This is yet another post on the game of cricket. To some extent, this is a follow-up from my earlier writing in March 2013. In that writing, I opined that the Galle Test of March 2013 between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka was probably the turning point for Bangladesh Cricket. Through all the topsy-turvy stuff since then at home and away, I still hold on to that opinion.
Galle continued at Chittagong
The home Test series against New Zealand was another show for the Tigers. It was badly needed after the disappointing Zimbabwe tour in April-May 2013. The Chittagong Test against the Kiwis (09-14 October 2013) looked almost like a continuation of the Galle Test. The pitch was almost just as flat, though it did show promises of a result. The 501-run first innings score in reply to 469-run NZ score was exactly what we wanted to see. The 181-run superlative innings from Mominul and the 101-not-out innings from Shohag Gazi proved the batting prospects of Bangladesh once again. Both the centuries were maiden centuries from two young people (both aged 22 and playing only their 4th and 7th Tests respectively). And these two batsmen also got enough support from the rest of the line-up to complete their feats. Mushfiq got 67 and Nasir for 46 without making a lot of noise. The second innings 46 and 50-not-out from Tamim and Shakib respectively didn’t look much, but they set the stage for the second Test, especially after Tamim’s first innings duck. This is a changed Bangladesh team. Previously the Kiwis were used to seeing batting collapses from the Tigers, which didn’t happen in any of the innings at Chittagong.
Achievement in rain
The Mirpur Test (21-25 October 2013), though frustrated by rain, was another achievement for Bangladesh. None can claim that Bangladesh achieved this draw with the help of rain. 304 overs played in four days (76 per day); not enough for a Test match, but the match state mattered more here. The match ended at a stage where there were three results possible; so, no complaint from anyone. Anyway, despite the result, there were a lot of takeouts for the Tigers. The first innings batting was a disappointment. Everyone looked like in a hurry. We had a lot to learn from the professional batting display of New Zealand in the first innings. They didn’t go for the 3.76 run rate of Bangladesh, but rather went for 437 runs at 3.12, achieving a 155-run lead; almost taking the match away from the Tigers. It was great to get Tamim back in form after his 46 at Chittagong. His 95 and 70 at Mirpur showed everyone what a team-man he has become. Then came the Mominul show. His 47 and 126-not-out finished a dream series for him and cemented his place in the team in the short term.
The fort is getting stronger
When the team was 8 for 2, after New Zealand’s massive 469 first inning score at Chittagong, we had two young batsmen at the crease. Mominul Haque and Marshall Ayub. For Ayub, it was his debut. There was a 126-run partnership between these two in 35 overs. The scare was gone; the procession didn’t happen. Ayub’s slow 25 runs were not much, but at least, he was able to stop the rot, along with Mominul. Ayub’s case can be reviewed by the selectors in the coming days. He made 25 (109), 31 (65), 41 (62) and 9 (13). He got a start in three of the innings, though he failed to convert those. He’s technically not the most perfect batsman out there, but his temper is something to be noticed. He was in the team in place of batsmen like Mahmudullah, Naeem Islam and Jahurul Islam. I think he deserves another chance with the team, considering his long wait to make the debut. He was there in Sri Lanka; yet, didn’t play a single match. The axe would fall on Anamul Haque Bijoy. I’ve always argued against the selection of Bijoy for Test matches. He is a very confident stroke player in the limited version of the game. But he simply lacks the technical base required for Test matches. His short stay at this level was no less than torture. I would be happy to see him blaze away in the ODIs. There’s no point putting him in Test matches and destroying his confidence. I see Naeem and possibly Mahmudullah coming back provided that they show something during the ODIs against NZ. And I won’t be surprised if Ayub is asked to do the opener’s duty.
