The zest of youth lifts Bangladesh to new heights
Nervous whispers of disbelief could be heard all day long at the press box at Fatullah on day one. On the second day, the mood was of conviction. "We are gonna take this game. This pitch will be unplayable for the side batting last," said one journalist and the next second a roar of ecstasy encircled the Fatullah arena. Enamul Haque jr had let rip a vicious turner that was too good for Shane Warne. Six down, four to go. Some people had started the debate at one corner whether Bangladesh should bat again or enforce the follow-on! The verdict was emphatically in favour of the follow-on. "That would shatter their spirit," was the explanation. Hang on a second, are we really talking about the Australians?
At the other end the visiting Australian media were seated, perhaps trying to figure out what the hell was going on but at the same time taking the Bangla battering and the Dhaka experience in their stride. A wonderful bunch, performing their duty professionally and without any fuss and at the same time being appreciative of the Bangladeshi progress and not trying to find excuses for their world champion team. The animated and at times noisy discussions among their Bangladeshi counterparts are also treated with amusement and not annoyance.
Afterwards, it was Stuart MacGill's duty to front up to the collective media. "When I played against Bangladesh last in Australia, they were there for about six weeks and the improvements that I saw from the beginning of the tour till the end of the Test matches were so great that I felt that if they continued to improve at that rate, they would become a very, very good Test team. And unfortunately they have appeared to improve at the same rate to the point where we are finding it very difficult in this game to keep up," he said at a crowded press conference to a ripple of laughter. He could not, however, have been more precise. His career-best figures (8 for 108) are under threat of going unnoticed thanks to all the amazing things going on in this Test.
The two days at Fatullah have been Bangladesh's biggest statement of credibility in world cricket. Now surely there won't be any nagging complaints from the perennial Bangladesh bashers. This team can play, maybe better than a lot of other international sides who face Australia in a Test. The proof is there for all to see. Sunil Gavaskar is here, Wasim Akram is here, Jeff Thomson, Ravi Shastri are here and they will relay the message to the rest of the world: don't ever underestimate the Tigers again, because they are fast learning the art of biting back. India in 2004, Australia in 2005, Sri Lanka in 2006. This can't be mere coincidence.
There has been an Aussie style implementation and ruthlessness from the Bangladesh side in this Test so far, which is only to be expected. The twentysomethings like Aftab Ahmed, Shahriar Nafees, Shahadat Hossain and Enamul represent the fearless generation who have benefited from the Australian training model so fervently followed by their coaching staff. When these youngsters gain maturity there will be a Bangladeshi model in place which will be equally effective. There is also a healthy competition and camaraderie in the present side which gives the captain the confidence to speak his mind.
"Nothing is impossible for our team. I feel good about this side. You'll see that we will do something really good against Australia," Habibul Bashar had said before the series started. Bashar, never the quickest mover in the field, now takes stunning catches diving backwards. These are the results of extra work besides regular training, as he understands the need to be one of the gang. This team's fielding has gone to a different level in recent months, and the seniors don't want to be left out. Mohammad Rafique, 36 years and ageing but still going about with the spring of a man ten years younger, admitted candidly: "The youth in the team are my inspiration. They are the reason why I train so hard." Khaled Mashud, the wicketkeeper, enters the training ground before anyone and is the last to leave. Mashud has been ever-present since Bangladesh's debut - his heir has a legacy to uphold, whoever he may be.
"They are enjoying the situation out there and if they continue to enjoy it for the next few days, that would bring success," said Dav Whatmore, the Tigers coach, when asked whether the players were feeling any pressure with Australia in such a corner. The sponsors for the series have brought in a tiger and a kangaroo puppet to mock around the ground and give enjoyment to the fans. In the real world a kangaroo is no match for the Royal Bengal Tiger. For the past 48 hours, Whatmore's Tigers have maintained that balance of nature.
Rabeed Imam is editor of tigercricket.com