A gap of eleven years
On a sultry afternoon of April 2006 at Chittagong’s Zahur Ahmed Cricket Stadium, Mohammad Rafique took guard to face Stuart Macgill’s second ball of the 81st over. Australia were just one wicket away to complete a whitewash. Macgill tossed the ball up as Rafique charged down the wicket to have a go over the offside but failed to time it as the ball sailed into the air and fell into the safe hands of Shane Warne at mid on. Australia beat Bangladesh by an innings and 80 runs and completed a hectic season successfully. They almost lost the first Test at Fatullah but that Bangladesh of 2006 had to be satisfied only by winning hearts as the six-year old Test nation showed signs of improvement. Australia hung onto a cliffhanger.
It was the last time Australia played a Test series against Bangladesh. Since April 2006, the time has flown like the tides of river Padma and in the twinkle of an eye, eleven years have passed. With the passage of time, Bangladesh cricket advanced. After digesting a lot of setbacks and humiliating defeats, the Tigers of 2017 can test the best in the business. The appointment of Chandika Hathurusingha has changed the temperament of Bangladesh cricket for whom ‘one step forward and two back’ is a matter of the past.
In these eleven years, Bangladesh played a Test series against the big fishes of world cricket, but somehow, Australia, one of the big shots of world cricket never bothered to face the Bangladeshi boys in white clothes. While ICC’s Future Tour Programme (FTP) was active, the bilateral clashes between Bangladesh and Australia were limited to 50-over matches only and after the abolishment of FTPs, it seemed, Cricket Australia might take one more decade to think about playing a Test series against Bangladesh.
Australia’s lack of interest
Competitiveness is one of the most important ingredients of Australian cricket culture. The Kangaroos relishes tough challenges and don’t wish to waste time playing against teams who fail to script competitiveness. Perhaps, Cricket Australia and players were less interested in playing against Tigers in five-day encounters because of the below-par performances of Bangladesh, as till the start of three-match Test series against Zimbabwe in 2014, their display in Tests was disgraceful.
But then, there was the matter of lending a helping hand to the strugglers. Being one of the best teams in world cricket, Australia, England, South Africa and India have a moral duty to play against the below ranked sides in Test cricket on a regular basis so that they can improve. In case of teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, such sort of help was heavily needed in the last decade. But the big fishes hardly bothered to stage a bilateral Test series against these sides. Even though, India, South Africa and England lend a helping hand in, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2015 Australia showed no interest.
Edward Gough Whitlam, a friend of Bangladesh
But the scenario is completely different when the matter is about trade, development and politics. Bangladesh and Australian Govt. Have been enjoying a very healthy and productive relationship since the independence. As a matter of fact, Australia played a very important role during Bangladesh’s liberation war.
Australian Labour Party (ALP) Leader, leader of the opposition, and Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam played a leading role in building a bi-partisan consensus about Bangladesh as the leader of the opposition in the Australian Federal Parliament in 1971. He also highlighted the humanitarian sufferings in this region at the hands of the Pakistani occupation forces and their local collaborators in 1971.
Australia was eventually the first Western country and fourth in the world to officially recognise Bangladesh on January 31, 1972. After being elected as the Prime Minister on 1973, Whitlam recollected the bi-partisan and popular support for Bangladesh in a speech: “The previous government’s prompt recognition of Bangladesh was warmly supported by the whole of Australian people.”
Moreover, Whitlam served an invaluable role in lobbying with the international community for Bangladesh to be recognised by the Commonwealth and other countries. During the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in August 1973 in Canada, Whitlam’s efforts paid off and Bangladesh was formally welcomed to the organisation.
Whitlam played an important role in developing the war-ravaged Bangladesh. In February 1973, Whitlam announced that Australia would provide 190 Land Rover jeeps worth $750,000 to Bangladesh as part of the Australian Aid Program. He also announced additional food aid to Bangladesh in June 1973, bringing the total value to almost a million dollars in that financial year.
Under Whitlam, Australia also supported the advancement of Bangladesh Airways – Biman Bangladesh Airlines after liberation. In June 1973, Australia provided two Fokker F27 200-seat passenger aircraft worth $950,000 allowing Biman to expand its domestic and regional routes. In fact, Bangladesh named one of the aeroplanes “City of Canberra” as a testament to the friendship between Australia and Bangladesh.
The legacy of Whitlam is still continuing as according to dfat.gov.au: Australia’s bilateral relationship with Bangladesh continues to grow. Two-way trade exceeded $2.0 billion in 2015-16 on the back of sustained growth in the Bangladesh economy. Australia is increasingly a preferred education destination for Bangladeshi students. Our development partnership – one of Australia’s largest – is long-standing.
The Australian Government is providing an estimated $57.9 million in total ODA to Bangladesh in 2017-18. This includes an estimated $42.1 million in bilateral funding to Bangladesh managed by DFAT.
Strangely, in cricket, the friendliness of Whitlam has always been absent.
Cricket Australia postpones tour, Bangladesh becomes sad
In 2015, just before the tour was about to commence, Cricket Australia declined to send their team in Bangladesh because of security concerns. Sean Carroll, the security manager for CA, met with the Australian High Commissioner in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh government to discuss the whole issue. Despite the ongoing concerns regarding the tour, Bangladesh announced their squad on September 28, 2015. On October 1, 2015, CA officially postponed the tour and left Bangladesh stunned.
In 2016, Bangladesh suffered a horrible terrorist attack and when the future of Bangladesh cricket was in a total turmoil, England stepped forward to visit Bangladesh for a two-Test series. While the Aussies lacked the friendly intent, England not only came to Bangladesh to complete the formalities but made a strong fan base in this region as they love and respect the English boys.
If a team declines to visit a country in need of help, indirectly, he is helping the terrorists to smile. England’s visit was a victory over global terrorism. In that sense, Australia should have toured two years ago as they are a brave nation.
Finally, the Australians are in town
But thankfully, the Kangaroos have landed in Dhaka for a Test series. Yet again, the tour was threatened by the chaos in Australian cricketing fraternity regarding pay dispute. Nazmul Hassan, the smart and courageous President of Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB), never gave up hope about this tour and always maintained a diplomatic relationship with CA. His efforts helped to go this tour ahead.
Bangladesh is the school life. It’s the land of mystery and intrigue. One should not waste the opportunity of visiting this beautiful country.
I can assure, the Australian cricket team, they won’t have any dull moments in Bangladesh. It’s an amazing country to visit especially, the passion about cricket among the people here is astonishing. They are a crazy bunch of passionate fans but one thing for sure, they are not ugly and the Australians would receive a lot of love from them.
Again, the Australians would be amazed by the hospitality of Bangladesh. No matter wherever they would go in Dhaka and Chittagong, they would be received like a friend, brother and son. Then, the natural beauty of Bangladesh would always help them to calm their heart and mind.
After a week or so, the first Test will start and the people of Bangladesh are expecting a cracker. At the same time, they don’t want this to be the last Test series between the two countries of this decade but expect a lot more friendliness from Cricket Australia regarding bilateral Test series in upcoming days.
Steve Smith and his boys love competitive cricket and I can guarantee, they would receive such from the Tigers and as a bonus, they will be poured with a lot of love, affection and experience the passion about cricket in Bangladesh.
Welcome to Bangladesh!