If you're a Bangladeshi cricket fan, you must have heard the lament: 'Bangladesh team's pipeline is poor. There are not enough talented cricketers coming through the ranks,' - like a million times.
As the World Cup nears, the cry is getting louder. The quest for a reliable backup opener for Tamim Iqbal and a modern number seven who can launch the ball into the stands during the death overs has proved elusive for some time now.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Bangladesh were crowned the U-19 World Cup winners in 2020. So there's surely some talent in the hut. Now the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) is emphasising on Age-level cricket and Game Development Programmes in recent years.
There is now a stable age-level setup in three age categories - U-14, U-16 and U-18. School cricket has undergone a significant revamp, with several young talents beginning to emerge from the ranks.
A novel framework in forming regional cricket committees has been approved with the goal of decentralising the sport. Already implemented in some divisions, this initiative not only improves local cricket facilities but also streamlines the process of identifying and nurturing local talents, guaranteeing that they will get a shot to shine on the national stage.
Obeid Rashid Nizam, a BCB director and the Chairman of the Age Group Tournament Committee (AGTC), is hopeful that the pipeline will be filled with exciting young talents and they will serve Bangladesh cricket for a long time in the future.
"Our pipeline for youth is teeming with high-quality talent, poised to make their mark in international cricket. The cricket fraternity can expect an exciting and talented roster of players to represent Bangladesh in the future," he told The Business Standard (TBS).
The journey from grassroots to glory
The journey from grassroots cricket to the national level is 'an intricate one', mentioned Obeid Nizam. It is basically divided into two main segments - School Cricket and Age Group Cricket.
As mentioned earlier, there are three categories in Age-level cricket. Each has its unique selection process. More than twelve thousand young cricketers actively participate in these programmes.
Since taking charge of AGTC in 2021, Obeid Nizam and his team have instituted an expansive system of open trials across all 64 districts and Dhaka Metro. At the core of their strategy lies the National School Cricket tournament comprising 348 secondary schools, which showcases budding talent and instils a sense of healthy competition among the youth.
"These budding cricketers progressively advance through district, division, and national competitions, where the keen eye of our Age Group selectors identifies exceptional talent. Following initial selection, we initiate extensive training and provide opportunities that include international exposure under Game Development," Obeid Nizam said.
"This comprehensive process ensures that skilled youngsters find their place in the national pipeline, a testament to our commitment to fostering cricketing talent in Bangladesh," he added.
Players from U-14, U-16 and U-18 levels gradually get selected for the U-15, U017 and U-19 teams.
BCB's Game Development programme emphasises comprehensive development by providing life skills training, mental conditioning, education on cricket laws, anti-corruption measures, anti-doping awareness, and English language instruction.
"These comprehensive efforts equip our youth with the tools they need to excel in the global cricket arena."
The financial part of it
Cricket may not yet be viewed as a top career choice in Bangladesh. So it begs a question - do the age-level cricketers get paid or is there any scholarship programme for them?
The BCB has introduced a scholarship programme realising the importance of nurturing promising talents.
The top fifteen players - the cream of the crop - discovered through the National School Cricket competition receive monthly scholarships from the Board. National age group cricketers also benefit from education scholarships that cover both graduation and post-graduate studies.
The BCB and the AGTC are committed to helping the underprivileged cricketers at the grassroots level. Cricket kits and training equipment for coaches are distributed to ensure that talent is noticed, regardless of their circumstances.
Obeid Nizam said the board is investing a large sum of money for game development and it has increased fairly over the past few years during his tenure.
"The Board is very enthusiastic to increase the budget for the age groups and players development/pathway programmes," he added.
Since taking over as Chairman of AGTC, Obeid Nizam has taken some measured steps to make the programme a better one. Implementing strict programs in the school tournament, promoting school cricket tournaments via live telecast and social media, introducing scholarship programmes and implementing a database of all Age-level cricketers shows that the ship is indeed sailing in the right direction.