Budding teenage cricket fans may not remember this. In 1997, Bangladesh, then not yet a test team, trounced Kenya to win the ICC Trophy and qualify for the 1999 World Cup. At the risk of sounding really old, in those days we did not have Star Cricket covering every club match on earth, so we listened to this on the radio. The joy of that winning run against Kenya was surpassed only by the victory against Pakistan two years later.
An Awami League government was in power then as well. When the victorious team came back from the ICC Trophy, a civic reception was organised. In those innocent, cricket-crazy days, I got up early on the weekend to watch the broadcast live. The enduring memory I have is of the Sheikh Hasina raising Akram Khan’s hand and the crowd going crazy. It truly did feel as if we had accomplished something.
Fast forward 15 years later. In that time, we have become a test playing nation. We have almost doubled our per capita GDP from $336 to $670 (2010). We have produced a generation of players who would do Bulbul, Nannu and Moni proud. We have hosted the opening ceremony of a World Cup.
Where we have not seen any progress – let me rephrase that, we have regressed is in the quality of administrators who run the game.
In 1997, we had Saber Hossain Chowdhury as BCB President. He lured the likes of Gordon Greenidge to our green land and kept him there despite everything. Whatever his reputation as an MP, he was an effective administrator and instrumental in pushing for Bangladesh’s test status.
Fast forward 10 years later, the second AL government in its infinite wisdom gives us Mustafa “Podmoful” Kamal as BCB President. Podmo bhai has been more interested in securing himself a viziership to the ICC than in promoting Bangladeshi cricket. And now that he’s gone we have Papon, whom I know nothing about mainly because I do not want to risk my day being ruined by googling him up and finding out he’s some ex-Jubo League faithful that was owed a favour.
The result? Our last foreign coach, Stuart Law, lasted 9 months. His replacement Richard Pybus was given the job without BCB agreeing contract terms with him. He lasted 5 months.
(In a weird twist of history, we risk becoming more Pakistan-like in cricketing terms under an Awami League government.)
Pybus has a tell-all interview with cricinfo which makes for depressing reading for any Deshi cricket fan. But in between the familiar portait of Deshi-style passive aggressive footdragging, there is one detail that is chilling: our cricketers are being served food that gives them food poisoning because “there is not enough money in the budget”.
In 1997 we earned $336 per head. Sheikh Hasina smiled and held Akram Khan’s hand high up in the air and we cheered. Now we earn $670 per head and our cricket board tells us that there’s not enough money in the budget to ensure proper nutrition. If the Prime Minister wants to give a civic reception for a winning cricket team again during her career as a politician, she needs to find out why that is and find out fast.