Bangladesh, not a pushover anymore

The Hyderabad Test will be a big learning experience for many of the squad members, as Bangladesh does not get to lock horns with the world’s best Test side too often.

K. R. Deepak

Bangladesh players during a practice session at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad on the eve of the one-off Test match against India.   -  K. R. Deepak

Since it received Test status in 2000, Bangladesh has left its imprint on the elite cricketing landscape. That it’s not a pushover anymore is well understood by its capability to provide tough challenges to the best of teams. Matches with these ‘big boys’ are few and far between that rusts its players. But despite this handicap, the team has been quite formidable at home in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in recent years and a world force in the format, having almost clinched the Asia Cup in 2012. The gap is much wider is Tests, though, not only due to the nature of the format — differences in levels of quality are more distinctly visible in five days of grind — but also because the team solely depends upon a rare bilateral commitment by full members to play Tests; multi-nation Test tournaments do not exist.

Bangladesh has won eight Tests and has lost 74 in 97 matches played so far.

It put up a strong batting performance in its debut Test innings — a total of 400 against India in Dhaka. But it did not come close to winning a Test before 2003. In Multan against Pakistan, its victory charge was thwarted by a century in the fourth innings from Inzamam-ul-Haq, who held the innings together amid wickets falling consistently around him. Chasing 261, Pakistan was reduced to 164 for seven, and then 205 for eight, but it crossed the line with a wicket in hand. After the defeat, “everyone cried in the dressing room,” Khaled Mahmud, the then Bangladesh captain, told ESPNcricinfo.

Eventually, Bangladesh was on the board by 2005 when it defeated Zimbabwe by 226 runs in Chittagong. The other match in the series, in Dhaka, was drawn; this was a much tighter contest, signalling Bangladesh was not yet out of the woods.

It may have ousted India and stunned South Africa in the ODI World Cup in 2007, but at the time it was far away from creating upsets in Tests any time soon. Its second victory came in the form of a second-string West Indies side in Kingston in 2009.Tamim Iqbal’s second-innings century gave West Indies a target of 277 to chase, but spinners Mahmudullah and Shakib Al Hasan — two players who would be vital to Bangladesh’s cause for the next decade — ran through the opposition line-up to hand their team a 95-run win. This time, Bangladesh backed this up with a four-wicket win in Grenada — led by an all-round show from Shakib — to clinch the series 2-0.

Four more years of drought continued before the team conjured its third overseas win, and the fourth overall, against Zimbabwe in Harare, in April, 2013. The two-Test series was drawn 1-1. During Zimbabwe’s tour of Bangladesh in October, 2014, it registered three victories on the trot.

But, despite the seeming stagnation, with no victories against any stronger oppostion, there was progress made. The team scored 500 for the first time against West Indies in Dhaka in 2012, to eclipse the opponent’s total in what was a close contest — Bangladesh lost by 77 runs. A year later, it crossed 600 — helped by a double-century from Mushfiqur Rahim — against Sri Lanka in Galle.

Bangladesh's traditionally strong spin attack finally delivered its first major blow only last year. England, the Ashes winner, was given a scare in the first Test in Chittagong, and beaten in Mirpur. A rookie off-spinner, Mehedi Hasan, did the most damage, taking 19 wickets across four innings. This was a landmark moment after 16 years of struggle, a realisation that was noted by the gracious rival skipper Alastair Cook.

There may be the occasional batting collapse deemed typical, but those implosions seem to be getting fewer. In its recent tour of New Zealand, it crossed 500 for the sixth time in its history, taking a first-innings lead and overall putting on an impressive performance on a pitch and weather conditions that are fundamentally different from what it is used to. The trip was a bit ordinary and familiar, though, as it could not gather a single victory in any match across formats.

However, familiarity with conditions could change the scenario a bit in Hyderabad. India may be the favourite, but its opposition, too, is known to rack up big totals and attack via spinners. Whatever the eventuality of the contest may be, the Test will be a big learning experience for many of the squad members, as Bangladesh does not get to lock horns with the world’s best Test side too often.