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Tigers still learning to roar

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Oliver Brett | 13:15 UK time, Monday, 8 March 2010

Nobody could have predicted back in 2000 that a format of the game designed to capitalise on long English summer evenings could have mushroomed into the same format that has Bollywood superstars falling over themselves to get involved with.

But if the Noughties will be regarded as the decade in which cricket discovered Twenty20, it's also coming up to the 10th anniversary of Bangladesh's bow as a Test-playing nation. Their record reads like this: played 64, won three, drawn six, lost 55.

It's not exactly the most compelling run of results. And if we really wanted to twist the knife we could attach some mighty great asterisks to those three victories.

The first was against a hopelessly green Zimbabwe side who had eight players aged 21 or younger. And their two wins in the Caribbean last year were achieved when 13 top West Indians went on strike.

Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al HasanMuch will depend on Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan in future years

But whereas the inexorable rise of Twenty20 has come out of the blue, Bangladesh's struggles to gain a foothold on the Test ladder in their first decade of five-day cricket have been more predictable.

New Zealand spent 26 years lurching from one defeat to another before registering their first Test victory, while India took 20.

Test cricket is an attritional game. It is no good dominating for a couple of sessions or even a couple of days. You can work desperately hard to forge a match-winning position and then fritter it away with a couple of silly shots or a shoddy hour of bowling.

Frustratingly for the romantics who yearn for giant-killings it just hasn't quite happened for Bangladesh. They so nearly humbled Pakistan in 2003 only for Inzamam-ul-Haq to tear up the fairytale script in his hometown, Multan.

And Australia were hurtling towards a dramatic defeat in Fatullah in 2006, whereupon Ricky Ponting hit a spoiling century as Bangladesh's long-suffering spinner Mohammad Rafique appeared to be circling for the kill.

I asked Dav Whatmore, about to embark on his first season at the helm of IPL glamour team Kolkata Knight Riders, to reflect on Bangladesh's decade, and found him frustratingly guarded. Whatmore was Bangladesh coach from 2003 to 2007 when they are generally acknowledged to have made significant progress, particularly in one-day internationals.

They famously triumphed over Australia in Cardiff during that period, before dumping India out of the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007 and beating pre-tournament favourites South Africa in the Super Eight stage.

Dav Whatmore

Whatmore left after what appeared a breakthrough tournament for Bangladesh, but the team have not really picked up and reached the next level since then.

However he is reluctant to make general observations about the team, sensitive as he is to the negative criticism which he believes does them no favours at all.

If there is one mantra that he clings to it is this: "I would really, really hope that the Bangladesh Cricket Board will ensure their domestic competitions are as strong as they can possibly be.

"I'm a big, big believer that the national team is a product of what you do domestically. Bangladesh needs a good, vibrant one-day competition, a strong four-day competition, and the Twenty20 game should also be looked after."

My e-mail to the BCB requesting an interview with current coach Jamie Siddons went unanswered, so I contacted the popular, long-standing fans forum to get a view about the current state of the game.

Editor Razab Quasem Chowdhury gave me an excellent assessment. "I think Bangladesh has the wherewithal to be a mid-range power with the occasional season on top," he says.

"We will never have the money, talent-pool or first-class infrastructure of an India, Australia or England but given the enthusiasm for the sport I can see us easily being consistently a number four or number five in world cricket."

Four players to keep an eye on, he says, are Tamim Iqbal, the 20-year-old left-hander who hit 125 in the first one-day international against England, skipper Shakib Al Hasan, ranked the third best bowler in ODIs, wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim and fast bowler Rubel Hossain.

"They will carry the flame for us," says Chowdhury. "The main reason is their mental maturity. They are the first generation of cricketers who were 'born' into Test-hood in that Bangladesh was already a Test-playing country in their formative years. "As such they are more able to handle the mental demands placed on an international player."

Even if its slow, low pitches are not conducive to getting the most out of young fast-bowling prodigies, Bangladesh should have enough going for it to make a serious fist of being a top player in world cricket.

Though football is making a comeback, cricket remains the number one sport for this densely-populated nation bordered on three sides by India, the uber-power in cricket. And the talent pool that comes with having 160 million inhabitants, around 40 times more than New Zealand, should also be a positive factor.

