(At a time like this we need hopes. Presenting the whole article in hope of hopes--chinaman)
Wed 5 November, 2003 01:04
By Kunal Pradhan
DHAKA, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Just eight months ago, when they were outshone by Kenya and even outsiders Canada and the Netherlands at the 2003 World Cup, there were cries that Bangladesh deserved to be stripped of their full test status.
But the small south Asian nation, perhaps even more cricket-crazy than neighbouring India, has shown greater promise since then by scaring Pakistan, pushing England and managing to go to Australia without being humiliated.
Coach Dav Whatmore, regarded as one of the best minds in the game and recognised as the man responsible for inspiring Sri Lanka to the 1996 World Cup victory, says the team needs support.
"This is not the time when we need people to say we're terrible," the former Australian test player said after Bangladesh lost to England by 329 runs at Chittagong last weekend.
But sarcasm and criticism have been more forthcoming than support so far for the "Tigers", a nickname that cricket fans often find ironic.
In terms of pure statistics, Bangladesh have lost 25 of their 26 tests, 15 of them by an innings. The only draw was when rain saved them against Zimbabwe at Dhaka two years ago.
But experts, including England skipper Michael Vaughan, are finally saying that Bangladesh's maiden test win cannot be far away.
The main reason for hope is a bowling attack capable of taking wickets, especially on a turning track such as the Bangabandhu stadium in Dhaka.
Left-arm spinner Mohammad Rafique has emerged as a potent force in the last two series, picking up 17 wickets in Pakistan and 10 in two tests against England.
He does not favour flight but maintains a good line. His lethal arm ball, which shoots straight through, is extremely tough to read as Rikki Clarke found out the hard way in Dhaka, bowled not offering a shot to a ball pitched outside off-stump.
But it is a surprise that Rafique, who has 36 wickets at an impressive 27.69, has played only eight tests. The selectors have often preferred Enamul Haque Snr (18 wickets in 10 matches at a pedestrian average of 57) in the last three years.
Mashrafe Mortaza, 20, is the other world-class option.
The "Narail Express" is fast and nippy and his late movement is always a threat. He proved his worth at Chittagong last week, grabbing a career-best four for 60 to restrict England to 326 after they had seemed set for a huge total.
But the injury-prone Mortaza, who missed most of last year due to back trouble, fell over clutching his right knee in the second innings.
He was rushed to hospital and returned with a suspected ligament tear, ruled out for five weeks with his leg in a cast.
With Rafique and Mortaza in the line-up and with steadily improving fielding -- the hallmark of any Whatmore outfit -- the Bangladeshis can now hold their own in the park.
But batting remains a serious cause for worry.
Bangladesh notched up 400 in their first match, against India three years ago, but on 31 occasions since then they have been bowled out for less than 200.
The batsmen score quickly but have failed to show the discipline required to build a test innings, unable to control loose drives outside off stump.
Habibul Bashar, 31, who has scored two of Bangladesh's five centuries for an average of 36.07, is easily their best player.
However his dismissals in Chittagong last week, steering a wideish ball to gully in the first innings and run out while needlessly going for a third after a breezy 21 in the second, perfectly illustrate the team's batting woes.
"Our batsmen just did not apply themselves," said skipper Khaled Mahmud, summing up the problem.
Whatmore says the transition into a better batting team and a good test unit will be gradual.
After Pakistan, where they would have won the third test if not for Inzamam-ul-Haq's last-wicket heroics, and England, who were run close at Dhaka, demands for Bangladesh's test status to be withdrawn should perhaps quieten down.
Bangladesh feel they have at least earned the right to ask for more time to prove themselves.