CWC19: Are Bangladesh still minnows?

Bangladesh might be out of contention for the 2019 World Cup but are they now a member of Cricket’s elite?

With Bangladesh being knocked out of the World Cup today with their loss to India, the question was raised as to whether they are still minnows, and whether any wins they have count as upsets.

Minnows:

Bangladesh were first granted test status as a result of winning a solitary one day international match in the 1999 World Cup where they beat eventual runners up Pakistan, who were at the time favourites to win the tournament and were otherwise unbeaten. However, most people who viewed the match in the context of World Cup manipulations believed that Pakistan either deliberately lost or else at least didn’t play at their best, since it was a dead rubber that played no part in the standings, as, in spite of that loss, Pakistan still qualified for the Super 6 stage with the maximum of 6 points. Given that Australia played a go-slow against West Indies to try to get West Indies in ahead of New Zealand, there can be little serious doubt that that win by Bangladesh was not a particularly genuine one. The only reason that it wasn’t described as being a deliberate loss was because of the implication that it was match fixing. While some claimed it was match fixing, most people viewed it simply as a World Cup manipulation, much like New Zealand deliberately losing their final group match of the 1992 World Cup to Pakistan to stop Australia from qualifying for the semi-finals.

Regardless of whether you think that that match was fixed, a strategic loss, or an absolute upset, there can be little doubt that Bangladesh were nowhere near test level in 1999, and when they entered test match cricket in 2000 they were appallingly bad, so bad that most teams, who were forced to play them, sent their second XIs in to play against them – and still won by an innings. Australia’s Jason Gillespie scored his first ever test century against them – a double – and might have scored more if not for a hasty declaration – and, what’s worse, Gillespie never played for Australia again after that.

Bangladesh at that point were terrible and the “minnow” tag was justified – as it was for Zimbabwe, who at about the same point lost most of their best players for various political reason.

The question is whether Bangladesh are still minnows.

In test matches I’d say that they still are, especially away from home. In ODIs, well, they got to a ranking as high as 6th for a little while, and are currently ranked 8th – ahead of Sri Lanka and not far below West Indies – and that says that they are not minnows.

Bangladesh in 1999 would never have been ahead of an established team like Sri Lanka – and Sri Lanka are not minnows either. While Sri Lanka are amongst the worst performing in international cricket right now, they are still not minnows.

Indeed, with the growth of teams beyond the test cricket world, it is hard to suggest an absolute cutoff for minnows. While Afghanistan didn’t win any matches in this World Cup, they probably should have won 3 – against Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan – and they might have won more if they hadn’t gotten so depressed. Afghanistan arguably aren’t minnows either. Ireland might be but they aren’t so far off to be ridiculous.

When Bangladesh were granted test status, they were so far below the team ranked 1 spot above them, in 8th spot, that they sent 2nd XIs and still won by an innings. That is not the case now. Nowadays they occasionally beat the better teams, at least in ODI cricket, and, if everything goes right and they are playing at home, they occasionally win test matches too – as they did recently against Australia.

To call Bangladesh minnows now – at least in ODIs – then raises the question as to whether West Indies were minnows when they were at their low period a few years ago – or if Australia were minnows while Smith and Warner were banned.

A minnow is a team that has no hope of beating the better teams. Bangladesh have some hope. They are still below the other teams, but they have some small hope, at least in ODIs, and perhaps at home in tests.

Are they upsets?

To claim that Bangladesh’s win over South Africa was predictable is a lie. To claim that it was anything other than an upset is dishonest.

Perhaps Bangladesh’s win over West Indies wasn’t an absolute upset, but it was certainly a surprise, given the form of the two teams at the time that they played.

Bangladesh’s win over Afghanistan wasn’t an upset, but nor was it an obvious victory, as Afghanistan have been beating Bangladesh lately.

There were other upsets in the tournament, the biggest one being Sri Lanka’s win over England, but Pakistan’s win over England was also a major upset. Nobody is disputing that they were upsets so why are they claiming that Bangladesh’s win over South Africa wasn’t?

It’s a meme and it is political, and nothing more than that. When Bangladesh beat Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup it was as a result of it being a dead rubber and Pakistan not caring if they won or lost. We pretended it was genuine, going so far as to grant Bangladesh test status for a solitary ODI win, because we didn’t want people to think it was match fixing. And that is where this political nonsense stems from.

There’s nothing wrong with calling an upset an upset, and refusing to call them upsets does not change the fact that they are upsets.

If a football team ranked 18th beats the top team, it’s an upset. Indeed, if a team ranked 8th beats the top team, and breaks a 6 match unbeaten run, that’s an upset too. Just being something that 95% of people got wrong makes it an upset.

Almost every game has betting involved and if the odds are any more than 5-1 against and the longshot gets up then it is an upset. In the South Africa vs Bangladesh match it was 20-1. That’s an upset. West Indies vs Bangladesh was 5-1 too, so that was an upset too, but not as big an upset.