The game also has a rich pageantry in the country, the capital, Dhaka, having staged seven Tests hosted by Pakistan between 1955 and 1969 before Bangladesh's independence was established in 1972.

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And yet, the money from the ICC and broadcasting companies is still not filtering through to where it should. Chowdhury tells me facilities at the local clubs remain poor, with concrete pitches dominating, while in the cities there is not enough green space to cater for demand.

More encouragingly, he says youngsters from all backgrounds are encouraged to play - and it must help that in Shakib they have an ideal role model, a boy who did not hold a cricket ball until he was 15 and whose first experience of the game was on patches of waste ground in his hometown, Magura.

Cricket is considered an aspirational goal, a viable profession. Parents, says Chowdhury, are thus less likely to try to prevent their children from pursuing it as a career choice.

But, like many posting on his message-boards, he wants the game's administrators to do more, and not just those within the country.

"We would like the Indian board to be better stewards of the game. The top two first-class sides in Bangladesh should be invited to perform in an Indian first-class tournament, with perhaps top sides from Pakistan and Sri Lanka invited as well.

"We also need way, way more A tours to close the gap between our feeble first-class standards and the big leagues."

"Hear Them Roar" proclaims the banner at the top of the BCB's official website. For 10 years it's been largely quiet whimpering in the corner, but nobody should give up hope that one day Bangladesh will deserve to be called the Tigers.


  • Comment number 1.

    I know it's been repeated a lot, but give them time and they will become stronger. This test series should be fairly competitive, though of course England are heavy favourites to win comfortably. The return series this summer in England will be completely different, and I can't help but think if Bangladesh would benefit from more counties taking on Bangladeshi overseas players. I know from this season counties are only allowed 1, but even the extra overseas player allowed for the T20 tournament could be a valuable experience. I know some might say counties would rather go for safer bets in the pursuit of qualifying for the Champions League, but we've already seen that the likes of Tamim and Shakib are extremely talented.

  • Comment number 2.

    Dave (former coach) did a good job, and Siddons (current) is doing a wonderful job. Players are getting older, and team is getting stronger. Only good things can be happen from now on....

    Thanks Oliver for the inside-out.

  • Comment number 3.


    The good thing is that Shakib has signed a deal to play for Worcestershire this summer, which in my opinion could be a bit of a coup because he is a genuine all-rounder. As you suggest, there could be a bit of a domino effect should he prove a success. After all, one of the roots behind West Indies' rise to glory in the 1980s was the players' stints in league and county cricket.

  • Comment number 4.

    >>> one of the roots behind West Indies' rise to glory in the 1980s was the players' stints in league and county cricket..

    so where is that English glory if county is reason ?

  • Comment number 5.

    It should be noted that Bangladesh performed better against India after the straight-forward criticism on their performance by Virender Sehwag.

    Is it now up to the rest of the world to help Bangladesh raise their game by criticizing them, in other words 'egg them on'?

  • Comment number 6.

    Mahamudulla is the one for future, I think.

  • Comment number 7.

    ICC ranking shows Shakib Al Hasan is the #1 alrounder in the world. Jack Kallis, Vettori, Johnson, Afridi, anybody and everybody are no way close. This boy is 23, best batsman, best bowler, best fielder, best leader of the side. On top of that, the weight of 150 million people lies on his shoulder. What type of perfromer the world's best alrounders were at that age? Could they juggle that many balls? Everyone would be burnt out for sure with no superstars in their team. One more Shakib and better fielding, the win columns will increase rapidly.

    Bangladesh lacks strategy its implementation. The gap has been narrowed. We will see if England can get out Bangladesh without losing some points in ICC test ranking.

  • Comment number 8.

    Nice artical, Oliver. You out in Bangladesh at the moment? If so, a few blogs about the Bangladesh players would not go amiss.

  • Comment number 9.


    It's interesting because Sehwag was perceived as being uncharitable or arrogant when he spoke so disparagingly about Bangladesh, but I take your point - it may have worked as an incentive to spur them on a bit.

