Saturday, May 28, 2005

Live Meat In War?

So England have just finished their ritual humiliation of Bangladesh at Lord's. It just wasn't Test cricket in any meaningful sense of the word. The technique of the Bangladeshi cricketers was sorely lacking - indeed, Dav Whatmore, their coach, has just been on television admitting as much. Their bowling lacked any real penetration - especially given that their best bowlers are spinners, and Lord's in May is never going to be their happiest hunting ground. It was nice to see Trescothick, Vaughan, et al play themselves back into form, but the paying spectators were fleeced. Just like NFL preseason matches are an elaborate way of charging people for watching practice, so the crowd at this "match" (I use inverted commas because match implies a contest) were being charged to watch an extended net session. It is the only cricket match I can imagine not really begrudging having to sit in a sweaty overheated exam hall to miss.

The thing is, it is not that Bangladesh are devoid of cricketers of talent. Mushfiqur Rahim made a name for himself in the warm-up matches with some composed batting. Mohammed Rafique would be more of a challenge on a turning pitch in the subcontinent. Yet overall, the standard of the team is roughly what you would get if you selected eleven county players at random, minus the one or two top-class players you may find. And so sending them like lambs to the slaughter on an endless cycle of international cricket is counter-productive. They aren't yet at the stage where exposure to the top teams will help them develop.

The more infuriating fact is that it wouldn't take too much of a genius to devise a development programme where they could play cricket right around the world, and yet be placed on a fast-track to international status. Let the Bangladesh team compete in domestic competitions around the world - just in the same way England A competed in West Indies' Busta Cup, let the Bangladeshis play in the County Championship for a season, then in South Africa, then in Pakistan, or wherever. This way they'll get the benefit of playing in unfamiliar conditions (it is well known how different the subcontinent is as a touring venue) whilst being at a standard more applicable to their talent. Combine this with regular matches against "A" sides, and "Test"-style matches against teams like Zimbabwe or Kenya, and the development of the side should be much swifter.

As it is, they go on a merry-go-round of little interest to anyone - demolished by team after team after team, the surprise being more whether they can bowl a side out once rather than making any meaningful contest of the match. No-one sees Bangladesh as a Test side, and yet statistics and records set against them count just as much as any other (although given that Brian Lara can claim a Test record batting on the Antigua pitch with Hoggard and Harmison out of the attack, maybe it's not such a travesty of justice). All the Lord's exercise this week, and the Durham one after that, will be met with is huge cynicism about the standards and cheapening of Test cricket. That is counterproductive and won't help cricket in Bangladesh develop one little bit.