Cricket in Bangladesh has been through some tough times recently, but this week’s announcements could make for a setback from which the sport will not recover.
Bangladesh was awarded full ICC-member status and included in the club of Test-playing nations in 2001, following pressure from the other sub-continental nations and their performances at the ICC Trophy.
Since then they have played 53 Test matches, and their record is not pretty: won one, drawn five, lost 47.
The solitary victory was against a poor Zimbabwe side in January 2005, and three of the drawn games were against the same opposition.
Only a drawn match with the West Indies in St. Lucia in 2004 provided anything close to competitive cricket for the Bangladeshis. The other drawn match was a heavily rain affected game with India in May 2007 which consisted of barely 220 overs play and which India came close to winning.
Given this poor record, it is difficult to imagine that there would be much that could make Bangladesh’s task in world cricket any more difficult. But on the eve of a tour by New Zealand, a wholesale change has occurred in the camp that may set Bangladesh’s development back several years.
This week, 13 of Bangladesh’s top players tendered their retirements to the country’s cricket board.
Knowing that they were about to put their international careers on the line by joining the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) in the guise of a Bangladesh-based franchise (Dhaka Warriors), and unhappy with the way that management had treated some of them, they effectively resigned en masse.
In theory, this should not prevent them from playing for Bangladesh as well. As their leader Habibul Bashar notes, the ICL has not required them to give up their national commitments, but the workings of the ICC and the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) in stigmatising the ICL as unofficial mean that the Bangladesh Board kowtowed to that power and placed 10-year bans on the "rebels."
In addition to Bashar, the list of players involved includes Aftab Ahmed, Alok Kapali, and Shahriar Nafees, as well as the retired Mohammed Rafique.
The motivation for the defection has been speculated as purely financial, with some of the players, notably Bashar and Rafique, coming towards the end of their careers and seemingly out of favour with the current coaching regime.
Bashar commented on the lack of support he felt from the management team, notably coach Jamie Siddons, noting in the Dhaka Daily Star, “I wasn't receiving support from anyone. Even the coach's attitude was discouraging and I was in the middle of a lot of uncertainty and I was out of cricket for seven months.”
Nafees and left-arm spinner Mosharraf Hossain agreed that the system seemed to have let them down.
The Bangladesh Board subsequently rejected the “retirement” letters, claiming that the players had violated their contracts by not giving a period of notice. Hossain, however, claimed that there were loopholes in the contracts that allowed them to leave.
The stance of the Board was confused further yesterday when they placed 10-year bans on the players announced for the Dhaka Warriors team, claiming that it would “act as a deterrent” and would “set an example in the interests of Bangladesh cricket.”
Although the “rebels” have been harshly criticised in their own country as “traitors,” Utpal Shuvro argues in a guest column at Cricinfo.com that money is not the only motivation for the players’ exodus.
He notes that the sums that they are being offered for participation in the ICL are actually very similar to what they would receive for full international participation.
The problem is that none of the players concerned are guaranteed their places in the national side—one of the hallmarks of Bangladesh’s Test side has been the lack of consistency in selection. The lack of success has led to constant shuffling of personnel and regular inclusion of players who are simply not ready for Test cricket.
Shuvro comments on the lack of any sympathy towards the unsuccessful players and a tendency not to keep them informed of reasons for their inclusion or otherwise. The example here is Nafees, who was awarded the vice-captaincy after a good run of form including a century against Australia, but was then dropped for the Asia Cup series of matches with no explanation.
He reports that Habibul Bashar’s view is that younger players are not leaving because of the money, but because they don’t enjoy playing for the national team. All of this though is complicated by the insistence on treating the ICL as a pariah competition.
If international stars were being allowed to participate in the ICL and for their national teams as well, then this would not have become an issue.
But the BCCI are using their financial and political clout to try and maintain the supremacy of their own creation, the IPL, and herding the other international boards along their path of banning players who appear in the ICL from appearing in internationals.
Similarly, the refusal of the BCCI to allow Kent to enter the forthcoming Champions League of T20 is solely a power play by the board to protect their own competition. They fear that the ICL could become successful and that they would no longer have the monopoly on organising cricket in India.
That fear translates to an attack on the ICL.
Bangladesh has merely become a pawn in the BCCI’s power struggle with the ICL. Therefore, it is no surprise that Lalit Modi, the BCCI’s vice-president has offered support to the Bangladesh Board, promising more slots in the IPL for Bangladeshi players and an invitation to the 2010 Champions League tournament.
Bangladesh’s future is being played with by the Indian board, and it is time that other members of the ICC stepped in and balanced the power that the BCCI have.
At present they do not seem inclined to do so. Cricket New Zealand caved in to the pressure from the BCCI and dropped star paceman Shane Bond because of his ICL connections, and the Bangladesh Board appear to be bowing to the same pressure in making the decision to ban the Dhaka Warriors for 10 years.
We may now be approaching the darkest days of Bangladesh cricket.
Already struggling to make an impact at Test level, there are suggestions that Bangladesh’s Test playing status might be reconsidered at the next ICC meeting. That would not be a disaster, but it is one that could be avoided if national boards stood up to the BCCI.
Reducing the pool of top players from which the Bangladesh Test side can select will only weaken the team in the short term, and will damage the team in the longer term as well. The youngsters coming through will have fewer experienced colleagues to act as role models in the team.
This could be the end for any serious hope that Bangladesh could have any success as a Test team.