Claiming after the fact that the odds were different doesn’t stop it being an upset. It just makes you a liar. That’s all that changes. Maybe you are out of touch with reality. Maybe you’re a troll. Maybe you’re just playing politics. Maybe you’re believing political nonsense.


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How well did Bangladesh do at this World Cup?

There is one match to go, so I will withhold absolute judgement until after that match is completed, but, as it stands now Bangladesh sit in 7th spot, having finished as 4th best in their group and losing quarter-finalists in 2015, which is effectively 7th-8th. So they went from 7th-8th to 7th, which is either the same or a slight improvement.

It’s not only a ladder position but it’s also who they’ve beaten. South Africa, West Indies and Afghanistan currently sit in 8th, 9th and 10th respectively.

If Bangladesh beat Pakistan, then they will officially move to either 5th or 6th (depending on if Sri Lanka win their game) but that’s on net run rate. Realistically, they are probably 6th regardless of Sri Lanka’s result, as Pakistan beat more good teams than Bangladesh did, and had a better World Cup. Pakistan beat England and New Zealand, both of whom are expected to make the semi-finals, but they lost to West Indies, who are not going to make it. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh beat South Africa and Afghanistan too. Pakistan and Bangladesh both had washouts with Sri Lanka.

You can talk about margins, and about “fight” but was it really all that close? When you lose by 48 runs, and play out the whole 50 overs, it’s not very close. That kind of margin is close if you are bowled out with 10 overs to go, after having a collapse at the end.

The form of Shakib al Hasan should not be understated. He is easily the best player in the whole tournament so far, and won the man of the match award in all 3 of Bangladesh’s win. If he wasn’t there, then Bangladesh would have lost every match. Replace him with Bangladesh’s next best player and they lose every match. Replace him with how well he usually does, and Bangladesh perhaps beat Afghanistan, but that’s it. They certainly don’t beat West Indies or South Africa.

There was a time when Richard Hadlee was a one-man team for New Zealand and many other teams have had a similar gap between their best player and their next best. That doesn’t suddenly make them a good team so much as they have an outstanding player who can single-handedly win them matches that otherwise they would lose badly.

Have they improved?

Bangladesh in 2003 lost every match, then in 2007 they made it through to the Super 8s and even beat South Africa at that stage, having beaten India in the group stages. In 2011 they nearly made it to the quarter finals, then in 2015 they just sneaked in. This time around, assuming they lose to Pakistan, they will finish 7th. If they beat Pakistan, they will finish either 5th or 6th, depending on Sri Lanka.

If you look at the tournaments as a whole, each tournament Bangladesh was a little bit better than the previous one. There was no sudden improvement from one to the next, but it was more of a gradual improvement. In 2003 they were hopeless and were definitely minnows, in 2007 they got lucky, in 2011 they looked like maybe they weren’t minnows, and in 2015 they stopped being minnows. Even though they were realistically a long way from making the semi-finals, in 2019 we were all talking about it, and, even if they do finish 7th, that’s a step up from previous tournaments. We considered that maybe, with a bit of luck, they might have almost made the semi-finals. That’s a big deal.

Can we expect Bangladesh to make the semi-finals in 2023? Absolutely not. They need to improve a lot more to be expecting to make the semi-finals and to expect that by 2023 is unrealistic. They might make the semi-finals but we shouldn’t expect it.

When did Bangladesh stop being minnows?

They still are in tests, and probably T20Is as well, but in ODIs I think that they crossed the line around about the 2011 World Cup. It’s been some time now that they have been in the mix with the rest. Teams have to send their best teams to beat them. They even beat top teams occasionally, if everything goes right.

Are Bangladesh a top team on the same level as the best in the world?

No. Of course not. But nor are Sri Lanka or West Indies. Pakistan probably aren’t either, though they are close. They are a mid-range team, good enough to beat a top team on their day, but bad enough to lose to the worst teams on a bad day too.

Should we get hyped for Bangladesh?

Absolutely. Why not? It’s a team on the rise. As is Afghanistan. As is India. If Pakistan can make it to the semi-finals, I am hyped for them too. England have a chance of winning the World Cup too. Don’t forget that just 36 years ago, when India won the 1983 World Cup, their favourite sport was hockey. Just let that sink in while we are talking about a 20 year gradual rise for Bangladesh. In the past 36 years India have risen from a country that liked cricket to a country that is the superpower of world cricket, not just on the field, but most importantly off it, a hype that has spread to Bangladesh and Afghanistan, as well as Sri Lanka and Pakistan too.

Should we get upset by people calling Bangladesh wins upset?

No way. Even if you think that they are not upsets, there’s no reason to bash on them. If a 20-1 against team gets up, that’s an upset. If a 5-1 against team gets up, that’s a minor upset.

Should we get upset by people calling Bangladesh a minnow?

If they do, they are using a different definition of minnow to that used from 1999 to about 2010 to refer to Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.


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