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|Volume 12 |Issue 02| January 11, 2013 ||
The Year of Unprecedented Success
The enduring image of Bangladesh cricket's year 2012 was that of Shakib Al Hasan fighting back tears and failing in his attempt while captain Mushfiqur Rahim bawled his heart out as he buried his head in his champion all-rounder's shoulders. That day, March 22, Bangladesh lost a heart-shattering Asia Cup final to Pakistan by just two runs. That image reminded their millions of fans that the team that had reached the final by beating 2011 World Cup finalists India and Sri Lanka were still making the transition from cricketing boyhood into manhood.
That was near the beginning of 2012, and by the year's end it can be said that the transition was almost complete, at least in One-Day International (ODI) cricket. Bangladesh displayed a style of play in the Asia Cup that clearly set them apart from the also-rans of previous years, but even in that tournament it was the vital and timely contributions of Shakib and Tamim Iqbal that set up the two victories over the World Cup finalists. Yes, there were important contributions from Nasir Hossain, Mushfiqur Rahim and Jahurul Islam, but the impression remained that it was Shakib's contribution that bound together the others' performances and set the ship on the course to victory.
It was all the more heartening therefore that roughly nine months later on December 8 Bangladesh won the fifth and final ODI against West Indies to win the series 3-2 with a misfiring Tamim, and Shakib missing the series through injury. The West Indies had just won the World Twenty20 and were a team full of feared hitters on the upward swing, and pre-series predictions had Bangladesh being trounced by an embarrassing margin. After the first two matches in Khulna, which Bangladesh won by six wickets and 160 runs through a discipline in bowling that only mental strength and maturity provides, those predictions were cause for embarrassment to the ones making them.
The series against the West Indies threw into stark relief the picture that begun to take shape during the Asia Cup – that of Bangladesh as more than a collection of individuals, that of a team in the true sense. The series featured four debutants – Shohag Gazi, Abul Hasan (both of whom put in telling contributions in the preceding Test series), Anamul Haque and Mominul Haque – and all of them performed without nerves or hesitance as the home side overcame a formidable Caribbean outfit. That newcomers can come in to the side and express themselves – Anamul's century in the second match and Gazi's consistently miserly bowling efforts are cases in point – point to a solid team ethic that is united in the cause of the team's success.
This impression was further strengthened by the performance of pace bowler Shafiul Islam, who came into the side as a replacement for the lion-hearted Mashrafe Bin Mortaza in the all-important fifth ODI, and seamlessly picked up the latter's role of stifling out West Indies' batting lynchpin Chris Gayle.
By the end of the year, with the victory over the West Indies, Bangladesh became a team full of players ready to take responsibility for the team's success, as vice-captain Mahmudullah Riyad did with a quickfire innings when the team was in trouble at 30 for three in their chase of 218.
2013 therefore will be a year to build on the growth of 2012, and to that end a few of the negatives of the year gone by should be mentioned. These negatives however do not have as much to do with the cricketers as with those governing them. The good folk at the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) are certainly not known for making things easy for the cricketers. When talking of the stability and the work ethic of the players, it must be remembered that those qualities were achieved in spite of the system and not because of it. Bangladesh ended the year under their third coach of 2012, Shane Jurgensen. Australian Stuart Law, who oversaw the Asia Cup performance, left with a year left in his contract soon after the regional tournament, citing family reasons.
Then there was the fiasco with his successor Richard Pybus, who after serving for five months, left his post because there was a dispute with the board regarding vacation time. After refusing the BCB more than once, the Englishman living in South Africa with his family agreed to come on board when he was supposedly assured that he could go home in between tours. These agreements, according to Pybus's statements, were not reflected in the contract he was offered upon coming to Bangladesh, with the result being that he refused to sign on the dotted line.
Yet he was coach of the national team for five months. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue, it raises the question of why Bangladesh, one of only ten Test-playing nations worldwide, needed to bend over backwards to appoint a coach who from the outset was unwilling to spend an extended period of time in the country.
Whether they mean well or not, whether it is intentional or not, the BCB have often stacked the odds against the cricketers. They did not organise tours or series in the longer formats of the game to cash in on the rich vein of form the Tigers had found in the Asia Cup; indeed they went in the other direction by sending the cricketers on a three-month T20 odyssey in preparation for the ICC World Twenty 20, a tournament not many expected them to excel in, justifiably so as they went out in the first round. Bangladesh were originally scheduled to play first-class cricket in Ireland in the summer, but that was converted to an exclusively T20 tour in an effort to get the team up the T20 ranking ladder, a quite futile exercise as before the World Twenty20 a strong team like Australia was ranked lower than minnows Ireland.
All this creates the perception that more attention is being given to the shorter forms of the game, especially the flavour of the times – T20 cricket. It is no surprise then that the team still has a way to go to match their ODI success in Test cricket – the premier form of the game. They played only two Tests in 2012, and lost both against the West Indies in November. Positives there still were, as they took both matches to the fifth and final day, and also that they scored their highest Test total (556 in the first innings of the first Test at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Dhaka) having picked up the format after an 11-month gap. Again, the notion that the cricketers are doing well in spite of the system is hard to escape. One hopes that the BCB takes some steps to ensure that Bangladesh plays more Tests – after all it was through regularly playing against superior opponents that the team has reached its present adroitness in ODI cricket.
For the time being however, supporters can bask in the glory of a year of unprecedented success in ODIs – 2012 was the first year in Bangladesh's cricketing history that they won more matches than they lost against full-strength, top-class opposition. It is now time for the wise heads in the boardroom to set out a blueprint that ensures that 2012 is the first of many.
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