In the flurry of tweets that followed Bangladesh’s recent Test match victory against the Aussies, one Twitter user said: “Matches like these will not save Test cricket. But these matches are the reason why Test cricket is worth saving.”
In a fair world, yes. We have had two underdogs – West Indies being the other one – crushing two mighty Test sides this week. But alas, the cricketing bosses don’t buy it. We were supposed to have a Test championship in 2017. But instead we had a redundant ODI tournament. How to save Test cricket then?
Over the past few seasons, Bangladesh have emerged as a strong side at home. (By the way, who isn’t these days?) While the Tigers have grown exponentially in the limited overs format under current coach Chandika Hathurusingha, it has taken them a little longer with the lengthiest format of the game. If the victories against England, Sri Lanka and Australia are anything to go by, the cricket mad nation of over 165 million certainly have shown enough talent to merit more games.
Before the start of the series, Bangladesh’s hero of the first match, Shakib Al Hasan, had said that they are pretty much an impregnable force at home. The result of the first game against the Aussies addressed all concerns.
Bangladesh’s senior batsmen and bowlers delivered a resounding performance. While Shakib has been the cog in both batting and bowling, the maturity of Tamim and Mushfiqur Rahim with the bat has also bode well for Bangladesh.
Bangladesh fans have seen torrid times since their Test debut in 2000. They had only beaten two teams, Zimbabwe and West Indies, until a year ago. Now they have beaten five, including England, Sri Lanka and Australia.
Tamim plays a shot during Dhaka Test © AFP
The likes of Tamim, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Imrul Kayes have matured and peaked at just about the right time. Moreover, the other aspect that has rounded Bangladesh to a full-fledged competitive squad is the focus on fast bowling. Bangladesh have remained heavily reliant on the spinners – as evident from the bowling stats of the past three seasons as well – a relative departure from the strategy by creating a balance as well as unearthing new fast bowling talent, including the likes of Mustafizur Rahman and Taskin Ahmed, has given a much-needed boost to the squad.
But the biggest hindrance for Bangladesh’s development as a Test side has been the number of games, or rather the lack of them. Since the 2015 season, Bangladesh have only played 13 Test matches, including eight at home. Out of the eight matches – including the recently concluded Dhaka Test against Australia – Bangladesh have won and lost two games each, while four matches ended in a draw.
In 2015, Bangladesh drew the first Test against Pakistan before losing the second. Two months later, Bangladesh drew a Test match against India. And a month later, the Tigers drew another two games against the mighty South Africans.
But since July 2015, Bangladesh have only played eight Test matches till date. Out of the eight, three have been home games where Bangladesh won, lost and drew a game each. These include the Test series against England later last year and the current series against Australia.
While a debate on the performances of the Bangladeshi side is important; it is more important to have a discussion on the number of games and the growth of the longest format. Bangladesh have only played 13 Test matches since 2015. Their home summer will give a count of nine matches over three years after the conclusion of the series against Australia.
How can one judge and augment the case of Bangladesh when it isn’t even getting enough Test matches, let alone home games. There has been a lot of debate on the two-tier system and how low-ranked teams like Bangladesh will benefit from playing more games. It can be argued if Bangladesh are good enough they can get promotion to the top tier - resulting in more chances of Test matches against top teams.
Both the West Indies’ win against England and Australia’s defeat against Bangladesh have been termed as upsets by many commentators. While the Windies are in the dilemma of their own – including player exiles and pay disputes – Bangladesh’s scenario is entirely different. Terming their performance at home as an upset despite their progress in the longest format over the past few years will be a mockery of the effort they have put in.
Since the ICC doesn’t have much say in the FTP’s now, with the Test championship plans in the fold, how will it ensure that the lowly ranked teams will get a fair share of games against the top teams after the league?
The writer tweets @khaledumair