A cursory glance at the international press reveals ample evidence of the pecking order in cricket. Just the other day I read in a reputable English daily that Greg Chappell has been complaining that, ?Cricket has a problem, it can't afford to have any of the top nations down for long - and to have two of them, England and the West Indies, down for 10 years or more is a very unhealthy state of affairs." And last year Allan Border had reminded us that propping up West Indies cricket was by far a more urgent task than taking in new test nations. So while Bangladesh cricket struggles, the indirect message is clear: that it will ultimately be the onus, vision and initiative of our very own Board to lift the game.
To do that, boosting the domestic competitions will be the primary antidote. It will certainly provide sufficient cricket before sending off youngsters to foreign soil. But apart from this, there are plenty of other ideas that should be discussed such as our involvement in other countries domestic circuits. What would be an acceptable roadmap for our players? And when is the right time for them to go?
Tours to other leagues make sense on paper. If Kenya with Tikolo and Zimbabwe with Streak, could have sent them to other shores, why not Bangladesh? At such an early stage of our cricket it is unrealistic to expect names to be seen in the high profile competitions of Australia, England or India. Nevertheless, many of these countries have fixtures apart from first class competitions such as Pura and the County league, that could be a good workout for a few of our boys. They will provide value, in terms of money and time, than say a predictable series nearer home. Having said that, we have made a good start by being involved with India and Pakistan?s championships.
But to inject balance into our cricket we need a growing pool of players in the English county circuit. It will offer a new dimension to our cricket with an emphasis on moulding professional cricketers that will be harder to accomplish in Bangladesh today.
For an example of the benefits of English cricket experience, let?s look at our own humble start - Aminul Islam. Directly after his century against India he openly credited his time in the Lancashire league as a valuable lesson. Surely, the lesson that Aminul got a taste of was the variety of wickets; different opposition day in and day out; a discipline that teaches when to attack and when to defend, how to read a batsman or bowler, how to pick up the flaws in the technique etc. All of which are mercilessly probed in Test cricket.
Manjural Islam Rana is another case. With his early stint in club cricket in England, he also managed to acquire useful experience to prepare for his Test career. As a matter for serious thought, how about giving our younger players like Aftab, Ash, Mashrafe, Rajib, Rajin and Nafees, a dose of regular county cricket that Aminul got? If they have the right attitude to learn (that was obvious in the case of Bulbul), then they are fit enough to play at least a session in England. It would be an option that should be pursued and offered instead of languishing in the A team.
Another example of the upside of county cricket is the case of Australia. Maybe it is ludicrous to mention Australia in the same breath as Bangladesh but consider one of the factors why Australia is lethal in English soil! Their string of eight Ashes series victories began in 1989 with the formation of a veritable ?Trojan Horse? led by Border, (by then a regular face at Essex), it was also the beginning of a trend that did not bode well for England. Also it was Steve Waugh, who had previously played at Somerset that was a key to victory. Another player, Terry Alderman, had been on a previous Ashes tour but also opened the bowling for Gloucestershire and Kent. Australia won that 1989 series 4-0, then 4-1 in 1993, 3-2 in 1997 and 4-1 in 2001. It must be said that England hasn't been good enough over that period, but the familiarity of the Australians with English conditions was decisive. Since then four Australian players - Shane Warne, Shane Watson, Simon Katich and Michael Clarke stuck to Hampshire. So it is no surprise that when English bowlers such as Harmison, Giles, Hoggard and Anderson (all in form) meet their rivals in the Ashes, there will be no home advantage. A detail the Australians will maximise to the hilt.
It is the same comfort level that Imran harboured whenever the ?Pakistan of yesterday? toured England. But Imran was one of many. Ever since Abdul Hafeez Kardar stepped into the grounds of Warwickshire, Pakistan have regularly dispatched their talents to England, some have been household names such as Zaheer Abbas and Imran, but many more were bread and butter cricketeers. In fact, Pakistan has been grooming their promising players in England right from the early days of their test history.
In this endeavour BCB needs to be proactive in cutting a blazing path. And why not seek out other potential candidates who have not necessarily followed the same path as most of our current crop of National players? They could look at many associate countries that have established cricket links with University Boards of England. Such links have produced fruitful contacts with club sides. We also have many university students in the UK but it is a painful socioeconomic fact that all of our pool of cricket players are solely picked from Bangladesh. Rarely if ever do we see cricketeer- students who have significant early experience in England. However elitist it sounds, it would be a welcome change to see a few players in the mould of a latter day Pataudi or an Imran, men who had established close cricket ?links? with England and passed knowledge back to their home team.
Such a ?link? situation was common twenty years ago when you could turn on the TV on any Summer Sunday and see the likes of Rice, Hadlee, Richards, Garner and Imran Khan in county games. Admittedly, things have changed markedly since then and resistance from English quarters about the influx of foreign highly paid players has not helped. The ECB will make sure that the county circuit will churn out a viable stream of talents for England and so more calls for restrictions of foreign presence will be heard. But the lure of readymade foreign talent and their availability will draw county managers to keep an eye on a good deal.
This is where BCB, with the help of a few savvy marketing agents, could step in to the picture. One or two openings will appear as international match commitments make it difficult for ?star? foreign players to fully commit themselves to a rigid contract. And if projections are correct, Bangladesh will have more and more cricketers while countries like Australia and England will experience a drop in their numbers that will force clubs to supplement their teams. All these are hypothetical scenarios that may or may not happen but the point is that all out effort must be made to offer the right experience to lift both individual and team performances.