Dhaka, March 21 (IANS) Bangladesh may have left their supporters heartbroken by crashing out of the cricket World Cup, but no one can doubt the team’s improved performance over the years. And here lies an Australian connection.
A team which once went winless in 46 ODIs at a stretch and took 13 years to get their first limited overs victory over a Test playing nation, have now reached a position where their supporters expect them to put it across the strongest of opponents. And that they can do at times. India and South Africa found to their peril in the 2007 World Cup and England were at the receiving end in the current event.
Ahead of the World Cup, Bangladesh crushed New Zealand 4-0, humbled Zimbabwe 3-1 and gave England a fright before going down 1-2 in an away series.
The game’s authorities in Bangladesh attribute much of the improvement in the team’s standards to a systematic development programme that is in place.
In 2007, the country’s cricket board signed a landmark treaty with its Australian counterpart. Before that, Cricket Australia had been providing training to young Bangladeshi cricketers under Australian coaches.
“After the 2007 pact, Cricket Australia trained Bangladeshi coaches, helped the BCB (Bangladesh Cricket Board) prepare a coaching manual, set up an umpires’ management system and trained young players at Australian academies. CA experts and coaches came to Bangladesh while two promising youngsters went to Australia for training every year,” said BCB media manager Rabeed Imam.
“Our development programme is totally based on the Australian model. We fast-tracked the process of graduation from the youth level,” Imam told IANS.
Wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim and pacer Shafiul Islam are products of the development programme run under the supervision of a high performance unit. “We also gave more prominence to talent hunting,” said BCB’s acting national manager of game development, Nazmul Abedin Fahim.
In 2003, BCB roped in former Australian cricketer Dav Whatmore as the national coach. “He was a great motivator. He helped the players come out of their defeatist mentality,” Imam pointed out.
Under Whatmore, Bangladesh won their first Test match and series overpowering Zimbabwe, defeated India in an ODI, and pulled off a big upset victory over World champions Australia in the NatWest series.
Then followed the 2007 World Cup wins against India and South Africa, and Bangladesh had announced to the world they could not be taken for granted.
Meanwhile, Shaun Willams was appointed as the national manager of game development and went on to play a key role with the Under-19 and A teams. He took over as coach in 2007 after Whatmore stepped down.
“After the initial successes, the mentality of the players also began changing. The earlier players were only looking forward to doing well in local cricket. Then came a time when we had cricketers whose focus was doing well in Test cricket. And now we have a generation who think they can beat the best in the world,” said Imam.
Side by side, the school cricket structure was made more organised with the BCB lending strong support. “Now we have 540 schools spread over all our 64 districts taking part in the Under-16 school cricket. Matches are 50-over one-dayers. Every year we arrange for training of the participants,” said BCB deputy manager for game development Sharif Mahmud Palash.
The best of talent from the schools play in the inter-district Under-16 tournament, from where they are spotted by the clubs for league cricket.
The BCB also runs Under-14 and Under-18 tournaments which serve as supply lines for the senior level.
All these steps, coupled with the successes of the national team, have helped in expanding the players’ base. Bangladesh now has over 30,000 registered players in the school and league levels. Besides, there are 300 licensed coaches, said the BCB’s Fahim.
Imam also referred to the state-run Bangladesh Krira Siksha Pratishthan, (BKSP), the national institue of sports, which runs its own grooming programme for young talent.
Naimur Rahman, who led Bangladesh in the nation’s first ever Test match in 2000, belongs to the first group of cricketers who passed out from the BKSP, said Imam – himself a member of the same batch.
However, inconsistencies are there and big gaps still have to be filled. The batting folded up for a pathetic 58 against the West Indies and a miserable 78 against South Africa in the current World Cup, showing a lot more needs to be done.
“The BCB is dong well. They are organising good training for all departments of the game – batting, bowling and fielding. Now we have to plan for the next five years. We need to look ahead,” said former Bangladesh captain Khaled Mahmud.