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April 20, 2006
Even before this Test began, inevitability had invaded it. Dav Whatmore knew it, predicting the Australians would come back very hard after a near-embarrassment. The prediction of others was more hard-nosed and in the end, another innings defeat will have, unfortunately, surprised few people. It had happened before this one, after all, 24 times in 43 Tests.
It's a damning statistic no doubt, but it masks a more frustrating trend within it: every time progress is made, it is forgotten almost immediately in the aftermath of a crushing defeat or five. In 2003, after a refreshing display in Pakistan, they even pestered England in Dhaka for a while before losing by seven wickets. After that they were thumped, by England first and then Zimbabwe and though they drew in the Caribbean, they proceeded to lose five Tests on the trot by an innings.
It's actually more the spanking nature of the losses that taints any progress, any win or draw with the feel of a one-off, a fluke. History will now give ever greater credence to Australia's fatigue rather than Bangladesh's spirit in what Don King would call the `thrilla in Fatullah', in light of their meek loss in Chittagong. It's a shame: fatigue or not, the world's worst Test team scared the bejabbers out of the world's best till the very last and that should be appreciated.
But what to do? It's so tempting to overlook that fact when Jason Gillespie scores a double hundred against the attack, a feat he himself calls ridiculous and one so outlandish it might compel Matthew Hayden to run around the oval naked. Gillespie in fact outscored Bangladesh in the first innings and he only scored 14 runs less in the series than Habibul Bashar and Mohammad Ashraful put together: feats and figures, which no matter how much you expect a thrashing, make it worse still.
There is, at least, something to look forward to in the differing shapes of Shahadat Hossein, Shahriar Nafees and Rajin Saleh. Hossein is promising in the way, to put it mildly, that one wicket for 258 runs at nearly four an over (for the series) doesn't really reveal. Some of that fast-bowling spark is there, that combination of youth (he's 19), height, strong physique, floppy hair and pouty attitude although you pray that continual beatings don't dim it any.
Only a little older is Nafees and his pleasing left-handedness. Clearly, he is not overawed and the contrasting nature and circumstances surrounding his two innings of note are significant. To his future success, his ability to not get dismissed as he did in the first innings - flicking the most pathetic of leg-side lollipops to deep square leg - might also play a significant role.
How much longer they can look forward to the sterling services of Mohammad Rafique is more open to question. He'll be 36 soon and his fifty confirmed him, if not as Bangladesh's player of the series (he has a strong case for that as well), then their most resilient. Only his left-arm spin consistently troubled Australia, and when the occasion demanded, it restricted their scoring too. For positives, that, though, is pretty much it.
It took New Zealand 26 years and 44 Tests to register their first Test win. Bangladesh have already achieved their first win and they've been playing for only five-and-a-half years now. Cricket was a different game then though and New Zealand did manage to draw half their Tests. This was also Bangladesh's 44th Test, their 39th loss and their 25th innings defeat. Calls to take away Bangladesh's Test status are as futile as they are ill-advised and regressive but that sort of reading, and this sort of performance, hardly helps matters.