Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Saga of Bangladesh Test Cricket: So near yet so far

M. Serajul Islam
Published in The Independent, March 27th, 2010

The saga continues. Bangladesh’s search for that illusive victory over a full strength international test side that would signal the coming of age of its Test cricket slipped away in Dhaka when with some common sense and cricketing sense, we could have at least earned a very convincing draw . This test, the second one against England, was a strange one in many ways. The Test brought to the surface for cricket analysts that Bangladesh is not short in talent but it also revealed at the same time for everyone to see that in terms of common sense and cricketing sense, Bangladesh has still some way to go.

The test started, thanks to Tamim Iqbal, as a 20/20 game. With more than 45 minutes to go in the morning session of the first day, he was more than assured to become the 5th Test cricketer in history and the first since 1976 when Majid Khan of Pakistan achieved the feat, to score a test century before lunch on the opening day. That Saturday, the first day of the test, I woke up at 10 in the morning with the Test starring at 9:30. I switched my TV and did not believe what I saw on live telecast of the Test. Bangladesh was past the 50 mark and Tamim at 35. By the time I finished breakfast and came back to watch again, there was more wonder. The game was just over an hour and Tamim had crossed 70 and the commentators themselves did not seem to believe what they were saying. Tamim was set to complete his century well before lunch. But like all fairy tales that have an ending, Tamim was out at 85 doing what he does best; hit out at whatever is bowled at him, only this shot did not reach the boundary but went up for the wicket keeper to take a dolly catch.

Common sense should have dictated him to check his shots and go for singles and then he would have easily created history. He would have been in the company of Trumper, McCartney and Bradman. The Captain and the Coach should have sent him a message to do so. The Captain, whose talent as an all rounder is now world class also lacks the same common sense and cricketing sense of Tamim. At 96 not out sometime after lunch with Bangladesh lead more than 200 on the final day when his stay for an hour more would have assured Bangladesh not such his century but also its first well deserved draw, he chose to dance down the pitch to score a 100 with a six only to succumb and hand England a very comfortable 9 wickets victory on a platter. Three of Saquib’s team mates who could have helped him ensure the draw also went down the same insensible way as their Captain, playing 20/20 shots.

A draw would have been a moral victory for Bangladesh in every way because for most of the Test, except the lasts session of the penultimate day and the two final sessions of the final day, Bangladesh Team was the front runner. In fact, Bangladesh team had the English team so demoralized that even night watchman Shafiul hammered a fifty out of the English attack and England looked as the under dogs and Bangladesh well and truly the champions! . The English batted like a team possessed by fear for which they opted for amnesia by forgetting to play shots to occupy the crease and ensure against defeat. If the three horrendous umpiring decisions had gone Bangladesh’s way, England would have been on its knees with Bangladesh the dominating team.

The way the Bangladesh captain led in the second innings was also another example of immaturity and lack of common sense and cricketing sense. The Captain should have known, if not on his own then with guidance from the Coach, that the only way to stop England from winning was to attack and get early wickets so that England would play for the draw. Instead, the captain went on the defensive and brought himself, the team’s leading bowler, when the England openers had merrily charted for themselves 40 runs with almost 4 runs an over. In the end, the English team scored the 209 runs with 9 wickets and many overs to spare that was a victory by a very big margin.

In retrospect, Bangladesh could have easily saved the match if their batsmen had scored runs in test style instead of 20/20 style. By scoring runs too fast they gave England in the end the time to score the required runs. The pitch was just too flat and easy for England to be bowled twice. With just one spinner in Saquib with class, the Bangladesh team should have known that in the Mirpur pitch; only a miracle could have helped them to win the match, even if those three umpiring decisions had gone in their favour. In the second innings, after England had managed a nearly 100 runs lead, and with less than two days left of the match, Tamim again started the innings in the same 20/20 style; gave 3 very easy chances and was eventually out without occupying the crease for the length of time required to draw. On the 5th day, with the odds heavily in favour of England, with the Captain on 25 not out and 4 wickets remaining and a lead less than 100, Saquib and his team-mates again chose to attack! It is a matter of luck and Saquib’s batting skill, he was able to be there but his team mates perished, playing strokes, like their target was victory in a limited overs game. Instead, if the Captain had opted on occupation of the crease, the remaining four batsmen could have stayed long enough to frustrate England and earn a draw.

The series against England has left a good number of plus points for Bangladesh. The batsmen have shown class. But they have to change gears between Test matches and limited overs games. In case of Tamim, it may not be possible to rein his rashness because he is a natural stroke-maker. The Bangladesh team may make one exception in his case and allow him to play as Sewag plays for the Indian team. Bangladesh Team management should make Hanif Mohammad the model for the rest of the batsmen because without learning to occupy the crease, in the end they will always give the opposition the time to score the runs that they would be accumulating in 20/20 style because it does not have the bowlers to take the advantage any other team would have by scoring fast runs. It is good to scores 4s and 6s but in Test cricket, singles and twos are more important. Bangladesh Team must know that to play sensible Test cricket.

The Bangladesh team and more so its batsmen will soon face completely different wickets in England where pace and swing could play havoc with their stroke-making style. Without sound defensive batsman ship, they could find making runs extremely difficult than in the placid pitches of Bangladesh where weather conditions do not allow the ball any natural movements of the pitch. As a Captain, Saquib needs a lot of guidance because his immaturity has shown large chinks in the Bangladesh armor. His leadership in the final two sessions of the Dhaka Test was very disappointing where even his body language was unacceptable. The way Cook and Petersen scored the runs for victory made it look like the England team was playing cricket against a team of novice that was not the case on at least the first three days of the Dhaka test and for a large measure in the Chittagong Test; in Dhaka, Bangladesh for some time was in fact in the driver’s seat.

The President of Bangladesh Cricket Board recently said in an interview about the need of the Bangladesh Team for psychological support because the players are very young. He has a very important point here because the Bangladesh cricket Team lost the two tests and the limited over series more in their minds that on cricketing ability. The bottom line has been stressed by the English spinner Swann who said that Bangladesh Cricket Team is no long a pushover.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

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