When underdogs turned top dogs

We need to celebrate the two unexpected results in Test cricket recently — Bangladesh’s defeat of Australia and West Indies chasing down 322 runs to win the second match of the series against England. The victories should encourage the two proud cricketing nations to get even better.

Shai Hope, the batsman who orchestrated West Indies’ successful chase of 322 runs in the company of Kraigg Brathwaite, gets a warm hug from skipper Jason Holder after the match. West Indies, which suffered an embarrassing defeat by an innings and 209 runs in the first Test, turned the tables on England in the second Test in Leeds.   -  Getty Images

World cricket had plenty to rejoice recently when there were a couple of unexpected results in Tests. First, Bangladesh beat Australia narrowly by 20 runs to register their first ever win against that country. A few hours later, West Indies chased down 322 runs to win the second Test and, thus, level the three-match series.

In recent years, Bangladesh have been a tough opposition to beat, especially on their grounds, and so the result was perhaps not as totally surprising as the spirited West Indies’ chase was. Still, it was a closely-run contest, as the Australians, in their never-give-up style, stayed right till the end and gave many an anxious moment to the Bangladeshi supporters.

The Australian record in the sub-continent has been quite ordinary, having lost 3-0 to Sri Lanka last year, and then 2-1 to India earlier this year. Still, it is not as bad as the performance of the sub-continent teams in Australia, where the Aussies have been beaten only in one Test in the last 10 years.

Like the Indian team at home, Bangladesh too has a fanatical following in some parts of their country, and it was a marvellous moment for their supporters to see their team beating Australia. Bangladesh have come close a couple of times in the past, but there was no real self-belief then, and so the Australians got away. But this Bangladesh team is a hardened unit, led by the combative Mushfiqur Rahim. The team has some of the finest players in the world. Tamim Iqbal is an attacking opening batsman who can take the game away from the opposition in the first hour itself. Then there is Shakib Al Hasan who, a couple of years ago, was the No. 1 Test all-rounder in the ICC rankings. They are supported by some fine players, who will only get better with experience.

Bangladesh’s spin attack is top quality, with Shakib himself at the forefront. And backing him are off-spinner Mehedi Hasan and left-arm orthodox Taijul Islam. Shakib got 10 wickets in the match and clearly he is the superstar of Bangladesh cricket. That this team cannot find a place for Mahmudullah is a bit surprising, for he is just the kind of all-rounder who can give the skipper more options in bowling too. His batting in limited-overs cricket has been quite superb, but perhaps Bangladesh believe that he is more a limited-overs player than a Test specialist.

The Australian media was quick to jump on its players, especially since the protracted negotiations and stand-off over contracts had dragged on for so long, and so the players may not have been as ready as they should have been. But to compare the fees that the Bangladesh players get with what the Australians earn is hitting below the belt.

The Australian players deserve ever penny they are getting, as they are the best players in Australia and it’s about time people understood that when players commit to play professional sport they are giving up their youth in the pursuit of winning glory not just for themselves but for their country too. So, they should be backed and not jumped on when they fail. Once the sportsman finishes his active career there are not many avenues left for him. A sportsman’s career is also often hampered by injury which does affect his earnings, and so if the players fight for their rights then there is nothing wrong about it.

West Indies had lost inside three days in the first Test, which was a day-night affair. Nineteen wickets fell on the last day, and it was an embarrassing loss for West Indies. Therefore, despite taking a big lead in the first innings of the second Test, when West Indies were set 322 runs to get in the fourth innings, nobody gave them a chance. Well, one Englishman, Alastair Cook, did by dropping the top-scorers Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope, though Hope was well past his second century of the match by then. Brathwaite missed a century in each innings by five runs, but Hope carried on and took West Indies home in what is a truly memorable win.

The victories by the underdogs have eased the worry that was enveloping Test cricket following the easy wins that India had over a hapless Sri Lanka team and England’s massive win in the first Test. With most Test matches finishing inside five days — often in three days — there is a concern about the quality of some of the teams. And with two new teams, Ireland and Afghanistan, coming into the Test fold, we could be in for some more one-sided games.

But for the moment let us celebrate these two wins and hope that they will encourage the two proud cricketing nations to get even better.