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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 18:45 GMT

Ashraful offers ray of hope
By Simon Mann
BBC Sport in Kimberley

A banner has been displayed at two of Bangladesh's World Cup matches.

It states boldly: "See Bangladesh win. Better than sex."

But how would anyone know? Bangladesh have never won a Test match and they have not beaten a Test-playing country in a one-day game since May 1999.

Ashraful reaches his 50 against New Zealand
Mohammad Ashraful offers Bangladesh hope for the future

Even that victory - by 62 runs against Pakistan during the last World Cup - seems suspicious in the context of match-fixing controversies that damaged the reputation of the game.

It aided Bangladesh's elevation of Test status, thereby increasing the voting power of the Asian bloc within the ICC.

On the evidence of this World Cup, however, Bangladesh do not deserve their status.

Their performances have hovered somewhere between poor and woeful and even International Cricket Council officials are beginning to admit what most of us have known for a long time - Test match status was given to them far too soon.

Despite the passion for the game in Bangladesh, there was no proper structure for first-class cricket in place and so their inability to cope against the best players in the world was inevitable.

It is an indication of the depths to which they have slipped that their seven-wicket defeat by New Zealand, with more than 16 overs to spare, was viewed as a minor achievement by coach Mohsin Kamal.

After an embarrassing defeat by Canada and 10-wicket losses to Sri Lanka and South Africa, his relief was perhaps understandable.

One performance, in particular, will have improved the coach's mood.

Bangladesh have placed the emphasis on youth for this tournament and no player exemplifies the policy better than 18-year-old Mohammad Ashraful.

Bangladesh batsmen find it hard to deal with rising ball
Ashraful is happier on the front foot

He made his one-day debut at the age of 16 and holds the record for being the youngest player to score a Test century - against Sri Lanka when he was just 17 years and 63 days old.

His innings of 56 against New Zealand, his highest one-day score, was further evidence that Bangladesh are at least developing a player with the requisite skills to prosper at top level.

New Zealand's captain Stephen Fleming described him as "technically very good" but offered the observation that Ashraful needs to improve against the short ball.

It is a fault which, in general, has held Bangladesh back.

Slow, predictable Asian pitches are no preparation for facing fast bowling in South Africa, Australia, West Indies and England.

South Africa's ruthless use of the short ball in Bloemfontein demonstrated how much progress Bangladesh need to make.

No country will want to be the first to lose a Test to Bangladesh, let alone concede a one-day international, so there will be no sympathy for them.

The danger is that Ashraful and his colleagues will be dragged down by constantly playing in a losing side.






SEE ALSO
Kiwis see off plucky Tigers
26 Feb 03 |  Team Pages
NZ v Bangladesh: over by over
26 Feb 03 |  Team Pages
Have Your Say on Bangladesh
04 Jan 03 |  Have Your Say


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