Before we delve any deeper into this piece of writing, I can guarantee you that, if this was published somewhere of slightly higher profile than Hardman’s Thoughts, at least one whackjob on Twitter would read the headline and declare me anti-English.
(Also, if you are here expecting a rant on Brexit then you will be bitterly disappointed.)
I would like it known, although it needn’t be said in all honesty, that I am not anti-English. I will always support England, in all sports, and will always want them to do well. Next month I will be attending England v Scotland at Wembley, and while my loyalties aren’t as clear cut as when we play Germany or Slovenia, I will still want the Three Lions to take the three points.
But some things transcend supporting.
Or maybe my emotions after England’s 22-run victory over Bangladesh in the first test are exactly what supporting feels like.
Not supporting England necessarily, but supporting cricket.
After some mediocre, ok that’s too kind – dreadful, top order batting from England, but some even worse lower order stuff from Bangladesh, the Test was, cliché or not, in the balance on the eve of the fifth day.
Bangladesh needed 33 runs to pull off a famous victory; England needed two wickets to avoid embarrassment.
Famous victory? Embarrassment? Bangladesh have only won seven of their 94 tests. Five were against Zimbabwe (so, and no offence to Zimbabwe, can be discounted) and two came against weak West Indies sides (again, we can probably discount these).
Beating England in the first of a two-match series would not only guarantee their first victory over a big nation, it would also mean they were in with a genuine shot of winning the entire series. Now, that’s impossible.
Whenever I considered the situation on Sunday, I admit I was worried. Worried that England were about to lose to Bangladesh, worried about the headlines, needless inquests and snarky comments from ex-pros that would follow.
When I woke the next morning to see England had triumphed, a moment of relief was followed by unexpected dismay.
It had hit me that cricket had missed a glorious opportunity to improve (not to put too much pressure on Bangladesh’s final pairing of Sabbir and Shafiul – thankfully I doubt they’ll ever read this).
I spent a lot of time this summer writing about cricket. My whole final project was dedicated to it, and a lot of that regarded the globalisation of the sport.
Test cricket is the pinnacle of the sport. Only ten nations contest it. Although, it’s worth pointing out “contest” is a tad misleading. It suggests equality. And equality is far from the situation cricket finds itself it.
Of the ten, you can only argue seven are competitive. Zimbabwe hardly play and almost never win. West Indies have lost interest in it and are ruined by contract disputes regarding their best players. Bangladesh play, and try their best to compete, but are seen as pushovers and easy targets. A series against any of those is, sadly, a chance to blood some youngsters in and rest the senior players.
Bangladesh are, beyond doubt, an improving nation. England beat them in the recent one-day series, becoming the first team to achieve that, in Bangladesh, in seven attempts. Recently, South Africa, Pakistan and India have all been felled. Positive signs.
But back to the point, only ten contest Tests.
Ten nations. There are over 200 nations in our world. Only ten play cricket over five days. That’s equivalent to only ten nations playing 11-a-side football over 90 minutes, while only some of the rest play 5-a-side over 20. Sure, they meet every couple of years in World Cups, but their performances are chirpy, spirited and occasionally thrilling without ever truly threatening triumph.
It sounds ridiculous right?
It’s not just me who thinks there is something fundamentally wrong with that?
And how can we realistically expect it to improve if three of those ten aren’t pulling their weight?
So, imagine if Bangladesh had dragged themselves over the line against England?
Imagine if they went on to win the series?
Bangladesh already have an exciting crop of youngsters (and if you want a positive spin on Monday – read James’ excellent blog), a victory would have given them encouragement and something to say, “Yeah, my country did that”.
Instead, they continue to be the plucky losers. The history books won’t regard this as a close loss; instead it will always go down as just a loss. If they won, the margin wouldn’t have mattered – the “W” it produced would.
Bangladesh will win a test match against a big nation one day. They might even do it in the second test. But this year has already seen an upsurge in support for smaller nations of the cricketing world, kick-starting a test series with a victory to shake up the existing order would have been just perfect timing.
Of course, I would have preferred it if England weren’t on the receiving end, however, I am a cricket fan first and foremost and an England fan after that. I would rather see England lose in 2016 and have the sport exist for generations to come on a global stage than see England win in 2016 and have the same global situation in 2026, 2036, and 2046.
Alas, the moment has gone and the time passed.
It’s very possible I’m being too dramatic here (a recurring theme in my writing), and positivity has to be the order of the day in the Bangladesh dressing room (again, I doubt any of them will read this), however caution needs to be had at every turn. Every moment in sport can change the path we are on, and this, to me at least, felt like one.
It’s not dramatic to say at least it shows test cricket is alive and well in corners of the globe we thought it was lost.
So, congratulations England but my heart goes out to Bangladesh. I, subconsciously at least until the result was confirmed, was willing you to create history and I’m gutted another opportunity was lost.
And just in case you are reading this, keep your heads up and come again. You’ve played too well on this tour to go away with nothing to show for it.