From Dacca to Dhaka, a voyage round Bangladesh

Cricket Diary: Stephen Brenkley

Sometime this autumn or winter, Bangladesh will become the 10th nation to play Test cricket. With Kenya waiting in the wings, the only sure thing is that they will not be the last. Whatever the opinions on the timing of the elevation - and the Diary thinks it a good thing - it is indubitably exciting.

Sometime this autumn or winter, Bangladesh will become the 10th nation to play Test cricket. With Kenya waiting in the wings, the only sure thing is that they will not be the last. Whatever the opinions on the timing of the elevation - and the Diary thinks it a good thing - it is indubitably exciting.

Dhaka, where Bangladesh's first home Test will be played, has already staged seven Tests between 1955 and 1969. The country was then East Pakistan and Dacca, as it used to be called, was the site of Pak-istan's inaugural home Test.

Bangladesh was part of the Indian province of Bengal before partition. The only inhabitants of the area to have played Tests were either those posted from the west or Muslim immigrants from the Indian state of Bihar.

The first Test century in Dhaka was scored late in 1955 by Hanif Mohammad, against New Zealand. The most recent was by Mark Burgess of New Zealand, in November 1969, in a drawn match which gave New Zealand their first series victory.

The first return of five wickets or more in Dhaka was earned by the fast-medium swing bowler Mahmood Hussain, who took 6 for 67 in the inaugural match against India, and the most recent was Intikhab Alam's 5 for 91 in 1969.

The arena in question is now called the Bangabandhu Stadium. It is named after the man responsible for leading the fight for independence, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibar Reh-man, holds 36,000 people and has what are reckoned the best floodlights in the world.

Until last year, Bangladesh had no domestic first-class competition. The National Cricket League has now been formed, consisting of six divisional teams who play each other home and away. Chittagong won the first title.

The first domestic competition of any kind, one innings a side over two days, started in 1974-75. Although the final was not even played in 1991 it was of a good club standard according to Alan Fordham, the former Northamptonshire opener. Fordham, now the England and Wales Cricket Board's cricket operations manager, played there for nearly five months in 1989-90. The top club sides, he said, are watched by crowds of thousands rather than hundreds.

It was not until January that a Bangladeshi batsman scored centuries in both innings of a first-class match. The feat was achieved by the 24-year-old opener, Shahriar Hossain, who made 133 and 121no in a draw against the MCC. The captain, Aminul Islam, who is playing in Wales this summer, also scored 113no and seam bowler Hasibul Hussain took 4 for 46 in their drive for victory. Ben Smith, of Leicestershire, scored 113 for MCC, and Matthew Wood, of Yorkshire, made 70.

Bangladesh were granted official one-day international status in 1997, though they played their first in 1980. Their most famous victory was the 62-run win against Pakistan in last year's World Cup. This has since become contentious because of the match-fixing furore, but Bangladeshis become very prickly if it is suggested that it was not earned wholly by their own efforts.

In all, Bangladesh have played 37 one-dayers and won only three. Their most recent match, before the ICC judged their Test application, was against Pakistan in the Asian Cup last month. Pakistan scored 320 for 3, Bangladesh were 87 all out and the 233-run margin was the heaviest defeat inflicted in one-day history.

 

Robertsbridge in Sussex is home to a collection of bats used by some of the game's legendary players. It still is, though thanks only to quick, decisive action by firefighters from Hastings, who clearly know their cricket.

Fire swept through the museum of the Gray-Nicholls factory in the village in the small hours almost two weeks ago. Sales director Richard Gray, one of five Grays still involved in the firm, established in 1875, and great-great-grandson of the founder, said: "It didn't feel like it that morning, but it could have been much more damaging."

Bats saved included those used by Ranji, Wally Hammond and David Gower. Some, unfortunately, were destroyed, albeit those wielded by less celebrated players such as Alan Oakman and Les Lenham. A full set of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, dating from 1864, was also rescued.

"It helped that they were in a glass case," said Gray. "Some pages have been damaged by water but we're hopeful they'll be fully restored."

BOOK MARK

Close of play at Northlands Road is a long title for a book which does not quite say it all. It is a photographic essay by Richard Binns of cricket at Hampshire's home ground in Southampton. It covers the nooks, crannies and personalities, the fans, the backroom boys, the old players. Hampshire leave Northlands Road after 115 years for a spanking new ground at the end of the summer. It is an intimate portrait but it may need updating quickly, for surely future generations will ask: "Didn't Shane Warne play at Northlands Road?" (Chipstone, £9.99).

Man in the middle

Melvyn Betts went on an England A Tour a year ago and spent most of the time in Zimbabwe and South Africa nursing a groin injury. He is still only 25 but since then he has been overtaken in the England pecking order by his county colleague, the rapid Steven Harmison. Betts (the only time these days it is safe to use the word in cricket) took 7 for 30 and 3 for 58 in Durham's victory over Derbyshire last week, figures which sandwiched his innings of 57. His first innings analysis was his 10th haul of five wickets or more but not his best. That was the 9 for 64 he took against Northamptonshire three years ago.

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