Cricket Then And Now

It has to begin at home

Aminul Islam

In today's dynamic world, everything keeps changing everyday. Cricket is no different and Bangladesh is no exception in that game. Bangladesh now play Test cricket and face the giants on a regular basis. They recently produced the biggest upset in one-day cricket history beating world champions Australia. They also won their maiden Test series against Zimbabwe. These clearly demonstrate the potential of Bangladesh.

When I started dreaming about cricket, Bangladesh used to play with Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) to prove themselves that they were emerging. The journey from playing teams like the MCC to challenging the big boys of the Test arena has taken nearly 20 years. It is very fortunate that we were involved very actively in this transition period. We had an opportunity to experience the change being in the frontline as well as now to observe the changes staying very close to it.

In Bangladesh, the changes have been happening in all directions. Are all these changes very positive? Have all these changes happened with very clear vision and well defined strategies? To answer these questions let us see what has happened in the last twenty years.

My entry to higher-level cricket was a result of the now defunct Nirman Cricket Tournament -- still regarded by many as the most popular and well-organised school-level tournament ever in the country.

At that time our dream was to play one-day cricket either at ACC or ICC level. Many cricketers like me used that as a stepping stone to launch our careers.

Since then however there have been a few attempts to arrange school cricket tournaments without any major success. This year's domestic calendar does not have any school tournament with two-day matches.

It is important to note that Sachin Tendulkar became a star after featuring in a record-breaking 400-run partnership with chum Vinod Kambli in a four-day school tournament. So, in our case not having a properly organised school cricket competition means thousands of potential future cricketers are lost forever. How long can we afford this to happen?

The Dhaka Premier League was the most successful league in term of competitiveness and popularity. Local derbies between Abahani and Mohammedan used to attract 30-40 thousand spectators. World-beaters like Wasim Akram, Sanath Jayasuriya and Arjuna Ranatunga enriched our cricketers with their skills and experiences.

Now this league has undergone a lot of experiments. We always like to do experiments whenever something becomes successful. The National League is no exception. It has lost its glory, intensity and popularity. In fact domestic cricket as a whole is losing its focus because of the increasing number of international tournaments happening every year though it plays a vital role to produce quality cricketers. This year we are taking this out of Dhaka.

Though it is still not clear to me why we have to take the league outside instead of arranging local leagues. If it is to create public interest then we never had any problem with cricket's popularity. The Chittagong league used to provide the batting order for our national team. Mymensingh and Rajshahi used to have competitive league structures too. Now both those have lost their appeal.

In our time the official first-class cricket tournament started in 1999-2000 season. We used to go to the main cities by an ordinary bus, stayed in a low quality hotel, ate very low quality food from hotels that caused stomach upsets several times and played on under-prepared wickets in picnic mood. Now, the scenario has not changed at all.

When we started playing, the cricket board was located at the Bangabandhu Stadium in two small rooms. Our coaches used to bring food from the nearby hotels, milk from Red Crescent. Now, the board has shifted to very luxurious offices away from the stadium. We have given the national team the best-proven coach though our regional teams do not have any coaches. We lost the Bangabandhu Stadium with the dream of making Mirpur Stadium a modern cricket ground, which has failed to be attractive for football. Except Futullah Stadium we could not provide more playing grounds, practice facilities to the young cricketers. Now, the task has become very easier for the selectors as they have to select fourteen players for the national team from a group of eighteen players. The players are now playing in the national team without being matured to handle the pressure. Players should get matured through exposure in the domestic cricket first.

Every Test team knows their strength and builds on that. Australia have got fast bowlers whereas India and Sri Lanka are very good in the spin department. According to that they make their wickets to get that advantage. We are already five years old in the Test arena. We should immediately identify our strengths and build on that.

This whole journey may sound negative. But, actually except a few glories like beating Pakistan, Australia, India and Zimbabwe and few individual successes we, in totality have not achieved the milestone we should have achieved considering the effort being given to it. The effort could not be very effective because it took different shapes at different times with different management bodies. In today's competitive world 'Quality' is the key for success and sustainability. if we want to sustain our position then we need to build the infrastructure and ensure the proper execution of a plan and control mechanism. The sooner we make this correction the better. Bangladesh is now widely known by cricket and this is our responsibility to keep this name with glory and respect.

The author is a former Bangladesh cricket captain

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