Bangladesh find their formula for success
Bangladesh had a messy summer featuring corruption confessions, suspensions, unfair treatment of some players and strikes. Five months on, they have found international success, having dominated New Zealand at home again. The short turnaround period has much to do with proper focus on the job. If the progress made in terms of fitness, skills and attitude from May to October 2013 is replicated every year, there could be more success ahead.
The manner in which Bangladesh dominated New Zealand in parts of the Test series and all through the ODI series could be traced back to the long training camp that began in June and ended in early September. It involved rebuilding the batting and bowling line-ups, lengthening the talent pipeline and restoring confidence. And suddenly, the traumatic events of the summer seem a long way away.
The bad news cycle began with Mushfiqur Rahim's sudden resignation as captain after they lost the ODI series to Zimbabwe. The BCB backed him and he stayed on, but there were bigger jolts to come. Mohammad Ashraful soon revealed that the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit had questioned him over alleged corruption in the BPL. The BCB suspended him indefinitely. The ICC did the same to eight others. The Dhaka Premier League, the domestic one-day competition, was at a standstill, with the non-availability of national players, the weather and the players' transfer system all stalling the tournament, time and again. The BCB's representative sides all failed on tour: Bangladesh A lost all their matches in England, the Under-23s managed to lose to UAE in a tournament in Singapore and the U-19s had their fair share of learning to do in England too.
Then there was the dithering over the BCB elections and the under-preparedness of the World T20 venues, though is it unlikely the players dwelt too much on these last two sagas. Still, it was all there, a conveyer belt of negative news coming out of Bangladesh cricket.
Maybe adversity brings out the best in Bangladesh players, though. In 2005 they followed up disastrous first Test series in England by famously beating Australia. In 2007, their much-criticised World Cup team beat India. The following year they beat New Zealand soon after a group of players went to the rebel Indian Cricket League. But 2013 wasn't just about a bad tour or questionable selection. It was about loss of integrity and a general feeling of defeat that pervaded the world of otherwise hard-working cricketers.
Winning is what matters in Bangladesh cricket, because it something that has eluded the team for years. So it was important that the senior team kept their focus through all the issues. In the lead-up to the New Zealand series, Mushfiqur and coach Shane Jurgensen hardly wavered from their plan.
The captain and coach have different approaches, both with a positive trickle-down effect on the team. Mushfiqur is all hard work, the first to arrive at training and the last to leave on most days. He is a devourer of all the knowledge required for his and his side's improvement. Jurgensen treats this team as an international side, one that commands respect and his full attention. He is a background man, unwilling to share the players' limelight but always there in case of a problem.
When they began sifting through the mess on and off the field, there was much to do. They needed a new Test No. 3 and 4, and to try and find Tamim Iqbal a more settled opening partner. The pace bowlers required higher levels of fitness, while the spinners needed to be effective on slower pitches.
Throughout the BPL fixing controversy, there was a buzz at the Shere Bangla National Stadium. There were new batsmen and bowlers pushing the established players, making sure nobody went home happy after the day's work. If Mominul Haque was being fed throw-downs rigorously in the National Cricket Academy ground, Marshall Ayub revved up the bowling machine in the indoor facilities. Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan spent some time abroad, playing in the Twenty20 leagues, but they too remained in touch with base.
Mashrafe Mortaza led the pace bowlers by example. If the likes of Robiul Islam and Rubel Hossain needed any inspiration, it was Mashrafe's recovery from his heel injury. He lost 15 kilos and made sure there were no gaps in his preparation. Witty and ready for an adda with anyone interested, Mashrafe is someone any captain would want in his dressing-room.
The Dhaka Premier League finally started in September, and things started to fall into place. Mominul Haque and Sohag Gazi gave Prime Doleshwar an early lead on the points table, though they did not enjoy success on the Bangladesh A tour. The pair, later, was grateful for their issues in England, though, as they felt it helped pinpoint their weaknesses better than any nets session.
Gazi became the first cricketer in Test history score a hundred and take a hat-trick in the same match. Mominul scored back-to-back centuries, in Chittagong and Dhaka, the first since Tamim's hundreds in Lord's and Manchester in 2010. Tamim also went through a slight change in approach, going against his natural attacking instincts and batting more solidly instead, while Shakib continued to offer glimpses of his class as an allrounder. The likes of Naeem Islam, Rubel Hossain and Shamsur Rahman, who have more often than not drawn looks of concern with previous showings, performed confidently.
The transformation of Bangladesh from an innocuous, often-derided team to a force at home is well underway. Their revival is testament to the benefits of employing an analytical approach at every level, one which had to be forced out of the BCB at times but has culminated in two drawn Tests and a dominant showing in an ODI series.
The time has come to appreciate the team's strengths. They've done a lot in the past couple of weeks to advance their bid to rid themselves of the minnows tag. But this is international cricket, it takes you up and down in matter of weeks. Bangladesh will just have to bank their new-found winning attitude.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here