Cricket’s newest, poorest Test nation could be a powerhouse

2011-03-26 00:00

BY the time this newspaper hits the streets the result of South Africa’s quarter-final will be known and the local cricket community will be smiling or scowling. By tonight the other semi-final contestants will also be known, with the winners due to meet Sri Lanka or England in Colombo. Semis are the toughest matches because no one remembers the defeated. Whatever has unfolded, this Cricket World Cup has surpassed expectations and is heading towards a dramatic conclusion.

Happily the CWC has also provided a first opportunity to visit Bangladesh, a country first encountered in 1971 when George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Ravi Shankar staged a concert on its behalf. In those days Bangladesh was regarded as a new country doomed to eternal struggle. This has survived.

Plain as day Bangladesh have an enormous part to play in the game’s future. Admittedly the team remain immature and mostly unsuccessful, but the enthusiasm is extraordinary, the population is large (170 million) and the talent is obvious. With proper support cricket’s newest and poorest Test nation will be a power­house within 20 years.

Everyone still talks about the overwhelming scenes observed at the opening ceremony, the atmosphere in the ground, the warmth of the people, the packed streets outside. Indian observers report that it surpassed anything seen in their country. In the eyes of locals it was nothing less than the rebirth of the nation. An important sporting event had been put in its hands and it has responded superbly.

Needless to say Sher-e-Bangla, Dhaka’s splendidly rebuilt stadium, filled up as the first quarter-final was played. Once the offices had closed for the day the remaining seats were occupied, never mind that the home side had already been eliminated. Inside the ground the crowd was exuberant. Outside hundreds of people milled around in streets emptied of vehicles, listening to the noises, the regular roars and cheers. Further away, groups gathered around large screens and watched intently as the Pakistani openers piled on the runs.

Of course Bangladesh need to turn single-minded devotion into strength. At present the team consist mostly of boys sent to do a man’s job. ICL, the rebel T20 league, took away most of the senior players and along the way they lost their edge. A weak domestic structure is the other problem. Bangladesh hold their own up to the Under-19 level, but thereafter fall back because the first-class system lacks rigour. That cannot be changed in five minutes.

Nor, though, is it a lost cause. Nations are so easily caricatured. Suffice it to say that Bangladesh has a female Prime Minister, lots of newspapers and a more settled political position than some of its cricketing peers.

Of course it is also impoverished, congested and polluted. As far as cricket is concerned though, it is not merely a worthwhile investment, it’s a critical location. It is not a problem — it is an asset.

Somehow locals even managed to enjoy a dreadfully one-sided match played between Pakistan and West Indies.

The West Indians were shocking. Apart from Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the batting was incompetent. Alas, Darren Sammy, the interim captain, was the worst offender, making a complete hash of a routine off-break. Appropriately, four of these lame ducks scored ducks.

Sammy fell lbw to a spinner and he was not alone. Three of his colleagues suffered a similar fate. Spin has played a vital part in this campaign. In 1975 spinners delivered 21% of the overs in this tournament and now the figure stands at 45%.

Comparing like with like, the tweakers sent down 39% of the overs at the last subcontinental CWC. One-day cricket was supposed to destroy spin and instead has been its making.

Part of the explanation is that spinners have been benefiting more than anyone else from a new found willingness to give lbws caused by the introduction of DRS. The reluctance of umpires to give them front-foot lbws had long frustrated the tweaking fraternity.

The review system has changed all that. Aware that cautious decisions are likely to be overturned, umpires are much more willing to dispatch batsmen pushing forwards at spinners with pad directed at the line of the ball.

And the figures tell the story. At the 1996 CWC, only eight percent of batsmen were dismissed LBW. By 2007 the figure had risen to 12%. Now it stands at 18%. And the slowies lead the way, claiming 22% of their victims that way.

Unfortunately no one told the West Indian batsmen about this change in the game, or they did not listen. Instead they kept pushing the pad at the ball and fell to deliveries that went straight long.

Pakistan, in contrast, had the nerve, ability and intelligence to advance.

Now it’s up to the other challengers to match them.

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