    From what I have seen recently they are far improved from the 2000-2005 vintage, but that's just not quite translating into stringing wins together. The matches themselves are more competitive, which will hopefully end talk that Bangladesh don't deserve Test status.

    Baz - Sadly, I am not in Bangladesh for the tour. Doing what I can from London!

  • Comment number 10.

    "The first was against a hopelessly green Zimbabwe side who had eight players aged 21 or younger. And their two wins in the Caribbean last year were achieved when 13 top West Indians went on strike....."

    This is a typical attitude that so cllaed experts have. Do you know that as many as seven players form that WI team is playing against Zimbabwe?

  • Comment number 11.

    "The first was against a hopelessly green Zimbabwe side who had eight players aged 21 or younger. And their two wins in the Caribbean last year were achieved when 13 top West Indians went on strike."

    This is leaves out some important observation. The current WI team has as many as seven members that played against the BD team.

  • Comment number 12.

    First of all, great piece of writing Oliver. I've been a big fan of your blogs. I regularly read your writings and I always find all of your blogs to be amusing.
    Second of all, I sincerely apologise to you on behalf of the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB). I'm from Bangladesh and I was a Sports Reporter. For a test playing nation, I must say that our Cricket Board should take up a bit more responsibility towards the Reporters, Journalists and the others who come from the other cricket playing nations. They should have answered your e-mail and give you the nod for interviewing Jamie Siddons. I just hope next time around, you will get what you desire.
    Too bad you did not come to Bangladesh for the tour. Looking forward to having you here the next time England tour Bangladesh.
    Best of luck.

  • Comment number 13.

    As a Pears fan I can't wait to see Shakib in action - and I think you're spot on Olly, it could be a real coup, both for Worcs, but also for Shakib to learn to play on totally different surfaces and take that experience back to the Bangladesh side. Given how difficult it is for county sides to get Test players from the likes of Australia and South Africa to play over here (given the amount of Test cricket and also the cost) I think a team like Bangladesh should be recruited from more by the county teams.

  • Comment number 14.

    I think you missed to mention the last three test matches Bangladesh played with New Zealand- two in Bangladesh last year, and one in New Zealand this year. It was clean sweep by NZ but all the matches were lot more competitive than the entire previous decade.

    I feel that Bangladesh right now is poised for a major breakthrough. The opening slot is reasonably good with extreme promises in Tamim; lower middle order is highly capable With Shakib, Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah (their batting average is around 30 and getting better); spin bowling is very good with Shakib and Razzak; and pace attack is decent with inexperienced Rubel and Shafiul who can bowl at around 140 kmph. If the biggest problem with number 3,4,5 batsmen is solved, they are going to be very competitive. Is Ashraful listening?

  • Comment number 15.

    Lot of us (Indians, English etc.) laughed out loud in 80s when Sri Lanka was granted Test Playing nation status. Oh how wrong we've been proven. Thirty years on Sri Lanka cricket is a force to be reckoned with. Given time, Tiger will roar and prove all naysayers wrong. This time I am not laughing but instead look forward to successfull Tiger team

  • Comment number 16.

    I have to agree Bangladeshe progress is very slow. Without competitive domestic structure you won't be able to build a strong team. You can pick 15 rookie players in England and form an international team. Chances are they will also have their own moments due to complacency of opposition. But in the end they will struggle to win matches. That is exactly the state where Bangladesh cricket is at. They have players who would struggle to find a place in average domestic teams of other countries. But they are the best available in their own country. So the progress is going to be slower than ICC originally expected when they gave Test status to Bangladesh. I do not think their test status will be revoked. But teams will be reluctant to play against them.

  • Comment number 17.

    Most cricket fans wish Bangladesh well. The fact that despite repeated heavy defeats, the stadia fill for matches is a tribute to the enthusiasm of the Bangladeshi fans. It is also inevitable that Bangladesh will, sooner or later, win a match against one of the top teams (if my reckoning is correct, their Test record against India, South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka, England and Pakistan is P50, W0, D2, L48 and, in the two draws - against India and New Zealand - a combined total of more than 5 days play was lost).

