Where we were, are now, and will be...
It would be a spectacular display if we place the many varied fans of Bangladesh cricket on a visual spectrum of some sorts. At one extreme would be the folks who claim that Bangladesh will be lucky to beat Hong Kong and that Canada is a better team, while on the other, would be those who (like myself) think that Bangladesh should get the due respect from stronger teams such as India. After some thoughts, both sides seem quite ridiculous and I must defect from my earlier views on the "lack of respect" thread that I started a while ago in the forum and join the "moderates" in the middle.
In order to attempt to accurately predict where our cricket will be in a few years time (or even in the Asia cup for that matter), we must know where we came from, and where we stand today. For nearly 20 years Bangladesh toiled in vain in the ICC tournaments. Then in 1997, the opportunity presented itself. Bangladesh seized the ICC championship with the ferocity of a Bengal tiger, a ferocity never seen before nor ever since.
I still vividly remember the team from '97: it had some of our greatest cricketers. Akram Khan, Athar Ali, Rafique, Naimur Rahman, Aminul Islam, and others. These men led us to 3 ODI victories and the promotion to the ellite test status. Soon thereafter, many of those players who were past their prime retired which left the team as a minnow in a tank of nine piranahs (some say sharks). The piranahs, or sharks, mercilessly devoured the minnow ever since.
Bangladesh stretched their losses to record numbers manily because of a sudden infusion of talented, but highly inexperienced players. Not to mention the quality of opposition i.e test nations who are a lot harder than ICC associate members. In came the Ashrafuls, Kapalis, Mashrafees etc. Coach in and coach out... at times it seemed no one can infuse the slightest bit of improvement. Then it happens.
I know of 150 million such people
World Cup 2003. 'Nuff said. The words alone are enough to cause most Bangladesh fans, if not all, more anguish than a woman in labor (no disrespect intended). An opening match loss to Canada had the effect of a sharp knock out blow to the stomach. Losing 4 wickets in the first over to Sri Lanka hurt almost as much. The pain didn't end there. Shortly afterwards, while hosting a triangular series, Bangladesh, being bundled out for just 76 runs, lost the match by 200 runs to India. Then he walked in.
Dave Whatmore. The man, the legend, and maybe, just maybe, our saviour. Don't expect any wins right away he says. Yeah right, Bangladesh fans know better than that, Dav. So little he knew about us. Just 3 weeks of coaching and off to Australia for a series of David and Goliath.
Surprisingly, there were no 'one day test' matches as many had predicted... even a near 300 run innings by our boys! Could it be the Whatmore magic? Nah, must be a fluke. Soon enough its was time to go to Pakistan.
Impressive displays in the Test series followed by a near win in the ODI finally changed the minds of not just Bangladeshi fans but the international cricket community as well. Bangladesh is on its way up. Its about time. Oh, and the discovery of a talented middle order batsmen, Rajin Saleh, just increases the high hopes, nonexistant not too long ago.
The series with England had very few positives, but mainly served to bring Bangladesh back down to earth. Plus, our ODI performance was still in shambles despite some palpable test improvements.
The Zimbabwe tour came after Bangladesh's first lengthy break (about 3 months). Whatmore must have tweaked our ODI game in that time. After mixed test performances, and most importantly through the re-birth of Ashraful, Bangladesh finally won an ODI and came tantalizingly close to winning the first ODI series. Definitely a successful series, concludes skipper Bashar. Fans gleefully agree.
The West Indies tour brings the first "real" draw Bangladesh has recorded in tests and also a very close ODI series. Without a doubt the closest series Bangladesh has ever played.
All these events bring us to where we stand right now. No doubt Hong Kong should be an easy win for us, but then what? We should manage to stage close games and a win or two just might come along. In fact the dissappointment for the asia cup will be to win just one game only. Atleast two wins are expected from this team. There are no more excuses.
Despite Bangladesh's astronomical improvements, the longest journey remains to be traveled by our players. The final destination is to become as good as the other 9 (or 8) test nations, win a world cup, and play well-competative matches in general. In order to do so, our batting lineups must first get better. Our boys must have an average ODI strike rate of at least 70. Currently only ash has this. Our batsmen have the talent, especially in Bashar, Ash and Faisal. Our bowlers must aim for ODI economies around 4.5 (2.75 in tests) and must be able to take a couple of wickets in the last few overs of the one day matches.
Our fielding has been good but we do not have the luxury to drop catches and expect to win.
The biggest battle awaits our young Tigers in coming days and the good news is that although they will be the only ones fighting it, they will not be alone in their dreams. I know of at least 600 or so people who will travel every inch of the road with them. In fact, I know of 150 million such people.
The challenges that will come to face us will be the toughest any team has ever endured and the ride will not be a smooth one. The adventure will be exciting and at times dissappointing, but I am sure the Tigers will prevail. It may take just 2 or 3 years, or it may take 10, but it will happen, I promise you. In fact, the battle has just begun. So please sit back, relax, and enjoy. I know I will.