Bangladesh must make sure its world champions don't lose their way

Bangladesh's world champions were given a snazzy reception in Dhaka AFP via Getty Images

Within two weeks of winning the Under-19 World Cup, six of the Bangladesh players were given a leg-up: they were picked to play for the BCB XI that took on the touring Zimbabweans in a two-day warm-up match. That sounds like a decent plan, but what after that? Does the BCB have a roadmap for what it wants this batch of champions to achieve, or is the fear that these boys will get lost along the way a real one?

The Under-21 camp is a good idea

Previous Bangladesh Under-19 World Cuppers have often been rushed into international cricket. So it's no surprise that Parvez Hossain Emon, Mahmudul Hasan Joy, Akbar Ali, Shoriful Islam, Shahadat Hossain and Tanzid Hasan, fresh out of winning a big tournament, were given a chance to face a Test team. Akbar's heroics in the final against India, Mahmudul's match-winning hundred in the semi-final against New Zealand, and Shoriful's aggression, and the fact that the senior team has been going through a rut must have led to the decision. It's a fair one too. In the game in question, Shahadat's three wickets made him the most successful bowler from his team, while Tanzid hit 125 not out in 99 balls, the highest score of the Bangladeshis' innings.

Soon after the boys' arrival home from Johannesburg, BCB president Nazmul Hassan announced that they would be sent to an Under-21 camp for the next two years, where they will train separately with a team of foreign coaches, with tours and other matches a part of the programme. They are going to be paid too: Taka 100,000 [US$ 1176 approx.] per month - not a bad amount for teenagers - for the two years as they try and improve their skills at this extended training camp.

It is, essentially, a way to keep them on the straight and narrow, within the system. It's a no-brainer, and former players agree, that the youngsters must be given the right opportunity now that they are on a high. Also, the BCB will have control over what these players do. It has been a long-term problem in Bangladesh that cricketers, once they come out of the Under-19s and are exposed to the grind of domestic cricket, hardly retain their old selves, they don't really gain a lot from first-class or one-day competitions.

The BCB's decision is also a nod to the notion that domestic cricket in Bangladesh is not really the right route to the highest level. For far too long, there have been hyped-up youngsters who have either been rushed through the ranks, or been made to wait too long to make the leap.

BCB's recipe for success

BCB chief executive Nizamuddin Chowdhury has said that the board has a major goal about the Under-19 cricketers. "We have a comprehensive plan for this particular set of players," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Our target is to have the maximum number of these players into the national side. We feel it is possible, because with this lot, we believe that many more things can be achieved. They have now given us the confidence."

Chowdhury admitted that the BCB's development system isn't of the highest quality, but it has done its work to an extent so far. Although they invested more than ever before in the last couple of years, human effort has also made their system a success.

"We have made a huge investment in the last two years. They have played up to 30 international matches against top opposition," Chowdhury said. "Most of the current Under-19 players have been developed within our programme. We have a good process in place, but we want to make it more effective, so that we can find more quality young cricketers from the schools and age-group competitions.

"We don't have the top-ranked programme. There are countries that have the best documentation, presentations, etc, but we have made it possible practically. We certainly should develop our facilities at the district and division level. There are no secrets. It is no rocket science. It is the dedication and confidence showed by the players, that has really made the difference."

What makes this batch of Under-19s different

The majority of Bangladesh's 2020 Under-19 World Cup squad members are from small towns in different parts of the country. They came through the full system of age-group competitions, before being assembled last year for a preparatory camp.

Bowling coach Mahbub Ali Zaki, who is known for correcting Taskin Ahmed's action four years ago, explained that as soon as he was given charge of the bowling unit, he started to work on their fitness and speed.

"Our main focus was ensuring the bowlers' fitness. Shoriful, Sakib and Mrittunjoy (Chowdhury) came to us with speeds around 120kph to 125kph, but they touched 138-140kph in the tournament," he said. "I know how to ensure the pace bowlers have the stability and fitness to increase pace. I was focused on every area of their overall well-being. We went to South Africa early, and adjusted to conditions and altitude in Johannesburg and Potchefstroom."

