Does the Bangladesh cricket team deserve its Test status?

By Marc HigginsonBBC Sport
Bangladesh cricketers
Bangladesh cricketers celebrate a wicket

When Bangladesh made their Test match debut 12 years ago to the day, the cricketing world was much different to the one we know today.

Twenty20 cricket was just a twinkle in the eye of the forward-thinking, the late South Africa captain Hansie Cronje was banned for match-fixing and Chris Schofield was scoring a half century for Englandexternal-link against a Zimbabwe team captained by Andy Flower.

It was also a bright new dawn for cricket in Bangladesh - the nation of 160 million people finally getting their chance to sit at cricket's top table.

When Aminul Islam cracked 145external-link to lay the foundations for cricket's newest country to score 400 all out in their maiden Test innings against India, the International Cricket Council's decision to elevate Bangladesh appeared wise.

Unfortunately, it has not gone to plan since. The Tigers have lost 63 of their 73 Tests since admission, with their three wins coming against Zimbabwe at home in 2005 and against a West Indies side without their best players because of a strike in 2009.

Those are depressing statistics, so what can be done to improve their international standing?

"They have got to set their sights a little lower - I know they want to reach the top but they can only do that in small steps," said ex-Australia batsman Stuart Law, who stepped down as the Tigers' national coach earlier this year.

"The first thing to do is play lots more cricket. They want to play the likes of Australia and England, but that is not going to happen.

"They feel they deserve that, but the way they have to go about it is by playing the lesser teams, and the likes of Afghanistan and Ireland, to get into a winning habit."

While Law's advice appears sound, it might not be being heeded - judging by the comments of Ireland bowler Trent Johnston,external-link who accused Bangladesh of being "scared" to play them in case it affected their status.

Ireland have Test aspirations of their own and, after beating England, Pakistan and Bangladesh in recent World Cups, their case appears to be strengthening.

"I agree with Ireland," said Law. "They have represented their country very well at World Cups, and Afghanistan are the same. They have not won many games but they have shown a real appetite.

"It's not a matter of making Ireland and Afghanistan full-member nations straight away, but let's start seeing the two slogging it out with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in a championship-type scenario. Why not have promotion and relegation between the bottom of the Test Championship and the associate nations?

"If those teams beat them, Bangladesh would be made to drop down a level and that might work - it might trigger a lot of positivity to become better rather than waiting for a quick fix."

Law's suggestion certainly gets support from those in Ireland - particularly wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien.

"If we are playing the likes of Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and even New Zealand I think we would give them a good game," the Leicestershire player said.

"I'm not saying we are going to go to the MCG and beat Australia, but it would be nice to gauge our level against some of the other nations and see how far off we are, if indeed we are far off.

"We support a two-tier structure and we think it would benefit Ireland more than the system at the moment. I think Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are there to be beaten, we have played against them a lot down the years and we think we are as good, if not better, than those sides."

Bangladesh continue to show a frustrating lack of improvement, with very few players of genuine Test quality emerging.

The only bowler in their history to average less than 39 runs per wicket is all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, while the former skipper is one of two batsman - the other being destructive opener Tamim Iqbal - who averages more than 30 with the bat in the five-day format.

But Law believes there is something to work with for future coaches.

"There is a lot of talent in Bangladesh," said Law. "They are a dynamic group who, on their day, are destructive - but when it doesn't go for them they can get hurt badly.

"There is no real in-between, it's all-out attack or nothing.

"They will learn by the amount of cricket they play. If it means playing four-day cricket against Ireland, they should do it because Bangladesh will improve and become better every time they go out on the field.

"If they did that, in five or 10 years' time they might be able to have a team capable of beating England and Australia."

Bangladesh begin a two-Test series against West Indies on Tuesday knowing a victory over the new World Twenty20 champions could provide the impetus they need to start earning respect at the very top level.

Law, however, had a warning for his former employers.

"They get a lot of help from the ICC and the one thing they need to do is help themselves," he said. "They can't sit back and expect everyone to do it all for them.

"The way forward is baby steps. They need to sit back and look at Sri Lanka, who were steady for 20 years and then won a World Cup."

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