Since the eighth-place finish in the World Cup last summer, Bangladesh have mostly been at the receiving end of major blows. Starting with a whitewash in a three-match ODI series in Sri Lanka under the tutelage of interim coach Khaled Mahmud and leadership of Tamim Iqbal after the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) decided to part ways with former coach Steve Rhodes, to a humiliating 224-run loss at the hands of Afghanistan in Chattogram in September, nothing seemed to be going in the right direction.
Bangladesh did share the triangular T20I series trophy with Afghanistan in late September, but only after rain had caused the final to be abandoned. While till then the disappointments were related to performances on the field, the series of events that unfolded next took matters beyond the field, shaking the very core of Bangladesh cricket and turning disappointment into shock.
October 21 to October 29 were not just nine regular days -- at least not for a cricket fan and certainly not for anyone related in any way to the Bangladesh national cricket team. The unprecedented events had so benumbed followers of Bangladesh cricket that even the random and bizarre choice of Mominul Haque to captain the Test side on the India tour in November was deemed acceptable and did not raise the questions it usually would have.
The Bangladesh cricket fraternity may have thought that they had gotten the worst news on the afternoon of October 21 when players boycotted all cricketing activities till their stated 11-point demands -- which was later extended to a 13-point one -- were met by the BCB. But little did they know that after just eight days, they would be hit with news that the nation’s premier all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan would not play international cricket for at least one year. The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) two-year ban on Shakib, with one of the years suspended, announced on Wednesday may have been the final blow to Bangladesh cricket, the events prior to that exposed some ugly truths about the nation’s most loved sport.
In the span of just nine days infrastructural dearth, corruption in lower-tier cricket, players’ demand for unrequited respect from board members, their discontent over lack of payment and other benefits, board directors’ inability and lastly Shakib’s involvement with a bookie were the things that either came to the fore or were said louder than ever.
When the players united for a strike, the BCB tried to give it a different tone altogether. For the most part, out of the 11 initial demands that had been put forth, BCB President Nazmul Hassan tried to highlight the two demands that had mentions of pay-scale increment.
“We had given them [national team players] Tk 24 crore as bonus,” said an enraged Hassan the day after the strike.
BCB’s attempt to imbue the strike with a different agenda was only the first instance (during those nine days) of poor management. The BCB was also furious about why the players went directly to the media instead of the board with the demands, which they later claimed they would have heeded if asked first. The only thing that could explain the cricketers’ move was that the most important stakeholders of the game had lost faith in the management and decided to go public instead.
The players’ dip in faith over BCB could be justified from the second demand. The players wanted what the BCB had promised six years ago. In 2013, the BCB had scrapped the traditional players’ transfer system in the Dhaka Premier League (DPL) that allowed the cricketers to choose their own clubs and negotiate their salaries and introduced a player-by-choice system that Hassan had said would be in place for that season only.
The corruption in the first, second and third divisions were not unknown to journalists, players, BCB directors and even regular cricket followers. Buying and selling of points, biased and poor umpiring had been going on for a while in the lower tiers and was also talked about sporadically in the past. Only this time, however, the issue got the spotlight it deserved when the players mentioned it during their protest.
The need for infrastructural upgrade, unavailability and poor condition of practice facilities and gyms in every division, the urge for a balanced pay structure for players, local coaches and even groundsmen to encourage the next generation to even consider cricket as a career -- were part of the players’ demands which gave the general public an idea of how far the country’s cricket governance lags behind other nations.
BCB’s first attempt to solve the crisis was hilarious at best. The board that had initially thought and said that the players’ demands were logical, went on to air their dirty laundry in public as the BCB and the Cricketers Welfare Association of Bangladesh (CWAB) directors kept talking about the lengths they had gone to solve cricketers’ personal problems in the past.
However, after the three-day strike normal service had resumed -- or so everyone thought -- with the players joining the camp on October 25 for the India tour after the BCB came to its senses and agreed to nine of the players’ demands.
But then Shakib missed the opening day of the camp and, so soon after negotiating the truce with the BCB, his absence raised a lot of questions, which the BCB failed to answer. As late as 8:30pm that night, BCB cricket operations chairman Akram Khan was unable to say if the premier all-rounder would be back to training the next day, let alone knowing the reason he hadn’t shown up on the first day.
The next day started with news of BCB taking action against Shakib for breaching the terms of his contract and signing a deal with a top mobile phone operator. After a daylong drama, Shakib was sent an official letter by BCB asking him to explain his actions. And while Shakib’s participation in the India tour was thrown into jeopardy, just to add to the woes, it emerged on the same day that opener Tamim Iqbal withdrew from the tour to be with his pregnant wife.
On the same day, the BCB boss had suddenly summoned nine players who were playing in the third round of the National Cricket League (NCL) so that they could be observed by newly appointed spin consultant Daniel Vettori, who was costing the BCB thousands of dollars a day. Was the BCB surprised by Vettori’s itinerary and therefore decided to call players out of the blue? Coming from a board that has recently touted their long-term planning, the decision was hilarious.
The next two days would see Shakib missing training sessions, the BCB president saying that everything was ‘murky’ and the BCB delaying the announcement of the Test squad for the India tour.
Then came the day, October 29, when the biggest shock to Bangladesh cricket was served when Shakib was banned. The shell-shocked board directors announced a revised T20 squad and the Test squad for the India tour and a Shakib-less Bangladesh squad travelled to India on October 30 for their first ever multi-format series against India in their own backyard.
A lot of cracks in Bangladesh cricket were exposed over the past few days. It remains to be seen how the scarred Bangladesh team perform against a strong Indian side come November 3 when the Tigers will play the first of three T20Is against India. And even if Bangladesh manage to put the haunting events aside and do well against India, there would still be a lot of things that need to be repaired in the future. And if those aspects are not mended, the team’s performance would be the least of the worries.
Meanwhile, if the BCB decides to overlook what had happened as some sudden unfortunate events, it would only be a matter of time before the nation’s cricket experiences more disastrous episodes.