    When New Zealand started to play Test cricket, their Tests were played over 3 days until they demonstrated that a result simply could not be forced against them in such a short time. Why the ICC did not consider limiting Bagladesh Tests to 4 days is beyond me: this simple step would have made it far easier for them to fight for draws with a realistic chance of success. As much First Class cricket around the world and, for that matter, second tier international cricket, is played over 4 days it would hardly have degraded Test cricket.

    In 2003, the Test series against Bangladesh was tough for a weakened side, missing several stars and with other players in desperate form (Mark Butcher scored 42 of his 56 runs in a single innings, Ashley Giles managed a single wicket in the series and Gareth Batty just two), having just scrambled a drawn series against South Africa. In retrospect, the series marked the start of a period of unprecedented success for England. Would that this series have such a happy end.

    One thing is clear though. A side that takes Bangladesh lightly can end up looking incredibly stupid. Maybe that is why England has not yet lost to them: we are too scared of looking stupid to drop our guard too far.

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm really surprised no-one has mentioned Sri Lanka. I've spent some time with the people there, and the cricket needs to be seen to be believed. You can see children and adults playing on every spare strip of grass, road, or beach, giving it absolutely everything. They bowl as fast as they can, batsmen smash the ball as hard as they can, spinners rip it as much as their wrists can take.
    From what I can tell (not having been there), Bangladesh is very similar: absolutely cricket mad, and with eight times the population. Sri Lanka won two matches in their first 11 years, and the standard of first class cricket is still not high even today. However, with time they have produced unforgettable players like Murali, Jayasuriya, Mahela, Aravinda, Vaas, Sanga (I could go on!).
    The point is that even though the game is weak in SL, and could fall to T20 any year soon, they have given the game more than we could have ever expected because the people there just adore it. Bangladesh should not be judged too harshly; if they can ever reach what SL has given us we should be grateful.

    Nothing more.

  • Comment number 19.

    The wins in test matches will come with experience. In this blog you mention that 1 of the 3 test wins was against a young Zimbabwe side... the Tigers team aint exactly pushing 30 themselves are they now?? Then you have the 2 wins against West Indies with 13 1st team players missing... I think you'll find most of the team that was beaten in those 2 test matches are now 1st teamers for WI!

    For BD, its a building period. Not so long ago they only had 1 star man, Mohammed Ashraful. Now theres signs of more promise. Tamim Iqbal is a young opener, Shakib is brilliant, Mahmumullah & Rahim are promising and Mortaza at his best can threaten the world's top batsmen. Now its all about filling those other spaces in the team with good quality players instead of players who are just there to make up the numbers. And im sure it wont be too much longer before those positions are filled!

  • Comment number 20.

    Ajay (#15) the difference is that Sri Lanka had already played cricket against touring sides for some years and were much better prepared for Test status. On the 1984 tour of England they played no less than eight First Class matches before their only Test. Sri Lanka were at least competitative from the start and did not take long to start giving sides like England some most unpleasant surprises. I can well remember the 1984 Lords Test against them (I was at the game) when, admittedly after England had been softened-up by the West Indies, we could only struggle to an unconvincing draw, with one IT Botham taking 6-90 as an off-spinner in the second innings. We didn´t laught at them after that.

  • Comment number 21.

    Latecut said
    "This is a typical attitude that so cllaed experts have. Do you know that as many as seven players form that WI team is playing against Zimbabwe?"

    Whose lazy with their observations? Only three players who played in the test series against Bangladesh are involved against Zimbabwe - Roach (who was by far the best bowler) and the fringe players Miller and Sammy. The rest of the windies line up in that Bangladesh series would be lucky to get into a third, even a fourth XI. Many came from the almost exclusive Bajan 'combined campuses' team, which are for players unable to get into their actual island nation.

  • Comment number 22.

    10 and 11: I had a suspicion that you may not have been right with your facts. Matttheimp (21) provides the correct detail. Thanks Matt.

    12. Thank you for your kind words. And trust me, it is not just the BCB's media office which is hard to contact. I could name and shame many others.

    15 and 18. The Sri Lanka story is an engaging one indeed and one that Bangladesh can aspire to. Their World Cup win in 1996 was incredibly important for cricket.

