The Bangladesh players and the fortunate Bangladeshis in the stands celebrated like they had just won the World Cup and back home people flocked to the streets and were celebrating like there was no tomorrow.
Amid all the celebration, nobody noticed that the Barbadian who coached the team to this remarkable achievement, was nowhere to be seen.
The players and members of the Bangladesh Cricket Control Board (the former name of the Bangladesh Cricket Board) knew why Grenidge was absent. Just hours before the match, Greenidge had been handed his termination letter.
Gordon Greenidge, who coached Bangladesh to its maiden ICC Champions Trophy in 1997, its first ever One-Day International (ODI) win in 1998, its maiden ICC World Cup in 1999 and was made an honourary citizen of the country for his contribution, was sacked unceremoniously.
Greenidge, clearly insulted by the treatment, chose not to join the celebration and didn’t even return to Bangladesh with the team after the World Cup.
Greenidge’s sacking had nothing to do with the team’s performance or with his coaching style.
Greenidge wasn’t just the head coach of the national team, he was also the country’s cricket director. But he wasn’t allowed to implement many of his plans due to disagreements with board officials.
But the dicey relationship with some board high-ups wasn’t the main reason behind his sacking. The main reason was him opposing the board’s idea to push for the Test status after the Champions Trophy victory in 1997.
Bangladesh, at the time, had a big fan base for cricket. Jagmohon Dalmiya, the ICC president at the time, was a supporter of Bangladesh cricket. So, after winning the Champions Trophy triumph in Malaysia, the BCCB president Saber Hossain Chowdhury began a campaign to attain the Test status.
Saber Hossain deduced it was the perfect time for Bangladesh to try and enter the elite group of Test playing nations. But Greenidge disagreed.
Greenidge, having spent three years in Bangladesh and observing the country’ cricket from up close, felt Bangladesh was not ready for Test cricket.
There was no first-class cricket in the country, the number of three-day and four-day games were scarce, the country didn’t have a rich pool of players to choose from and most players weren’t ready to compete in the toughest format of the game against the best teams.
The teams who had gained Test status before Bangladesh had a decades-long history of playing four-day matches. A Test culture was in place in those countries, before they were awarded the status.
Greenidge made his opinions public at a time when the board was knocking on doors across the cricketing world to gain support for their Test status campaign.
The BCCB officials didn’t take kindly to his remarks and chose to humiliate him by removing him from the position during the World Cup.
Events after the World Cup are well documented. After the wins over Scotland and Pakistan in the World Cup, Bangladesh’s plea for a Test status gained further wind. And on 26 June, 2000, all Test playing nations unanimously voted in favour and Bangladesh became the 10th Test-playing nation in the world.
Today, 22 years since that fated day, Bangladesh is still trying to build a Test culture. The names of coaches and players change, but the results remain consistently poor.
There are glimpses of improvement, enough to make everyone feel that Bangladesh has started to turn a corner in the format, before the performance graph inevitably plunges to the ground and the Tigers find themselves back to square one.
A lot of what Greenidge said, has been proven right. Many in the Bangladesh cricket fraternity also agree that perhaps the Test mantle came too early for Bangladesh.
But there is a counterpoint too. Had Bangladesh not seized their chance to gain the Test status, the game would not be as popular in the country as it is today. The money and international interest that came in with the Test status, has elevated the game to the next level in the country.
And it’s not like ICC hands out Test statuses every year. Since Bangladesh, only two other countries-Afghanistan and Ireland- have entered the elite club that too in 2017.
Had Bangladesh not attained a Test status in 2000, there is no guarantee on how long they would have to wait for the status or whether they would even achieve it.
Early or timely, the fact is that Bangladesh has been a Test-playing country for 22 years but they are yet to become a ‘Test nation’. Greenidge was right to predict that Bangladesh needed more time to build a Test culture. 22 years hasn’t been enough. So the question is, how much longer will it take?