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Bangladesh in West Indies, 2009

Bulletin

Enthralling display of spin bowling deliver landmark win for Bangladesh at Kingstown, St. Vincent

July 14th, 2009.   

The last team to take 10 wickets in an innings wins a test match, and that is precisely what Bangladeshi slow bowlers did at Arnos Vale Ground in West Indies on day five of their first of two tests in the series. This was the Tigers’ second test victory in 60 matches since their induction into the circle of elite, and their first outside Bangladesh. It was also their first against a major test playing nation, replacement squad or not.

The Windies batsmen exposed their vulnerability to quality spin the process, and the desirable inclusion of Enamul Haque for Bangladesh in the next test match would add to that vulnerability. Haque, a young man with several points to prove, will put his gracious hosts at the wrong end of a series sweep. Not a good prognosis for West Indian cricket, but a great one for its unheralded guests from Bangladesh, especially under the leadership of their accidental new Skipper. 

Shakib Al Hasan had his baptism by fire after Captain and pace spearhead Mashrafe Bin Mortaza was sidelined nursing an alarming injury. Assisted by Mohammad Ashraful, the former skipper, during the initially difficult moments, he found his depth quickly, and generated the sort of unit cohesion needed to bowl West Indies out in the second innings to win the match.

The smiling assassin from Magura in Southern Bangladesh led from the front with aggressive field setting and even more aggressive, focused, and well-scripted deliveries over an epic spell. As a direct consequence of Al Hasan’s actions, his bowlers, the slow bowlers in particular, found the inspiration to match his quality and intent. Their combined ability to bowl in the right areas using the good-enough turn and drift offered by the conditions in the day of days, proved simply too lethal for West Indian batters.

The tireless Al Hasan’s persistent pressure from one end generated equally positive opportunities at the other, in particular for an eager and lethal Mohammad Mahmudullah, and after Mohammad Ashraful provided another breakthrough in his effective cameo, the last pack of Windies batters returned to their dressing room until nobody could come out of there.

Al Hasan’s 3 for 39 from 28.1 overs in the innings, and 2 for 76 from 36 overs in the first, do not do justice to his remarkable performance as acting Skipper and strike bowler, or his phenomenal ability to learn quickly and apply what he has learned with decisive precision. Improvising when necessary with artful subtlety, all for the sake of the team he must lead at this young age.

So all was right in the world when this unassuming young Tiger with fangs and claws as sharp as his mind took the final West Indian wicket. His sweet and humble presence off the field perfectly compliments his passionate love of the game on it, and conceals his ferocity to his teams benefit.

With his quietly steely resolve, he confronts, he adapts, he overcomes and more often than not he, delivers with unbridled joy. Bangladesh has found its first great captain in Mortaza’s unfortunate absence. Just watch and marvel as he grows into the role ordained for him from above.

Mohammad Mahmudullah, in the team more for his batting, found his inner warrior and scalped the first five-wicket haul of his career on debut. He also took three in the first to leash West Indies to a manageable first innings total our batters could surpass, and throw down the gauntlet for an exciting finish in the process. Although he failed with the bat completely, his new found identity as a strike bowler must be nurtured an added as an important feature of the still young Tigers. He was my Man of the Match with a combined booty of 8 for 110, 5 for 51 in his match winning second.   

The stage was set for a captivating day five in the rain truncated match when eventual Man of the Match Tamim Iqbal’s scrappy maiden test hundred in the second innings created the critical foundation Junaid Siddique managed to build on. But after Siddique departed in the cursed seventies once more in his young career, a batting collapse looked inevitable, thanks to horrific displays from Raquibul Hasan and the once iconic Mohammad Ashraful. Mahmudullah’s continued disappointment with the bat added darker shades to that fear. Hasan, the alleged anchor of Bangladesh batting was out at 18, 4 more than his first innings recital, and Ashraful gave it away at 3, exactly halving his score from his earlier heroics.

But Skipper Shakib Al Hasan managed to steady the ship with his partner Mushfiqur Rahim. Rahim, like the courageous Hobbit hero from Tolkien’s masterpieces, survived the odds and contributed valuable runs after repairing the innings once more. He has been unlucky to miss out on a couple of test fifties in this match, having scored 36 in the first and 37 in the second. Courage for this remarkable young batsman means not an absence of fear, but the will to look fear in the eye and confront it with unexpected gusto. With time firmly on his side, Rahim has a great future ahead as one of the premier specialist batsmen Bangladeshi cricket has ever produced.      