    16. Karthik. Compared to five years ago when eight or nine players were below county standard the current Bangladesh side is hugely improved. Teams may remain reluctant to play long series against them, but contractually they still have to take on Bdesh and as these games are now competitive they keep their value.

    17. There are some excellent points here. Of course 4-day Tests are , we're told, being seriously considered across the baord. I also like your last point. Teams are so professional, so determined NOT to be the team that loses to Bangladesh that they generally avoid that fate.

  • Comment number 23.

    There's two major factors for me holding Bangladesh back. As Oliver says, the pitches aren't conducive to fast bowling. As much as the young quicks don't get to bowl on good wickets for them offering pace and bounce, so the batsmen in domestic cricket do not get to play against high quality pacemen. Undoubtedly Bangladesh have improved against pace but there is still a way to go. Developing a core of four decent seamers is essential.

    The second factor is mentality, and it's precisely the same problem afflicting the West Indies. Someone like Aftab Ahmed has a plethora of shots in the locker and often proceeds to play six shots to one ball, leading to his dismissal. Anyone who saw the ludicrous dismissal of Keiron Pollard at the weekend will recognise the lack of thought and application there. The like of Shakib, Rahim, and Iqbal can all attack but all three have demonstrated calmness under pressure and the ability to perform when under the cosh. Aftan and Ashraful both need to develop this as their undoubted abilities are being hampered by a poor approach to their batting.

  • Comment number 24.

    I've just checked on the website to follow the final day's play in the three day match against Bangladesh A. Bangladesh obviously had a great second innings which must give them a real boost for the upcoming test series. I was amazed to see the bowling figures for the B's second innings though, Carberry was bad enough with 4 overs, no maidens 78 runs for no wickets, only to be surpassed by Cook's figures of 5 overs, no maidens and one hundred and eleven runs for no wickets.
    Wow! Maybe the same data entry person should be writing the scores for Pieterson, at least his averages might look a little better.

  • Comment number 25.


    As you will see from the forthcoming report, Cook and Carberry were sending down "declaration bowling" in order to encourage Bangladesh to declare and set England a target, thereby making the game a bit more interesting for everyone. If you saw any clips on the news, they were bowling off two steps, slow long-hops, and nobody was bothering to stop the ball on the boundary.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think this might be a good series, but have the Tigers erred in choosing 3 left arm spinners? I fear for them in England in May however. I remember all too well when they last toured in 2005, abiding memory being Steve Harmison wearing his anti bullying wristband while bouncing out a succession of tiny Bangladesh batsmen at Chester-le-Street.

  • Comment number 27.

    this format is not provided by and lazy english summer. in india 20-20 is played in every locality with much enthusiasm from 70s. there are so many local tournaments are organised in this format before it was assimilated in icc body or ipl.

  • Comment number 28.

    Andy (#23), common-sense, as usual. If Bangladesh were willing and encouraged to make some extended tours like those made by Sri Lanka in the '80s they might reap the benefits. There is no question that Sri Lanka's playing so many First Class games on tour in England helped them learn to play in alien conditions. It also meant that different players could be tried. On a modern tour, with just one or two warm-ups, how does a side learn which players handle the conditions best? How do players learn to play in alien conditions?

    If Bangladesh really want to learn to handle English conditions, they should play 5 or 6 county matches, plus Ireland and Scotland as well as the two Tests. A couple of tours like that would advance their cricketing education a long way. They could even, if they were really keen, ask for an invite to extend their stay and play in the English T20: I can think a few county sides that would love to put one over a Test team in the Twenty20 Cup.

  • Comment number 29.


    Take a look at the schedule for Bangladesh's tour here later this year and see what you think:

    Not quite enough first-class games perhaps, particularly if they do well in the World Twenty20, but you do have the games against the Dutch, Scots and Irish at the back end of the tour. It's a start towards something meaningful

  • Comment number 30.

    Yes, two First Class games that may well be cancelled, then the Lions and the Tests. A little light on meaningful practice. I see a plethora of one-dayers, but Bangladesh need to learn how to build innings and take wickets, not how to bat out 50 overs.

