Bangladesh’s first big prey!

It is easy to pooh-pooh this Bangladesh victory, terming it as a one-off gained on a turning track, but that would be an extreme form of cynicism. Bangladesh deserved to win as its two arms — the experienced player and the rookie — combined emphatically to derail Alastair Cook’s England.

For Mushifiqur Rahim's team it was a landmark victory against Alastair Cook's men.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The Bangladesh fans were provided an opportunity to whoop it up!   -  GETTY IMAGES

David quelling Goliath is a trope that energises sport, lends hope and keeps the fans glued to their stadium seats or in front of their televisions. At times, it also marks a decisive first step, not the wobbly gait of an infant, but a firm stride that reiterates growth and confidence.

A similar sentiment was very much in the air over the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, a Dhaka suburb, that erupted in joy recently (October 30, 2016), as Bangladesh defeated England by 108 runs in the second and final Test of a two-match series and drew level at 1-1.

It marked a decisive turn for the better in Bangladesh’s cricket history that has been part of a narrative right from the days of British India, East Pakistan and to its current status as an independent nation since 1971. In the sub-continental sibling rivalry that blows hot and cold between India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the last named is often perceived as an afterthought.

The big brothers are guilty of a patronising streak, but scratch the surface and the blips blur and wrong perceptions get corrected. The Bangladeshi Taka is stronger than the Pakistani and Sri Lankan Rupee. People jostling for space to move on roads in Dhaka and the city’s humungous share of cycle-rickshaws, often scratching cars, may breed claustrophobia to the foreigner, but the people out there, live with gusto. There is a fierce competitive streak, a can-do spirit and a sense of incredulousness when a stranger doesn’t speak Bengali. There is pride about their country and language and once a nation sheds its inferiority complex, more than half the battle is won.

Bangladesh first slipped on its Test whites in 2000 with India hopping across for a game and it has taken a decade and a half for it to nail an established squad. Weaker outfits may have been quelled, but against stronger opposition, there was only heart-break in store. The key to winning Tests — wresting more sessions — was lost on the team, but in ODIs and Twenty20s, where flaws (fatal in Tests but ephemeral in limited overs cricket) could be glossed over, Bangladesh sported fangs and India often suffered.

A shock defeat to its tiny neighbour ejected India out of the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies and while Sachin Tendulkar ushered in his 100th international century in an Asia Cup game in Dhaka, Bangladesh won the game and ruined his party. It may be recalled that Mushfiqur Rahim, the diminutive and explosive wicketkeeper-batsman, who orchestrated the triumph, is now at the helm. And his side seems to have extended its self-belief to Tests too and England ate humble pie.

It is easy to pooh-pooh the victory, terming it as a one-off gained on a turning track, but that would be an extreme form of cynicism.

Bangladesh deserved to win as its two arms — the experienced player and the rookie — combined emphatically to derail Alastair Cook’s men.

The seniors — Tamim Iqbal with a first innings century (104) and left-arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan (one for 41, four for 49) — found the impetus through the exploits of the 19-year-old off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz, who had a match-haul of 12 wickets and also hastened England’s second innings collapse while chasing 273. There have been occasions in the past when the seniors did enough to cause a stir, got carried away with their emotions, lost their focus and slumped together in teary embraces. But this was different and it was time too that Bangladesh shed its diffidence in Tests and to do that against a strong England, is no mean task. It augurs well for a country, ravaged by floods in the past and shaken by terrorism’s bloody footprints in recent times.

The challenge would be to maintain a modicum of consistency and bolster its self-esteem in Tests. In previous years, there have been those odd moments of aggression — remember Rahul Dravid being struck on the jaw by a Shahadat Hossain bouncer in 2010? — but often the fiery streak was frittered away and losses mounted. The latest milestone should not be a lone mark in Bangladesh’s cricketing evolution, more significant signposts need to be etched and in players like Rahim, Shakib and Tamim, the side has a strong core.

If Mehedi too could step up and prove that he truly is a prodigy, Bangladeshis can exult. There is also the cautionary tale of the original prodigy Mohammad Ashraful, a talented batsman, who got mired in match-fixing and lost his way. But for now that digression can be overlooked.

This is a moment to celebrate and Mushfiqur has trained his eyes on improving performance across the seas. “In the last two years we have played well at home, but our next challenge is overseas,” he said.

With a coaching staff of Chandika Hathurasingha and Courtney Walsh keeping a close watch, the road ahead needs to be tackled with tact.

There is another headache that Mushfiqur needs to cope with — the pressure of expectations. Probably, he and his team-mates wouldn’t mind that.