After Monday’s loss to India in a one-off Test, Bangladesh has now played 98 Tests and won just eight, after being given full Test status in the year 2000.
That is a rather dismal record for any team. They have only beaten Zimbabwe (five times), the West Indies (twice) and England (once). You’d have to ask: why were they ever given Test status?
The answer is rather simple. At that time, the late Jagmohan Dalmiya, a Bengali (from the Indian state of West Bengal), was the chairman of the International Cricket Council. He was the man responsible for the current state of cricket, where meaningless matches are played month after month, ensuring that quantity triumphs over quality.
Dalmiya would never have had any chance of influencing the fortunes of the game had not India won the World Cup in 1983, beating the West Indies in the final. That gave one-day cricket a big fillip in the country, and the very next World Cup was held in the subcontinent, with India and Pakistan jointly hosting the tournament.
In terms of numbers, in terms of fanatical interest, in terms of ensuring crowds for even lowly games, no place is better than the Indian subcontinent. Dalmiya could only press for being given hosting rights after India’s win because with that he could boldly say that there was sufficient interest in the one-day game in his part of the world. Until then, India had rarely been given a chance in the shorter format; one of the more memorable innings by an Indian in one-day cricket was played by Sunil Gavaskar who batted through 60 overs to make 36 not out in a World Cup game.
But after 1983, you could not stop the rise of one-day cricket, with India and Pakistan being pitted against each other whenever possible. This rivalry draws on the historic enmity between the two countries after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. It is cynical to exploit such feelings, but then Dalmiya was only interested in money.
After Australia hosted the Cup in 1992, the subcontinent got the tournament again in 1996, with Sri Lanka joining to make up a third host. It was after this that the ICC decided that Test teams would play each other in order to be able to declare one team or the other as the top playing nation. Dalmiya was able to push his idea through because with two successful World Cups behind him, he had shown the rest how to really capitalise on the game.
And he could also get a few items on his own agenda through. Bangladesh is East Bengal; it formerly was a part of Pakistan when partition took place. In 1971, Bangladesh became a separate country after a war of liberation. The country has no cricket culture; the game that people there are crazy is about is football.
Bangladeshi cricket officials had good connections to Dalmiya. Hence when it was decided to expand the number of cricket-playing nations with Test status to 10, Bangladesh got the nod ahead of Kenya.
The African nation at that time had a much better team than Bangladesh. And if it had been promoted, many players from South Africa who did not make it to the top would, no doubt, have come over, qualified and played for the country as has happened with Zimbabwe. There are plenty of expatriate Indians in Kenya too.
But ethnic connections take precedence in cricket which had the stink of colonialism for a long, long time. And so Bangladesh made the grade and began to lose Test matches.
To get an idea of the relative merits of teams, look at Sri Lanka. The country was given Test status in 1981. By 1996, it had won the World Cup. That’s because it has a cricketing history, even though it was only a junior member of the cricketing nations. People there are crazy about the game and it is the country’s national sport.
Zimbabwe has fared worse than Bangladesh since it was given Test status in 1992 but then it has suffered badly due to the political instability caused by the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. In 101 Tests, Zimbabwe has 11 wins and 64 losses; in 98 Tests, Bangladesh has won eight and lost 74.
Cronyism produces mediocrity. The case of Bangladesh is a very good case in point.