It was the year 2000 when a cricket crazy nation named Bangladesh got the test status and became the full member of International Cricket Council (ICC). Days gone by and Bangladesh are now ahead of playing their 100th test in the history.
It was not so easy for an associate nation like Bangladesh to get Test status out of nowhere while Zimbabwe faced hard time to get that after winning ICC Trophy thrice in that time.
A true friend of Tigers, Jagmohan Dalmiya who was the President of ICC in that time helped Bangladesh cricket board a lot in that time to get that most astonishing test status. But, there was another person who had done the most to achieve that. He is none other than former BCB chief, Saber Hossain Chowdhury.
Bangladesh not only achieved the Test status for their cricket playing ability in that time but also for the diplomatic ability. And, a diplomatic mastermind Saber Hossain was the main man behind it.
In early 90’s cricket was less popular than football in Bangladesh and the cricket team failed for several times in ICC trophy. Cricket’s popularity was decreasing day by day and a new committee was formed then in 1996.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury was the President of that committee (BCB) and he had a described plan for next 5 years. His plans worked and Bangladesh achieved their respect as a cricket playing nation.
While talking to ESPNCRICINFO about that time, Saber Hossain Chowdhury said, “In my first board meeting as BCB president, I said we should have a vision for our five-year tenure. I planted the idea that we should do something extraordinary. We were an Associate nation at the time, but I wanted to reach the highest level.”
He added, “At the time the ICC didn’t have objective criteria for a country to become a Test-playing nation. When Zimbabwe were applying for their Test status, they said that, having won the ICC Trophy thrice, if they didn’t get Test status, cricket in Zimbabwe would be dead.”
Saber described a funny incident of that time. Former BCB head described, “Just after we applied for Test status, a former cricketer asked me, “Saber, is this a joke? You will never get it.” But we had the audacity to believe that it was possible.”
Bangladesh won the ICC Trophy in 1997 and had the opportunity to play World Cup for the first time in 1999 and there they made a history by winning against top favorite Pakistan.
Saber said, “Moments after we had won the ICC Trophy in Kuala Lumpur in 1997, I told David Richards that we were going for Test status. He said, “I hear you.”
After those wins, the most important step was taken by Saber Hossain. He knew that the organizing ability of Bangladesh will be tested when they will go for seeking Test status. Then, BCB hosted some major series including the Independence Trophy and the first ICC Knockout tournament in 1998, and the final of the Asian Test Championship.
Saber said, “We held the first ICC Knockout, because I knew that our on-field performances alone wouldn’t get us Test status. I told Ali Bacher and Jagmohan Dalmiya that Bangladesh is the most logical choice in terms of globalising the game.”
Then, Dalmiya’s role became vital as Bangladesh needed a strong mind to support them for achieving the full membership. FOrmer ICC President helped BCB with advice and guided the ways for running their campaign for achieving test status.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury then started to visit the powerful cricketing nations and the most important to him was the visit to South Africa and Australia.
Former Minister of Parliament said, “We had to do a lot of cricket diplomacy. I think the most important visits were to South Africa and Australia. We knew that we would get help from the Asian countries and West Indies and Zimbabwe, but I needed seven votes out of the nine Full Members.”
He added, “I wasn’t too sure about England, so a lot of our focus went to Australia and South Africa. I did development deals between them and the BCB. Our off-field diplomacy compensated for our lack of playing standards.”
Then, the ICC’s annual conference happened on June 26, 2000 in London where Saber Hossain Chowdhury and the former BCB secretary, Syed Ashraful Haque attended and gained the momentum.
Saber said to ESPNCRICINFO, “I made the 45-minute presentation, which was about all the potential and possibilities that would support our case for Test status. We were asked some questions at the end. Then it went out to a vote. We had targeted a minimum of seven votes, but we ended up getting all nine.”
He added, “It was a tremendous vote of confidence in the future of Bangladesh cricket. The Associates were also really happy that one of them had made it to the highest level. The mindset that cricket was a closed club could slowly go away.”
Former BCB head also said, “The whole plan worked like clockwork, despite all the obstacles in our roadmap. We needed funds to buy air tickets to attend ICC meetings in those days. But there was great teamwork within the board, so it was a privilege.”
Saber added, “It was a defining moment for Bangladesh. Cricket is more than a sport in Bangladesh: it is a platform for national unity. Cricket is a perfect uniting factor. After independence in 1971, the 1997 ICC Trophy triumph was the first time the country came together.”
History was made for Bangladesh in that conference of ICC. India helped Bangladesh again after that by playing the first test of the history of Bangladesh cricket.
Now, when Bangladesh Cricket Team are ahead of playing their Hundredth test, we should remember the works done by one of the finest Diplomatic persons, Saber Hossain Chowdhury and give him respect what he deserves the most.