On this very day 20 years ago ICC granted Bangladesh its Test status after its annual general meeting in London. Former Bangladesh Cricket Board president Saber Hossain Chowdhury led the BCB delegation in the meeting where the Tigers were unanimously welcomed as the 10th Test playing nation. New Age’s Samiur Rahman spoke to the former BCB boss about Bangladesh’s journey of becoming a full ICC member and the country’s current state in the format on the eve of Bangladesh’s 20th anniversary of achieving Test Status.
New Age: Do you think after completing 20 years in Test cricket, Bangladesh has emerged as a better host or organising nation than a Test playing nation, with Bangladesh hosting a good number of ICC and ACC events in past few years?
Saber Hossain Chowdhury: To be perfectly candid, neither. Looking at it from organisational capabilities, let us not forget that well before our Test status, we hosted major international events in Dhaka, including the ICC Mini World Cup. So, a strong foundation and legacy was already in place.
What has, however, happened in recent years, is that our administrators seem more focused on organising events rather than developing cricket at the grass root level as the lure of benefitting personally from lucrative commercial opportunities (TV rights, parameter/billboard advertising, sponsorships, even decoration and catering) is very strong.
NA: If you look back do you think Bangladesh has achieved what they should have achieved in these two decades?
SHC: Let us look at the facts. Over past two decades, we have played 119 Tests: won 14, lost 89, drawn 16. More importantly, we became the tenth Test playing country 20 years ago. Currently, as per ICC Test Championship Table, our position is still number 10. Shockingly, Afghanistan who received their Test status only three years back are now above us in the table! We can have our individual and subjective opinions but facts speak for themselves.
By now, we should at least have achieved a mid-table ranking but we are at risk of slipping further behind as potential new members join the fold.
NA: In your opinion, why Bangladesh has failed to become a respected Test nation?
SHC: When we achieved Test status, we knew we already had the passion. Our dream was our Test cricket would also have the competitiveness of Australia, flair and flamboyance of the West Indies, fitness and athleticism of South Africa and professionalism of England.
We also wanted our domestic cricket to provide a solid base and foundation for our Test Cricket. This is why after consulting with Dr Ali Bacher, the then supremo of South African cricket and a cricket administrator par excellence, we decided after achieving Test Status to appoint Eddie Barlow as our Coach. Eddie was a wonderful individual, a real motivator and one who understood how to make a blue print for development and chart a roadmap for our future.
Starting from development of infrastructure (grounds, wickets, indoor facilities) to creating coaches, umpires, grounds men, decentralising the game and setting up regional cricketing bodies, high performance unit along with A and aged based teams, this excellent plan had everything. Unfortunately, with changes in the Board, the plan did not get the recognition it merited.
We have some great players but as a team we have not clicked and I think this is no small measure due to the lack of leadership, professionalism and good governance off the field. Lack of accountability, transparency, planning and rampant conflict of interest was holding back the development of the game.
To succeed in Test cricket, the pinnacle of the game, a holistic approach based on an expansive ecosystem is needed. In simple terms, to succeed at the top, you have to start from the bottom - get domestic cricket right. How can we seriously expect our players to be competitive in five-day Test cricket when opportunities to play longer version of the game are so very limited at home?
NA: Do you think our cricket administration gave enough attention in Test cricket?
SHC: If you look at our results over the past 20 years and the fact that even Afghanistan is now above us, absolutely not. My concern is that if we continue to perform the way we have been, in the future if Test cricket is reorganised into an upper and lower tier, we will be in the latter. This would be a disaster.
Also, since Bangladesh did not have the spine to stand up to Mr N Srinivasan when formation of the ‘Big Three’ was discussed (Australia, England and India) and approved, we now have to rely more on bilateral agreements and arrangements to organise Test series. By failing to take a stand, not only has Bangladesh lost out but a great disservice has been done to world cricket.
The BCB is seemingly oblivious to the fact that we must focus on our domestic cricket and reorganise it if we are to compete at Test level. We also have to get the basics right in terms of grounds, wickets, umpires and coaches. There is no alternative to decentralising the game through regional structures (a decision taken 20 years back) – the wider we cast the net, the better will be the quality of the catch. If Sri Lanka with population of 22 million can be world champions, what can we not achieve with a population that is seven times larger?
NA: You have been very vocal about the corruption in root-level cricket, how damaging have they been for our advancement in the highest level?
SHC: Devastating. The cancer of corruption in our cricket is all pervasive, on the field and off it. Matches in the domestic league are frequently ‘fixed’ and the results are ‘known’ before even a ball is bowled. Players and clubs have protested, it has been widely reported in the media and yet no actions have been taken.
We have the instance of a bowler deliberately giving away 80 odd runs in an over to protest blatant umpiring bias. Some particular umpires are chosen and instructed before a match as to which team has to win and they oblige accordingly. This is not cricket.
It is shocking that despite being a Test playing nation for 20 years, we do not have a single umpire at the ICC panel. However, I suppose, it is not a surprise given that match fixing is rampant in our domestic league.
Similarly, off the field, we have the instance of board elections – they have been and will continue to be a farce. Influential members of the current Board have shamelessly pronounced that they own by proxy, most of the clubs in the Dhaka League. Hence the election results are a foregone conclusion.
When there are no credible and transparent elections, there is no accountability and conflicts of interest and corruption thrive. The interests of the country’s cricketing progression are then subordinate to the interest of certain individuals and syndicates.
NA: Do you think with more transparency in BCB Bangladesh would have done better in Test?
SHC: None will disagree that transparency and accountability are critical in creating an enabling environment, which is necessary but that by itself is not sufficient. We need vision, effective and focused leadership as well as teamwork to deliver results, remembering at all times that if we fail to plan, we plan to fail.
NA: Please tell us some of your memories about that ICC meeting, were you confident that the highest body will grant Bangladesh Test status on that meeting?
SHC: Reasonably confident as we had spent much time and effort after winning the ICC Trophy in 1997 in making the case for Bangladesh’s elevation to Test Status. This was a very planned, coordinated and structured process that involved intense outreach to all of the full members of the ICC and also support from the prime minister Sheikh Hasina and the then state minister of sports, Obaidul Quader.
Every member of the board was also actively engaged and Syed Ashraful Haque as general secretary was a major asset. I still think, looking back, that was the gold standard of teamwork in sports in our country.
By the time we were at Lord’s for the annual conference of the ICC, we knew the ground work was solid and although none of the full members were understandably ready to make a commitment before the meeting, the numbers looked good. However, it is never over till it is over. There is always an element of anxiety and tension. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were already on board as was Zimbabwe and the West Indies. Personal relationships with heads of Australia and South Africa were very strong and I had also visited Wellington before the June meeting to present our case. England is of course always a big factor. What really surprised me at the meeting was that after making a formal presentation as president of BCB and answering questions, when it came to the vote, it was unanimous!
NA: Finally, what are the high and low points for Bangladesh in Test cricket for last 20 years, according to you?
SHC: If we are talking about results, the first Test victory is always going to be sweet and our win against Zimbabwe was just that. Beating Australia and securing a Test victory in 2017 must be one of the highs as Australia is a fiercely competitive team and they play a professional and aggressive game. Just as this single Test win against Australia was inspiring, I feel we hit an all-time low when Afghanistan crushed us last year by 234 runs and even the rain could not help us avoid this humiliating loss. All credit to Afghanistan though, as this was only their second ever Test match after having achieved full membership of ICC in 2017.
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