The last seven Tests Bangladesh have played have been spread across four series – two against England at home, two away against New Zealand, one in India, and two in Sri Lanka.
A bigger, more glamorous, team would have played that number of Tests in two series, but that’s another matter.
In these Tests …
Tamim Iqbal: 78, 9, 104, 40, 56, 25, 5, 8, 24, 3, 57, 19, 49, 82.
Mushfiqur Rahim: 48, 39, 4, 9, 159, 13*, 127, 23, 85, 34, 52, 22* (he missed the second Test in New Zealand because of an injury).
Shakib Al Hasan: 31, 24, 10, 41, 217, 0, 59, 8, 82, 22, 23, 8, 116, 15. Plus 29 wickets.
In these seven Tests, riding on these performances by their Big Three, Bangladesh have moved from being pushovers to being competitive, there to do more than just make up the numbers. The win-loss ratio is a mediocre 2-5. What that doesn’t say is what the youngest of the Test-playing teams has achieved even in defeat.
The first Test against England ended with Bangladesh falling 22 runs short. Familiar conditions and all that, yes, but they were playing England. There were failures at the top of the order, but young Sabbir Rahman almost pulled off a heist. The limited-overs dasher put brick upon brick to score 64 not out in over three hours before running out of mates in the end.
The first Test against New Zealand was stacked in Bangladesh’s favour for a long time. They declared on 595 for 8. They bowled New Zealand out for 539 for a 56-run lead. But then they self-destructed to go down by seven wickets.
The second Test there, while a no-contest in the final analysis, was not out of Bangladesh’s hands when the first-innings exchanges were over and done with – the home side just 65 runs in front. Then, again, a batting implosion.
Against India, the one-off Test, Bangladesh were not in the game at any stage. A foregone result, really, once India put up the runs they did – 687/6 declared – on the board. But the match went late into the fifth day. A few years ago, Bangladesh would have rolled over sooner.
The first Test against Sri Lanka, too, was always going away from Bangladesh, especially with the promise of Rangana Herath bowling in the final innings. A 259-run win for Sri Lanka was a fair reflection of the performances of the two teams.
Just to bring in some comparison, let’s look at India in New Zealand and Sri Lanka the last two times they went across.
India went to New Zealand in early 2014, and lost the two-Test series 1-0, though they did have the advantage in the second till Brendon McCullum hit 302.
As for Sri Lanka, it was in August-September 2015. India had the first Test in the pocket till they fluffed their lines and lost by 63 runs. They won the next two, to claim a rare away series victory.
As such, then, when compared to the No.1 Test team in the world (though they weren’t yet there when those series were played), not a terrible performance by the No.9s. There might have been long spells when they were overpowered and even overwhelmed, but Bangladesh were far from disgraced at any stage.
A smaller team can occasionally push a bigger team hard, take a lead and then lose the plot. Once in a way, they will script a remarkable win too. That’s par for the course. We call them upsets.
Do we still call it an upset when a very small team goes and scores close to 600 in an innings in New Zealand and beats one much bigger team, at home, and a somewhat bigger team (considering Sri Lanka’s present situation) away? What are we going to say if the Indian football team, for example, beats Brazil 2-1 in New Delhi and then Croatia 3-1 in Zagreb? Or if Sunil Chhetri & Co also go goalless against Germany till the 85th minute in Berlin? A miracle?
When the upsets or the hard pushes come consistently, we have to concede that something’s changed.
The Indian football team is getting nowhere near those scores against those oppositions – that would be a miracle all right. Bangladesh’s recent surge in Test cricket is not. It’s taken time, but it’s happening. Brick by brick.
For a team to do well, especially in Test cricket, it’s imperative that senior players shoulder the bulk of the responsibility. There’s a reason why there are stars in a team. They are the ones that wear the No. 10 jerseys. Have Nike basketball shoes named after them. The ones that must take the lead when a big trophy has to be won.
Tamim, Shakib and Mushfiqur have done just that in recent times.
Tamim – one of his eight centuries and four of his 22 half-centuries, over 49 Tests, have come in this seven-Test period.
Mushfiqur – two of his five centuries and two of his 17 half-centuries have come in the six Tests he has played.
Shakib – two of his five centuries (including a Bangladesh best of 217) and two of his 21 half-centuries have propped Bangladesh up. As well as 16.5% of his Test wickets – in 14% of all the Tests he has played.
These numbers are telling.
But the old and experienced hands can’t do it alone. That’s where Bangladesh have gained from the batting performances of Mominul Haque, Soumya Sarkar and Sabbir, and with the drive and ambition of a bowling lineup that – bar Shakib – has together played just over a third the number of Tests as Ishant Sharma. Even if we add Shakib’s 49 Tests, it’s one fewer than Ishant’s 77.
The common factor in these seven Tests has been Mehedi Hasan. You sometimes have these lucky charms – Mehedi debuted in the first Test against England. Bangladesh’s 100th Test was his seventh. Mehedi’s settling down as a batsman, too, has been a boon for Bangladesh.
As this blog has noted before, these are fascinating times for Bangladesh cricket: They are going from strength to strength as a limited-overs side and, slowly but steadily, gaining in confidence and stature as a Test side. In all the excellent performances of late, the win in Sri Lanka must rank as the greatest – that it was Bangladesh’s 100th Test makes the story more poignant.
With most factors remaining constant, the boys from Bangladesh have what it takes to be a big force at home – yes, even in Tests – and, by and by, become more and more competitive away. Shakib has never played better Test cricket, and we are talking about a 30-year-old allrounder, one of the best in the world, getting nearabouts his best, looking like the champion he can be if he can work out the blood-rushes he is so prone to.
And he is finally getting the support he has lacked in the past. Mushfiqur has certainly never batted better, nor more consistently and responsibly. And Tamim has never been more determined – or looked as classy when on song.
And in Chandika Hathurusinghe, my friends in Bangladesh tell me, there’s a coach who knows his job, who commands the respect and admiration of the players; someone the men in the board trust and back completely.
These are great days to follow Bangladesh cricket closely and with affection, not necessarily as a fan but certainly as a well-wisher, knowing that it’s likely to get better.