When Bangladesh became a Test nation in 2000 – becoming just the 10th country at the time to gain full membership in cricket’s rather elitist structure – its powerbrokers modelled itself on Australia, who were back then in the midst of a record-setting streak and the sport’s undisputed power.
With a blueprint for success, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) built a relationship with its Cricket Australia (CA) counterpart and scoured Down Under for talent. The pioneers of Bangladesh’s Test journey knew that with the right infrastructure in place the national team might be a chance of one day emulating their mentors.
“CA had been our closest development partner in the formative years of Test status,” current BCB chief executive Nizam Uddin Chowdhury told me.
“The BCB’s game development and grassroots and strategic vision have been influenced by the Australian model and the BCB and CA had long-term agreements in place which were designed to benefit the growth of Bangladesh cricket.
“More Australian coaches and specialists have worked with the BCB than staff of any other nationality.”
Ironically, Bangladesh’s Test development has to some degree been stunted by Australia, who have seemingly shown little interest in playing them. Since Bangladesh’s last Test tour Down Under in mid-2003, Australia has hosted every other Test nation bar newcomers Ireland and Afghanistan – countries they are likely to be welcoming in the near future.
Although, like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe has been similarly treated with disdain having not played Tests against Australia since late 2003.
Australia have played tough two-Test series in Bangladesh in 2006 and 2017 but have shown little incentive hosting smaller cricket countries. Since Zimbabwe’s last tour, Australia has hosted 24 Tests against mighty India and 20 versus arch-nemesis England.
Australia was supposed to host Bangladesh for two Tests and three ODIs in 2018 before the tour was canned after CA cited financial reasons. Bangladesh is not slated to tour Australia for the remainder of the current cycle through 2023, which would mark a two-decade drought.
“The only time we have played Tests in Australia was way back in 2003. It doesn’t benefit either side,” Chowdhury said. “Australia would also struggle in Bangladesh if they play once every 10-15 years.
“It is a fact that in order to improve and be competitive in international cricket you need to tour different countries and play under conditions that take you out of your comfort zone.
“A generation of cricketers need to get that opportunity and experience a number of times within a balanced tour program.”
England, too, have been similarly tardy having hosted Bangladesh for just four Tests and Zimbabwe only in 2003 during a two-match series. It heightens fear from smaller nations that the big three trio of India, Australia and England will continue to play each other on a loop leaving the rest in a fight for survival in the financially draining Test format.
“There has to be adequate opportunities for Full Members to play away from home,” Chowdhury said. “We understand the challenges due to a cramped calendar. However, a lot of work has been put in to make the current World Test Championship format more balanced with opportunity for all teams to play each other.”
It all means a generation of outstanding Bangladesh cricketers, such as Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim, might never get the opportunity to play in Australian conditions – a cauldron so many cricketers have rated the ultimate litmus test.
And sadly the passionate Bangladeshi community in Australia, who memorably lit a fuse in the stands during the 2015 World Cup, haven’t been able to see their heroes in person.
“(Playing in Australia) would be an occasion to celebrate and to remember for the Bangladeshis in Australia,” Chowdhury said. “Who can forget how they filled the stands with color and passion during the World Cup.
“I am sure the players will be thrilled and excited to test their skills against one of the best teams in the world. That is what you play for as an international cricketer.”
Even though it would be entirely understandable for Bangladesh to feel spurned, Chowdhury said relations between the boards were still cordial and the BCB remained “very optimistic that a Test tour of Australia will take place in the next cycle”.
“For Test cricket to remain relevant and interesting, the top countries have a responsibility,” he said. “We talk about expanding the game and that need to happen across all formats including Tests.
“The Test family is already a very small group and we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.”