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By Tausif Salim

This week in SportsWatch, Tausif Salim is back to review the year just past with reference to the Bangladeshi cricket. But before we move on to his article, I would like to bring to your attention the World Cup draw help in Leipzig less than a week ago. By this time almost all of you know the groups by heart but that shouldn't stop me from talking about one of the most intricate draws for years where three very intriguing groups materialised. Argentina were, yet again drawn into the group of death, while England and Italy also got very tough draws.

But all the paperwork has now been done. All we await is the kick-off on June the 9th at the wondrous state of the art Allianz Arena in Munchen.

Let the games begin!
The greatest year

There are two types of Bangladeshis: the ones who endlessly criticise Bangladesh and always come to the conclusion that we are the most terrible thing that has happened to cricket. The other group includes me, the ones who support and defend the team relentlessly through the thick and thin (where the 'thin' periods are actually a lot thicker).

For the (rightfully) optimists, this year has arguably been the greatest for Bangladesh cricket, where we have actually come quite a few steps ahead. The signs were evident at the end of last year, when India was toppled in a memorable evening at the Bangabandhu stadium. Since that day, the cricket world had been warned… Bangladesh, had indeed become, a force to reckon with.

If the win against India was a confidence booster, the Zimbabwe series was the first exam to pass. The month long tour had expectations in various forms, from various sectors, and even the ICC was carefully observing the proceedings as well. The first test was soon underway, and Bangladesh's record first innings total of 488 proved they were right up to the task. The match went down to the last day, when a fiery spell by Enamul Haque junior wrote the page in history for us. Even before the excitement was over, a gritty draw in the second test gave the country more fuel for celebrations the first ever test series win. With the team losing the first two matches in the following one day series, the critics were back, stating that our 'glorious fluke' was to be short-lived. But following an astounding turn of events, and explosive knocks in the final match by Aftab and Rafique, the series was won in great style.

The intimidating thought of facing the English on their own soil had been weakened by then, replaced with a genuine hope of better things to come. The test series did not go all that bad either, considering the relative strengths of the two teams. Aftab Ahmed impressed everyone with his positive knocks, (which perhaps led to his nomination for the ICC's emerging player of the year award). But the real challenge was still to come.

The fact that Bangladesh was to play a triangular series with England and Australia made people draw up the conclusions. And the 'enthusiastic' English media was already licking its lips at the prospect of the greatest ever minnow-bashing. When Bangladesh faced Australia in Cardiff, the day after they lost to England, many were hoping for a respectable defeat. But overturning all pundits and predictions, the Whatmore inspired Bangla-brigade outplayed the Aussies in every department, clinching a comprehensive victory. Ashraful's run a ball century was a poetic innings, and he played like a man possessed. The victory officially marked the end of an era and the beginning of another. The fact was clearly evident in the very next match where in spite of chasing a mammoth total, Ashraful blasted the English bowlers to smithereens, and played one of the best innings, one would witness in a long time. His half century came from a mere 21 balls and he got out at 94 from 52 balls, agonizingly close to scoring back-to-back centuries. (It was reported that Harmison had confessed to a team-mate that he had not faced such aggressive bashing even in 20-20's!)

The tour of Sri Lanka was a forgettable one, partly owing to the fact that some key players were burnt out from the overburdened scheduling. But the win at Cardiff was too monumental to be overshadowed by such small glitches. There have been signs of improvement in the age group level as well. The under -19 team has struggled earlier in this year but turned around pretty strongly in the three nation tournament currently held in Dhaka. When this article was written they have already beaten their English and Sri Lankan counterparts twice, and reached the final smoothly.

There is no doubt about the fact that we are improving, and it's only natural to have few hiccups in the way. We have come a long way where we once started. Gone are the days when teams like Sri Lanka and Pakistan scored something like 500/2, and then finished the match in two and a half days. Gone too, are the days, when teams fielded second string sides against us. We already belong to the elite group of cricketing nations, and it is only a matter of time, when this becomes believable to all of us. I shall end here with the account of some cricketing milestones reached this year.

· Winning a test match and test series for the first time.
· Winning a one day international series for the first time.
· Winning against Australia for the first time.
· Habibul Bashar going beyond the 2500 mark in test runs.
· Khaled Mashud becoming the first Bangladeshi to play 100 ODIs.
· Aftab Ahmed being nominated for ICC's Emerging player of the year award.
· Enamul Haque Jr. becoming the youngest player to take 7 wickets in an innings and more than 10 wickets in a match.


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