26th June is a remarkable day in Bangladesh's cricket history. This was the day when Bangladesh finally became a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), receiving Test status.
On the 20th anniversary of the momentous day, The Business Standard's Shams Rahman spoke to Saber Hossain Chowdhury, the then President of Bangladesh Cricket Board. Saber spoke about how Bangladesh got the Test status and how 20 years on, Bangladesh are still where they started from.
TBS: When did the talks about Bangladesh receiving a Test status start? How did it start?
I became the President of the cricket board after the 1996 general elections. Within the first few board meetings, I said that we need to set some goals to achieve this within our term. I told everyone that we should target achieving the Test status within our five years in office. That seemed very ambitious back then as we were yet to win an ICC trophy. Without an ICC Trophy, we could not even play in the World Cup, let alone receiving Test status.
TBS: What was the process through which Bangladesh received their Test status?
Our first goal was to win an ICC Trophy. When we won the ICC Trophy in 1997, I said that we want to be a Test-playing nation within three years. I did not think that it would actually happen in three years but it was the target. So we planned that way.
Our next target was to establish the Dhaka Stadium as an international venue. So we arranged the Mini World Cup, Independence Day tournament. Our target was to display the cricketing tradition in Bangladesh and the passion of the people to the world.
Then when we played in the 1999 World Cup, our target was to beat a Test-playing nation, and it turned out to be Pakistan. So, everything worked in our favour and when we applied for the Test status, we got it in 2000.
TBS: How big an achievement was it to receive the Test status only three years after receiving ODI status?
For me, getting the Test status was our biggest achievement as a nation since our independence. We brought the whole nation under one roof with that achievement, no one was divided by any party or ideology, everyone had one thing in common - Bangladesh cricket. We saw that cricket could unite the whole nation.
TBS: Was Bangladesh ready for the Test status in 2000?
No, we were not prepared. But when this was discussed in the ICC meeting, I said that if we did not play Tests, we would never get ready for Tests. I also said that we were as much prepared as we could be, but it was not enough.
Many people ask if we got our Test status too early.
ICC was talking about globalisation back then as cricket would not have any space on TV unless it was a global sport. So I tried to take that limited window of opportunity. If I had not taken that opportunity back then, it might have taken us 10 more years to get there.
I also told them clearly that we will not win Tests from the word go. I said that we were as prepared as we can be but if we want to reach the next stage, we will have to compete at the highest level. We used all the ingredients required to play and reach that stage as leverage, like infrastructure, tradition, media interest, sponsorship opportunities.
That is why we signed a contract with Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa to help our cricket grow. We convinced ICC that to globalise the sport, they had to invest in us after they handed us the full membership.
So I have said this always and will continue to say so that we were not ready for Test status at that time. But we never applied for the Test status saying that we were ready for it.
TBS: What were the expectations from the team when they received the Test status?
Our first target was to play our first match as soon as possible and we managed to play it against India in November. It was a big achievement as we wanted to get our debut Test out of the way quickly and then move forward step by step.
After that, we brought in Eddie Barlow and planned out our roadmap to development. That included developing our domestic circuit.
TBS: Why do you think that the Bangladesh team have not fulfilled the expectations? What went wrong?
I always believed that our international team will only be as strong as our domestic structure. You can look at Australia's Sheffield Shield and England's County cricket. But we could not make that backward linkage. And I think it is an injustice to our players that they are expected to do well in Tests, a completely different format without a strong domestic circuit, without playing regularly in the domestic arena. Test cricket is not being given proper attention in our country.
TBS: Do you think that this lack of attention is the reason behind Bangladesh's failure in the longer version?
I think that there was not enough concern about the fact that the domestic arena is the foundation of the international structure.
Cricket development requires a full-proof plan, you need to create the pipeline. We took the decision of decentralisation in 2000, to form regional cricket associations. But even after 20 years, we have failed to bring that idea to life. If we only depend on Dhaka's club cricket, then the game will not grow any more.
Sri Lanka has a population of 22-23 million, but they have won the World Cup. And we have done nothing near that with a population of 160 million. Look, you need to spread the branches to get better prospects.
There is a lack of planning here. Also, there needs to be proper governance, there must be accountability. Nobody cares about the results now, they just let it run as it is.
We are about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our Test status. We were the 10th team to receive the Test status and now we are ninth. Afghanistan, the team that got its Test status three years back, defeated us at home. So, where is the improvement?
Nobody is held accountable for this. And also, there is a conflict of interest in the board. The election is now a farce. When you know that the election will bring no change, then there will not be any accountability. You need to monetise the game for improvement but if everyone tries to profit personally, then it is no good.
TBS: If you were told in 2000 that we would beat England, Australia within 20 years, how big an achievement would it have appeared to be?
It would definitely be a huge achievement. Nobody will disagree with that. But that should be the rule, not the exception. You need to be consistent, you cannot beat a team or two in 20 years and just talk about that.
We have played 119 Tests till date and have won only 14, lost 89 and drawn 16. I am not saying that we would win all the matches but we should have won a few more. And if I am still languishing near no. 10 in the rankings after 20 years, then what have we done in all these years?
What I see is, we are still languishing at the bottom. What if ICC divides Test cricket into two divisions? Then we will have to play in the lower division!
Test cricket is the pinnacle of cricket and we are still stuck at where we started. There is a huge disparity between expectations and achievement. And we need to talk about that. We need to ask why there is no accountability. Why is there a conflict of interest? Why is our cricket not decentralised? These questions require asking and if we don't, then we will be stuck at the same place.