Bangladesh have really come into their own in the last two years. It also feels like they have been playing a lot more than they did before, although that is not entirely true. Okay, to an extent, but the boys have played only eight Test matches in two years – the ninth is on at the moment. Of these, they have won three; three of the ten they have ever won, and the only three they have won against teams that are not Zimbabwe or Windies.
In the shorter formats, especially the middle variety, they have been going up in leaps and bounds. In Tests, there is still a pretty big question mark.
What explains this turnaround? Are Bangladesh witnessing their Golden Generation? Sporting teams do have these periods when players of comparable age and experience, and talent, come together to lift them beyond anything they have achieved before. Think Magic Magyars. The US basketball Dream Team. In cricket, Bradman’s Invincibles, the Calypso Kings, Steve Waugh’s Untouchables, India’s Fab Five or Super Six. Not all of these teams become world champions, but over a sustained period of time, they perform consistently well more than their opponents do. And always the team relies on those stars to lead the show.
So who did the star turns in the Tests Bangladesh have won recently, against England, Sri Lanka and Australia (in that order)?
Against England, it was the teenaged Mehedi Hasan who made all the difference, with a 12-wicket haul. But that performance aside, it is Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim who have collected almost all the big runs and, in the case of Shakib, many of the big wickets too.
In the England Test, Tamim scored 104 and 40, and Shakib scored 41 in the second innings and also picked up five of the eight wickets Mehedi had left for the others.
The Sri Lanka Test: Tamim had 49 and 82. Shakib picked up six wickets overall and scored 116 in the first innings, and Rahim, after a 52 in the first innings, took Bangladesh over the line with an unbeaten 22.
Australia then: 71 and 78 from Tamim; 84 in the first innings and ten wickets for Shakib, and a crucial 41 in the second hit from Rahim.
You’ll find good numbers here and there next to Mominul Haque, Sabbir Rahman, Mosaddek Hossain, Tajiul Islam … Mehedi of course, and others too. But in the end, it comes down to these three men – Tamim and Shakib in the main, and Rahim, who was the difference between a quick defeat and a last-session loss in India earlier this year. With Tamim, you need to add the fine Champions Trophy 2017 performance too, and for Shakib, there was the 217 in the first Test in New Zealand – where Rahim scored 159 – too.
Quick stat-check for these eight Tests when compared to overall career numbers (runs only, seeing that Tamim and Rahim don’t bowl).
|Tamim (last 8 Tests)||708||44.25||1/6||104|
|Shakib (last 8 Tests)||745||46.56||2/3||217|
|Rahim (last 7 Tests)*||674||56.16||2/2||159|
* Rahim missed the second Test in New Zealand
As for Shakib’s bowling, this will give an idea of how crucial it has been in these eight Tests.
|Last 8 Tests||39||27.48||5/68||3||1|
As it stands, one can make a couple of predictions with some degree of certainty: At home, Bangladesh will continue to win more often than they don’t, even in Test match cricket; overseas, they will put up good fights, yes, but won’t win too often against the big teams. And, in all those results, the Big Three will play pivotal roles – they do well, the team does well; they fail, the team falters.
Therein lies the flipside to this success. When the Golden Generation drops off the scene – usually together, being of more or less the same vintage – there emerges a void. A void that becomes difficult to fill. Look at the current Sri Lankan and Windies teams for proof. A team struggles to overcome that gap, and to deal with not winning as often as it did before. The choke, the overall gloom – if you’re invested in sport, you know the feeling.
Tamim is 28, Rahim 29 and Shakib 30. We are probably looking at another seven-eight years (give or take) for the three of them. And for Mahmudullah, 31, who has unfortunately fallen off the radar in Test matches but remains Bangladesh’s man for a crisis in the shorter formats. If Tamim was the big star in Bangladesh’s Champions Trophy run, Shakib and Mahmudullah were the men who won them the New Zealand game with classy and gritty centuries.
Unfortunately, they will walk away within days or months of each other.
These are the years Bangladesh have to prepare for life after their equivalents of Tendulkar, Dravid and Kumble, or Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Muralitharan. This is where the claims of the Bangladesh Cricket Board vis-à-vis their apparently strong academy and junior-cricket system will be tested. This is where the shortcomings of the first-class system, which those in the know say is little more than a sham, will be shown up.
More immediately, the numbers of the next year or two will tell us whether Mominul, Soumya Sarkar and Sabbir Rahman are in for the long haul or are just flashes of brilliance. Liton Das too needs to put up performances solid enough to knock Rahim off the perch and become the first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman. Taskin Ahmed must lead a strong-enough fast-bowling charge to convince everyone that Bangladesh are not only about their spinners. Even Mehedi and Mustafizur Rahman, the two young men so prodigiously talented, must up their games to lessen the load on the big stars.
Indeed, in all the talk about the Big Three, the contribution of the likes of Mehedi and Mustafizur must be acknowledged. Mehedi in Tests and ‘The Fizz’ in One-Day Internationals provided the spark of inspiration that probably led to the senior men lifting their games. Look back only to when the tide turned, in the respective formats, and you’ll see the truth of it.
World cricket might not be in the best health right now, but Bangladesh cricket is glowing pink.
They have got the support they need, with the coaching staff of Chandika Hathurusinghe, Courtney Walsh, Thilan Samaraweera, Sunil Joshi, Richard Halsall and others widely appreciated by the people that matter in their country, as well as among journalists.
When Shakib talked up the possibility of a 2-0 series sweep against Australia, Steven Smith said the prediction “surprised me a little bit”, and pointed out that Bangladesh had “won only nine out of their 100 games” at that stage. Shakib walked the talk to make it 1-0, and must do it again to give truth to the forecast.
This could well be when Bangladesh emerge from the shadows, at home and abroad – making the 2015 World Cup quarterfinals and the 2017 Champions Trophy semifinals were good beginnings. It will have to be Shakib, Tamim and Rahim doing the heavy lifting for now, but when it’s time for them to walk away, they need to have passed on the baton to the next rung runners – sprinters and marathoners. Whether they are worthy successors or not will determine whether the future holds a Bangladesh Boom or a Bangladesh Bust.