

However the key factor here is not fifty-over or T20 cricket, but Test cricket for which Bangladesh must attune themselves to if they are not to be treated as outcasts by the rest of the cricket world and condemned to play in a lower division along with Zimbabwe. Bangladesh, who played India in their inaugural Test at Dhaka in 2000, has been snubbed by their Asian big brother who have not invited them for a single Test match in India for the past 14 years although they have played seven Tests on Bangladesh soil.

“Who will come to watch Bangladesh play in India,” has been the official thinking of the BCCI who are now extending an olive branch by saying they will play them within the next two years on a home and away basis - all this to garner their support to ensure the contentious ICC proposals are carried through.
These are ruses which unsuspecting Cricket Board’s like Bangladesh can easily become duped into accepting. If lack of getting consistent exposure in Test cricket is the prime reason for Bangladesh’s poor showing at that level, then playing countries like India, England and Australia on a regular basis will greatly help improve their standard. But is it the main cause?

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