Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Bangladesh Premier League

As I See It Column
The Independent
Saturday, 18 February, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

We are copy cats indeed. We love to hate our big neighbour for justifiable reasons on issues of Teesta, Tippaimukh and Felani. Yet our love for what happens in India in culture, sports and the rest is ever increasing. Any popular TV programme on Indian TV will invariably have a Bangladeshi re-make. We have even had the misplaced courage of copying the Indian programme “Kone Banega Crorepati” which is a remake of the widely popular British programme “Who wants to be a millionaire.” The Bangladesh TV channel that undertook to do the programme was not bothered that it is Super Star Amitabh Bacchan who conducts the Indian programme. No wonder, ours has been a flop.
In fact, we have been very poor copy cats in our efforts in following India in most cases. We are about to make a major mistake in being a copy cat of Indian cricket. The Indian Premier League or the IPL that had taken the cricket world by storm in 2008 is expected to have a brand value of US $ 3.67 billion in its fourth season this year. The commercialism of IPL that has affected Indian cricket disastrously has now about to do the same to our cricket. We are witnessing on our cricket fields our cricketers mingling with overseas “acquisitions” for a remake of the Indian IPL. Cricket in Bangladesh that is under threat for its existence on cricketing abilities has now been exposed to additional pressure by the lures of money.

Former test cricketer of Pakistan Imran Khan who knows cricket much better than his current preoccupation with politics said recently that India’s current predicament in test cricket is due to its indulgence with the IPL or the shortest version of cricket, the T20 format. Imran Khan said : If you want to be the leaders you can't keep losing. If you pay so much emphasis on Twenty20 cricket, you've got to pay hugely." Imran Khan’s comment came in the wake of India’s 4-0 whitewash in the hands of the Australians in Australia. Of the four losses, three were innings defeats. The 4-0 whitewash came after a similar 4-0 whitewash in England.
India’s Test humiliations came abruptly after it had won the T20 world championship, the ICC limited overs championship and had reached the top of the ICC Test ratings. It is just not that India alone has fallen into such disgrace in the Test format of cricket. In recent times, all the Test playing countries have shown bizarre form in playing Test matches. In the Australia-South Africa series played last year in South Africa, in the first Test in Cape Town, Australia was shot out for 47 after bowling South Africa for 96 just in the previous innings! In both cases, the pitch was in no way responsible or exceptional bowling for such weird display of batting. We have witnessed bizarre batting in the recent Pakistan-England series played in the UAE. In the good old days of cricket before the shorter version, in particular the T20 format was discovered; cricket was never susceptible to such weird batting display.

It would be interesting to consider what Shakib Al Hassan had to say about the T20 format not very long ago after he topped the ICC list as an all rounder in Test and 50 overs’ cricket. He said that for the T20 format, it is sheer luck that is the deciding factor in success or failure. Talent is a necessary to get into the team but by no means the important one in succeeding. What Saquib Al Hasan said is more or less what Imran Khan said; that T20 format is what is disastrous to Test cricket.

All Test playing countries have realized the adverse effect of the shorter versions on Test cricket and have tried to prepare themselves accordingly but to varying degrees. The realization came slowly though. Initially, the Test cricket playing countries had put forward the argument that a good Test cricketer could play any format of the game because it needed the best talent to play test cricket and it was just a matter of adjusting between Test cricket and the other formats. Such an argument was necessary because fans were fast losing interest in Test cricket and something needed to be done to save Test cricket.

As long as T20 was not in the scene, the argument worked and barring a very few additions/omissions, most countries played the same team in Tests and 50 overs’ cricket. Fifty overs’ cricket still allowed cricket to be played like Test cricket but more aggressively. It still required a batsman to be adept in defending as well as attacking. In the 50/50 version, there was enough space for Test cricketers and all top Test cricketers have also played the 50/50 version, switching easily between the two.

The T20 format has changed it all and the change has come like a storm. The instant nature of T20 leaves little time to think, defend or play in any manner but to attack for the sake of attacking. It leaves out all the charms of Test cricket or for that matter of the longer versions of cricket. T20 aims to cram in those 40 overs or a little over 3 hours all the sensation that makes other spectator sports such as football so popular. More importantly, the T20 format has been driven by commercialism that has turned a cricketer into a product to be bought and sold in the market. It is such commercialism that sells an average cricketer like India Ajay Jadeja for US$ 2 million dollars while many incredibly talented and brilliant players remain “unsold”!

All Test cricket playing countries have now realized that T20 cricket and Test cricket have little in common. Australia is the leading example. After its recent performances in Test cricket ending with the just concluded Test series with India that has seen it fall from the top of ICC Test ratings where it had remained for many years, Australia is in the process of making amends. The two T 20 games it has played with India recently included only 3 who were in the Test team. Australia even changed the Captain for its T20 team!

At this stage where all Test playing countries are worried with T20 because of its adverse impact on Test cricket that BPL comes before our cricket. We seem to believe that anyone who can play Test cricket can also play 50/50 as well as the T20 format. In the recent Test series where we were whitewashed by Zimbabwe, England and Pakistan, we saw how clearly our Test cricketers have been adversely affected by the T20 format. Our batsmen played both Test and 50/50 formats like the T20 format that was one of the main cause for our miserable performance where defeats have just not humiliated us; forces are speaking loudly whether we should continue to enjoy Test status! The fall of Tamim Iqbal who in 2010 was named the Test batsman of the year by Wisden to a less than average batsman in all formats of the game, in particular Test cricket, is a case in point as to how badly T20 has affected Bangladesh cricket.

The BPL has thus come to Bangladesh when our Test cricket status is at threat and our ability to play it at the top level very fragile. In selling the BPL in Bangladesh, the sellers who are also in control of the future of our cricket have argued that by the BPL our cricketers would gather experience that would bear them in good stead in all formats of the game. The argument is a lame one for a few reasons. First, as both Imran Khan and Saquib Al Hasan have said, T20 is gulf apart from Test cricket. Second, even on gaining experience, the argument is weak because BPL has not attracted anything like the pack of international stars that IPL has attracted because of its fabulous money spinning potentials and the aura added to the show by superstars like Sharukh Khan and super rich like Mrs. Ambhani. Thirdly, so far in the BPL, the local cricketers have been simply overshadowed by the second rate international acquisitions. Finally, there is also a nagging perception that a lot of black money out of the share market has found its way to the BPL.

BPL in fact is the outcome of our copy cat nature. More importantly, it is also the outcome of our susceptibility to greed that is going to push our cricketing future a few steps in the wrong direction. Greed has destroyed many parts of our body politic. Sadly, it is now about to destroy our cricket. There is one silver lining in the dark cloud though. So far, the public’s response to BPL has been lukewarm. BPL may thus last as long as the flow suspected flow of black money lasts but in the process, it is sure to leave Bangladesh cricket deeply scarred.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

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