  • Comment number 31.

    As a thought on this, obviously with Zimbabwe now back in the longer version by playing their "A" side in the Intercontinental Cup with Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Kenya, Canada and Afghanistan I can't help but wonder if the ICC should be looking at these up and coming nations and tagging on a 4 or 5 day match against these countries instead of using the counties as a warm up. This would then hopefully improve the associate nations, in the same way Bangladesh were given their improvements of exposure to test-playing nations (though not necessarily test matches) over the course of years before acceptance as a full member.

  • Comment number 32.

    When I said "play Ireland" I mean a 4-day match. Ireland want to advance their claims to Test status. Bangladesh will see them as relatively soft opposition that they should beat: it would be close to a 3rd Test match on the tour and both sides would expect to make a point in the game. Scotland also would give them some slightly softer opposition in a 3 or 4 day match.

  • Comment number 33.

    Going by the squad Bangladesh have chosen it seems they are targetting KP because of his apparent vulnerability to left arm spin, when all the other batsman seem ok with it. Thats Risky as KP could suddenly find form again and then Bangladesh don't have a cat in hell's chance, if they even had a chance in the first place despite KP's form.

  • Comment number 34.

    My thought too, Sportsfan. Has no one told Bangladesh that England will be fielding 11 players? The tactic of targeting just KP could misfire horribly on them.

  • Comment number 35.

    @SportsFan & Stargazer, I am not sure why do u think BD is targeting only KP by picking 3 left arm spinners. In the 3 ODIs BD picked 17 English wickets, and only 2 of those went to pacers, i.e. spin is their main weapon (left arm or right arm) irrespective of who is palying..

  • Comment number 36.

    Abli, due to the nature of the pitches most of the Bangladesh bowling was spin, which is understandable, but was not spectacularly successful. Maybe it is a pure coincidence that KP has got out cheaply to SLA on this tour and that evety time that he has come out to bat a slow left-armer has been brought on and that Bangladesh has picked three of them. It's like England picking three off-spinners (which they have done in the past: it *might* work). Does Bangladesh have no other type of spinner worth his place? It just makes for a lot of sameness in the attack and if the toss is lost and the spinners are not making an impact, there is not a lot of alternative for the captain if Plan A doesn't work.

  • Comment number 37.

    Bangladesh have gradually become more competitive and shown plenty of potential (not that all of it has been fulfilled though). They have beaten every test-ranked nation at One-Day cricket, apart from England, and have come close to beating sides other than Zimbabwe and the Windies 'B' Team on occasions.
    While I think it is a bit far to predict England will lose the upcoming series, a life of watching English unexplainable chaotic capitulation (in all sports, but particularly cricket), snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, has made me feel it perfectly plausable that we will lose a test to them. If I'm really honest I think it is English destiny to be the first major test playing nation to lose to Bangladesh.

  • Comment number 38.

    Afghanistan are the team to watch in Asia. They will soon be pushing for a Test place.

    Ireland will always lose it's players to England, no-one will go to, or host, Zimbabwe for years and years and Pakistan is in absolute crisis, so may lose out on Tests in the next future tours programme.

    Bangladesh need to start showing at least some signs of competitiveness and improvement or they will be pushed aside and Afghanistan taking their place!

  • Comment number 39.

    Oliver Brett has written a very encouraging piece.

    Bangladesh is making progress in international cricket. There is manpower out there and ambition too. The boys need to be given more opportunities by their more accomplished neighbours in South Asia.

    This afternoon Iqbal and Mahamdullah roared like tigers. Iqbal is still holding fort. The opener needs to be given good support by the lower middle order and the tailenders.

    England cricketers had a profitable day with the bat and the ball. Yet another great day for the new captain Cook.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 40.

    Thank you Oliver for your splendid post. I would like to be a bit off-topic here and correct you with our date of independence. It was 1971(16th December) rather than '72. Thanks again.

  • Comment number 41.

    I feel that Bangladesh are only allowing players from Dhaka not from Slyhet to play for the national team. They are so many goods players that Bangladesh can pick. The main fact is the money. BCB should do something about this, or else the national team will go no way in the future.


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