Have the Tigers finally learned to roar?
Long regarded the whipping boys of cricket, Bangladesh are now emerging as a potent opponent.
Though the Bangladesh cricket team is nicknamed the Tigers, it has remained a perennial cub for years. Since their introduction into the Test cricket with a one-off game against neighbouring India in 2000, they have played 101 Tests and won only 10 of them. At one point of time, they lost 21 Tests on the trot, which is still a record for the most number of consecutive losses by a team in the longer version of the game.
However, in the last one year, Bangladesh have shown the signs of a remarkable improvement. Prior to 2016, their only Test victories came against Zimbabwe and a depleted West Indies in 2009. Now, in the span of one year, they have gone on to register victories against Australia and England at home and Sri Lanka away. In between, they performed admirably in New Zealand too.
Their most recent and the most historic victory came against the mighty Aussies, a traditional powerhouse of cricket, in the first game of the ongoing two-Test series at Mirpur a week ago. Going into the match, the home side had never got the better of the Kangaroos in the red ball cricket. However, on the back of a stellar all-round show from Shakib Al Hasan, the home outfit managed to pull off a thrilling 20-run victory over the men from Down Under.
Emergence of match winners
So, what is causing a change in the fortunes of the side? A key factor contributing to their recent success is the emergence of a number of match winners. In the past, the team would have only one or two star players (Mohd Ashraful, Habibul Bashar, Mohd Rafique, to name a few). At present, they seem to have as many as five to six players who can win matches on their days.
While all-rounder Shakib remains the team’s MVP (Most Valuable Player), in Tamim Iqbal, they have a destructive opener who can take the game away from any opponent. Skipper Mushfiqur Rahim is a capable batsman and stumper where as the likes of Sabbir Rahman and Mahmudullah can come up with match turning knocks.
However, it’s not only about the experienced campaigners. A couple of youngsters have been at the heart of Bangladesh’s metamorphosis as well. Ever since he made his debut, Mustafizur Rahman has been a revelation with the ball in all forms of cricket. Equally impressive has been the rise of teenaged rookie tweaker Mehidy Hasan Miraz who burst onto the international arena with a match winning spell against England last year.
One of the issues that hurt Bangladesh consistently in the past was a lack of killer instinct among their players. There were always flashes of brilliance here and there, but the team failed to deliver the killer blow when it really mattered.
In the Fatullah Test of 2006, Bangladesh batted first and posted a mammoth 427 before bowling out Australia for 269. In fact, at one state Australia were tottering at 93 for 6 before Adam Gilchrist’s swashbuckling 144 gave the side’s total some respectability.
Still, with a massive lead of 158 runs, the hosts were in a driver’s seat. From there, though, they lost the plot completely and were bowled out for a paltry 148 in the second innings. Ponting and Co. chased down the target of 307 with three wickets to spare.
A similar fate awaited the Tigers against Pakistan in the famous Multan Test of 2003. Bangladesh again went on to take a big first innings lead of 106 runs before getting dismissed cheaply in the second. The target of 261, though, still appeared a far cry for Pakistan when they lost their eighth wicket on 205.
However, from here on, the game started to slip through their fingers. Riding on a memorable century from the blade of Inzama-ul-Haq, who was well-supported by Umar Gul first and Danish Kaneria later, the home team hung on to claim a nail-biting, one-wicket triumph.
Now, this trend is changing and here lies the crux of Bangladesh’s recent success story. They have begun to win key moments and close out a game. Last year, England had sauntered their way to 100 for no loss while chasing 273 before Bangladesh spinners cleaned them up in a single session to give their team a 108-run win.
In their previous Test against Australia too, there came a moment when Bangladesh were under the pump. With Warner and Smith looking settled in the middle, Oz had eight wickets intact and were only 100 runs away from victory. However, the home spinners again turned the match on its head with a flurry of wickets. Australia fell agonizingly short of the target to give the home side a win to remember for years to come.
Finally, it seems that the cub has learned to kill its prey and roar. Its transition into a fully grown tiger is inevitable.