October 2006 was the time when the country's sports fraternity went through a dark chapter, dubbed 'Black Monday' by the media, which saw national athletes assaulted by police. Yesterday saw the institution of another dark day when the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) directors voted 20-3 in favour of supporting the draft proposal which will be tabled at the next ICC meeting on 28-29 January, a proposal that will bring about a massive upheaval in Bangladesh cricket. In doing so, the BCB have consummately failed the country's cricket supporters and its cricketers, ranging from those now in the national team to those youngsters who dream of scoring a Test century one day.
BCB directors Ahmed Sajjadul Alam, Tanzil Chowdhury and Showkat Aziz Russel formed the minority who voted against the proposition during the meeting yesterday. Most vehement was Alam who staged a walk out from the meeting. “This draft proposal has been driven solely by greed," said Alam.
Particularly unfortunate was that three former cricketers (BCB directors Akram Khan, Naimur Rahman and Khaled Mahmud) who were present in their capacity as directors voted for the proposition .
The key aspects of the draft proposal by India, England and Australia are: cricket will be divided into two tiers with the top eight nations forming the top tier and the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe relegated to playing the Intercontinental Cup with Associate Member nations; India, England and Australia as the financial heavyweights will be exempt from relegation; and key positions in the ICC -- ICC chairman, chairmen of ExCo and finance & commerial affairs committee -- will be nominees of the BCCI-CA-ECB.
The draft proposal had garnered a lot of negative sentiment over the past week, and it was thought that when the BCB, the game's governing body in a country that will be one of the most harmed by the proposal, sat for a board meeting the issue would be addressed and fears allayed. After the meeting yesterday, instead of the firm stance hoped for, BCB president Nazmul Hassan Papon cut an uncomfortable figure, seemingly uncertain about how to present the situation to the public.
“At this time we do not want to express our opinions. We will first see the situation and act accordingly,” said Papon. In the press briefing, he oscillated between admitting that the proposal coming into effect will not be good for Bangladesh and that the current state of affairs is not good for the country either. At one point he could no longer keep the poker face and said what everyone else was thinking. “If this proposal is adopted, the ICC will have no power. Power in cricket will go elsewhere.
“We will have Test status and also our ranking. Over the past one-and-a-half years we have played pretty well but there has been no improvement in our ranking.We now have to think what we can achieve in the next ten years,” said Papon.
Bangladesh's case is particularly bleak and also serves to highlight the unfair nature of the proposal. If the proposal is adopted, as things stand, Bangladesh will not play Tests for eight years. After eight years of playing four-day cricket at the Intercontinental Cup, if they finish on top of the eight-team ranking field they will play the bottom-ranked team of the top tier in Tests (which they would not have played for eight years) for a chance at a promotion. If India, England and Australia form the three lowest teams in the top tier, then Bangladesh will have to face the fifth-ranked side.
The unfortunate reality of Bangladesh, a relatively new Test nation, cowering under the power of the big three could not be escaped. “The thing I am worried about is, without knowing the identities of those supporting the proposal it is risky to discuss the matter with any other member. If three powerful boards like India, England and Australia have come up with this proposal, then they must have done a great deal of homework on it,” said the BCB boss.
The power play that has become all too common in cricket's boardrooms raised the question about whether the three big events -- the Sri Lanka tour, the Asia Cup and the World Twenty20 -- to be held in Bangladesh will be affected by Bangladesh's vote. “No, that has no relationship with this. But there is the fear that if we oppose the proposal and it is adopted, things may be difficult. We can now invite these countries, but in that scenario I don't know how they will behave with us.”
The BCB boss, who will go to Dubai a day earlier than scheduled on January 25 to assess the general mood among the other members, seemed to be walking a thin line. “There are two issues at play here. One is ego and self-respect. In the sense of self-respect then the answer (to the proposal) is of course 'no'. But if we look at reality, no one wants to play with us now, and if we vote no they might not even come for one-day tournaments,” Papon said.
And therein, perhaps, lies the crux. The BCB has doubtless been at the receiving end of some arm-twisting by the big boards. But unlike Papon says, the issue is not between ego and practicality. The proposal will spell the death of Test cricket in this country and that will in turn send cricket on a whole into a downward spiral into oblivion. If the BCB thinks it is saving the day by towing the company line, then they should ask themselves what it is they are saving.