Bangladesh were all out at an ambiguous 345 shortly after the necessarily more aggressive Al Hasan ended his partnership with Rahim after scoring 30. Mahmudullah, adding 8 to the 9 from this attempt, and a hobbling Mortaza with a runner, out for a duck, couldn’t strike the form needed to add the runs needed to stifle the West Indian resolve. But this collapse, in retrospect, turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it provided Bangladesh with the time they needed to bowl the opposition out.

Presented with a winning target and a big basket full of overs in hand, Windies fancied their chances for a win. Their openers punished the early indiscipline from a grunting Shahadat Hossain. His seductive array of errant deliveries was hit around the park until those became comical and seemed more like desperate cries of anguish from a severely constipated actor totally out of his element, and a few light years away from the nearest bottle of Pepto-Bismol and the packet of Orsaline in a galaxy next to it. Rubel, the other Hossain with genuine pace, didn’t fare much better as a belligerent Windies scored 20 runs in the first two overs.

Then Richards, at the moment almost as hostile and scary as the cricket god from Antigua, exposed his secret love of women’s tennis in general and Maria Sharapova in particular, and took his eyes of everything except those blonde locks in his mind. His dopey, love-struck, and lazy foray outside the crease after a leg-before appeal failed to move the imperious A. Shocka – had freakishly run him out thanks to some quick thinking from an alert Raquibul Hasan. 

After catching this early break Bangladesh needed, Al Hasan came in to step on the gas, and boy, did he ever! He got a deceptively sweepable delivery to straighten, and Phillips found himself trapped in the process. From 20 for 0 in two overs to 33 for two after the fifth, West Indies found themselves in early doubt, having just four specialist batsmen in the side.

That doubt grew at an exponential rate with each delivery from Al Hasan and his band of warriors until the intense pressure from Al Hasan’s end opened the treasure chest for an increasingly aggressive Mahmudullah, growing in confidence and quality with each quality delivery of his own. That duet proved to be the beginning of the end for the hosts.

Mahmudullah scalped the next three wickets with some great deliveries. Some straightened and the others turned in like pouncing  snakes from the mangrove forest of Bangladesh, and West Indies found themselves at 82 for 5 halfway through the 28th over.  

West Indies were forced to change their goal of a win as they settled in to save the match. As if the last drops of hope evaporated like odd raindrops on scorching asphalt. But the stealth and venom of Bangladeshi slow bowlers, occasionally punctuated by good seam and swing from the recharged Hossains, could only delay the inevitable for the hosts until Al Hasan, the newly appointed Vice Captain filling in for debutant Skipper, applied the proverbial coup de grâce to his West Indian counterpart Darren Sammy.

Al Hasan bogged him down in fear and apprehension before luring him into a bad slice straight point with a flat delivery between middle and off. With Sammy’s departure, Al Hasan put end to all doubt and the fat lady entered the park, going over the scales silently in her head. The end was near for West Indies as a new beginning beckoned over the Caribbean horizon for Bangladesh. We could smell the sweet fragrance of fine alluvial soil thousands of miles away from the Padma-Jamuna-Meghna-Karnapfuli deltas. We could almost hear the Asiatic melody from the green pastures and paddy fields in the cusp of South and Southeast Asia.

But Bernard, ultimately not out at 52 with back to back 50s, fought on proceeded to build a partnership with Miller. A partnership almost threatening enough to build the vague illusion of a heroic draw for the hosts. Ashraful shattered that halfhearted illusion with a quicker delivery just outside off that found its intended edge straight back to Rahim. Miller was gone and West Indies were 151 for 7 early in the 52nd over.

Mahmudullah took it from there to see Austin and Roach out before the 66th over, and Al Hasan’s sudden full toss surprised and trapped Tino Best to end the test match. After having conducted his team beautifully on the filed, Shakib Al Hasan found himself conducing the fat lady as she broke into the melody the cricket world will increasingly get used to.

Bangladesh had won the first test match by 95 runs, and the bells of jubilation resonated deep inside the collective heart of a nation of 150 million, their tears of joy flooded the universe for an unforgettable instant.

Sohel N. Rahman

 
 

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