Richard Stonier, their strength and conditioning coach who became popular in Bangladesh for his Bangla encouragements - shomoshya nai (no problem), matha thanda (keep your cool), lomba koro (bat long) and dhoirjyo dhoro (be patient) - during the World Cup campaign, said that bringing about new fitness habits was key to their success.

"There's a lot of things that we have installed as coaching staff. Coming from England with a pagla (crazy), high intensity, I like to be a leader. I participated in all the training sessions. Let the boys aspire to be as good as me, or catch up with me."

Wasim Jaffer, the former India batsman who briefly worked as a batting coach in the BCB's development system last year, said that the team's success was not a surprise given how meticulously it was planned.

"I wasn't surprised at all. They played very good cricket throughout the World Cup. Their preparation and planning happened long time before the tournament. Their management ensured that the core of this team kept on playing one-day cricket. They had a lot of vision," he said. "They backed all the players. There wasn't a lot of chopping and changing in the sides, so it was not surprising.

"Before the World Cup I thought India, the obvious favourites, Bangladesh and Australia were going to be in contest for winning the World Cup."

Fast track, or take it easy?

For every Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, there have been one-off wonders like Nadif Chowdhury, Suhrawadi Shuvo and Talha Jubair. Not all talented young cricketers make it big, but the BCB has generally given importance to age-group cricket since gaining Test status at the start of the new millennium.

Soon after Bangladesh's first couple of seasons in Test cricket, the BCB was convinced that the age-group cricketers were good enough for international cricket, which might have been a mistake. The likes of Mohammad Ashraful, Hannan Sarkar and Aftab Ahmed were handed early debuts, with experienced batsmen like Aminul Islam and Akram Khan axed to make way for them. For several years, however, Bangladesh had a hard time making up for that gap in experience, and things eventually got better only when the likes of Mushfiqur, Tamim and Shakib were persevered with in international cricket. The fast-tracking of so many young cricketers - 60 out of 159 Under-19 World Cup players have played for Bangladesh over the years - is something that the BCB has been criticised for, rightly so.

But the development programme, warts and all, is an attractive part of Bangladesh cricket. The Under-14, Under-16 and Under-18 structure are organised and played out every year, with each of the administrative divisions and Dhaka Metropolis churning out hundreds of cricketers. It is the heart and soul of Bangladesh cricket, and almost every cricketer who has turned professional has at some stage been in the BCB's age-group system.

While that is true, however, what happens next is the concern. Jaffer felt that Bangladesh's young cricketers don't get to play a lot of red-ball matches, which would hamper them in the long run.

"What I felt while working in Bangladesh, a lot of Under-19 players don't get to play too many quality matches," he said. "These are the same players that will play for Bangladesh A team, and then probably the Test team. Bangladesh play most of the white-ball stuff pretty well, but they need to focus on getting the batting up to the mark in Test matches.

"I think that's where you can see they are struggling. If the Under-19 players play a lot of three-day games, then automatically their batting will improve, and then their Test batting will improve too. BCB needs to balance between white ball and red-ball cricket. They just don't need to prioritise white-ball cricket."

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So will this Under-21 training camp be enough to ensure that the cricketers' focus and overall quality doesn't drop? What will happen to those who don't make it past this camp?

These are uneasy questions that only the BCB can answer, or the individual player will face as the years go by, and the less the wastage of talent, the better.

While the whole country rejoiced, perhaps the Under-19 cricketers' attitude during the World Cup, and particularly in the final, might give some pointers to the senior side, which has lost a few finals against India in recent years. The Under-19 side has really given Bangladesh, as a whole, a lot of beautiful stories and happiness in the space of a few days. So it is vitally important that the BCB treats them well too. A sensible, slow-and-steady approach would be ideal, but is Bangladesh capable of it? For the sake of Bangladesh cricket, one hopes so.