The little dynamo
Mominul not only made the 181 at Chittagong coming to bat in pressure situation, he faced the same thing at Mipur in the second innings. He came in to bat when the Tigers were 55-2, and looking towards a most probable defeat. His 126-not-out has to be remembered by everyone as one of those innings, depending on which matches turn. After his 55, 64 and 37 in Sri Lanka, he made 23 and 29 in Harare Second Test (he was not picked for the First Test). Those were good performances, but not extraordinary, which is why he was not picked for the First Test in Zim. His two home innings against the Kiwis showed what he is made of. The Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe tours portrayed him as a stroke-player. But now he looks like a solid Test player. He didn’t give it away; he adjusted; he showed patience; showed character. After Shakib, Tamim, Mushfiq and Nasir, we have another solid batsman in the middle order forming up.
The depth is deepening
Everyone talked about Mushfiq Rahim and Mohammad Ashraful in Sri Lanka; and Nasir Hossain and Mushfiq during the Zimbabwe tour. It was very important, as we missed the best services of two of our star cricketers during this time. We had to prove the depth of Bangladesh cricket. Tamim Iqbal struggled with injuries of late. He didn’t play in the Galle Test and made 10 and 59 in the Colombo Test. And in Zimbabwe, he missed the First Test and made 49 and 7 in the second innings. Shakib Al Hasan was not fully fit during all these times. Shakib missed Sri Lanka and was 50% there at Zim, where he made 5, 4, 81 and 59 with the bat and bowled 16 overs in First Test and 30 overs in Second Test for a total tally of 4-154. He wasn’t his very best at home as well. He didn’t regain his best batting form as yet. His not-out 50 in the second innings after first inning 19 was refreshing to see. His 20 and 32-not-out at Mirpur might give him a bit more confidence ahead of the ODIs. His bowling form is coming back and we got a glimpse of that on the second and third day of the Test at Mirpur, when he grabbed a 5-wicket haul. His total tally for the NZ series was 7-211. This is far from his very best, but he will take it right after coming back from an injury. He bowled 76 overs, including 43 in the first innings at Miprur. His load needs to be shared by others. We don’t want to lose him again.
Bowling is still a worry
Yes, we discovered a new star in our batting line-up in Mominul. But we’re yet to discover a star in our bowling. Yes, Shohag Gazi achieved a rare hat-trick at Chittagong. His overall tally for the two Tests was 8-233, which was good, but not enough to force a result in a Test series. In the Mirpur Test, he bowled 34 overs without a wicket; all his wickets came at Chittagong. Yes, he made his maiden hundred, which puts more depth in our batting line-up. That would help to draw more Test matches. But I would be happier if he could do a little better at his primary job, which is taking wickets. Taking nothing away from him, his hat-trick spell was one of the best from any Bangladeshi bowler. We needed a little bit of that at Mirpur as well, where 2-3 wickets in support of Shakib might’ve pulled the match in our favour. The only NZ centurian at Mirpur was Corey Anderson; a left-handed batsman, against whom Shohag had a bigger role. Razzak was a disappointment. He did take most of the burden, but his 5-359 was not what I call Test match bowling. He bowled a mammoth 110 overs in three innings! If a bowler gets 5 wickets bowling 110 overs, it goes without saying that the opponent scored some big runs. Our seam bowling achieved even less, though it was nice to find someone new in Al Amin Hossain. His 16 overs resulted in 1 for 58. Not a dream debut, but he will take it on the flat track of Mirpur. He didn’t spray it around and kept a good line most of the time. He had a weird action, but he had a level head and knew where to bowl. He couldn’t move the ball a lot, but with some coaching, he may be able to do it. I would like to see him with the team in the coming days. Rubel Hossain got 1-179, and that too, came at four-an-over!
Rabiul Islam was still not fit; bowling only 17 over for 32 runs without a wicket during the Chittagong Test. His contribution during the Zimbabwe tour was significant in drawing the Test series. His 15-293 was a single-handed effort. Being a pacer, he bowled a total of 110 overs in two Test matches there! He improved his bowling average to a much more respectable 33.82 now. That’s real encouragement, but we need someone to back him up; otherwise we’ll continue to miss him through injuries. He’s the only seamer in Bangladesh line-up who can genuinely move the ball both ways. The Zim pitches suited his type of bowling. On the same seamer-friendly pitches, Rubel Hossain got 2-131 and Sajedul Islam got 0-57. As a seam backup, Ziaur Rahman replaced Rubel and did a great job on debut, with 4-71 from 30 overs. He moved the ball and because of his efforts, Bangladesh was able to seal victory in the Second Test at Harare. Ziaur wasn’t picked for the Tests against NZ, but he’s in the ODI squad. I think he can be a good bowling option while on tour. He can’t do worse than the seamers who already bowled for Bangladesh. And besides, he can also wield his bat quite hard! So, in conclusion, what I can say is that bowling is showing some signs of improvement in Shohag Gazi, injury-prone Rabiul Islam, recovering Shakib and some other outside options. But its still a long way to go in terms of getting 20 wickets in a Test match on a regular basis.
Quality of opposition
Whatever the quality of the pitch or the quality of the opposition one may argue, it was a Test match and the Tigers have proven that they are slowly getting the hang of Test Cricket. NZ missed the services of Martin Guptill and Tim Southee, but also gained from the inclusion of Neil Wagner and BJ Watling. Peter Fulton and Corey Anderson also made very good contributions. Their usual batting trio Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor were there to form the backbone of their batting. Fulton made some contribution replacing Guptill, making 73 and 59 in Chittagong. They also missed Daniel Vettori. But they missed him during many of the recent tours as well, including the one to India, where they struggled against Indian spin. Debutant leg-spinner Ish Sodhi (6-265), upcoming all-rounder Kane Williamson’s off-spin (2-181) and the left-arm slow of Bruce Martin (2-175) were not enough to force the pace without any help from the pitches played on. Bangladeshi batsmen’s traditional weakness against pace was not exposed too much, though Neil Wagner got 7 wickets for 116 runs at Dhaka. Wanger didn’t play at Chittagong. But he also didn’t play during their India tour, where Tim Southee played a vital role. Trent Boult finished the tour with just 3 wickets from 60 overs; Doug Bracewell, 3 wickets from 58 overs. Though Corey Anderson also got 3 wickets, he was more used as a partnership breaker than anything else. The point of all this analysis is that New Zealand couldn’t have done it in any other way. The difference was made by a changed Bangladesh team.
We had a less-than-average tour of Zimbabwe. But we should remember that after we came back from there, they beat Pakistan in a Test match to end the series in a draw! So, there’s no way to discount anyone’s capabilities.
The coming days
Mushfiq now averages 32.46 (36 Tests), Shakib averages 36.92 (32 Tests), Tamim averages 38.29 (30 Tests), Nasir averages 45.21 (12 Tests), Mominul averages 83.42 (5 Tests). Nasir’s record it particularly notable as he was not out only once in 20 innings! Even Shohag averages 21.66 (8 Tests) after his maiden hundred. Others near the team are Mahmudullah with 27.90 from 17 Tests and Naeem Islam with 32.00 from 8 Tests. The number of Tests has to be taken with some consideration of time. Bangladesh hardly gets Test matches. In 2012 we got only two Tests. In 2013, the number improved and this has already become 6. Most of the players had to stay with the team for several years to play the number of Tests they’ve played. Time adds to maturity. This is a strong batting line-up that would challenge any team and make any Test win against them much more difficult than previously thought.
Bangladesh is likely to play Tests against Sri Lanka at home in February 2014 and against the West Indies in the Caribbeans in July and against Zimbabwe in Bangladesh in October 2014. Apart from these, there are T20 World Cup in Bangladesh in April 2014, and an ODI home series against India in June 2014. Tigers’ recent performances have created high hopes for these ventures. But Mushfiq Army is not unaware of these expectations. In fact, it was apparent from Mushfiq’s press conference after the Tests against NZ that the Tigers aimed to win the series against the Kiwis. However arrogant this may look like, its great to see that our cricketers are beginning to believe in their own abilities. I can only see good things from here on.