Mike Holmans March 26, 2010

A modest triumph

Bangladesh are no longer a hopeless joke team who should not be playing Test cricket, but a weak team who still need to do a lot of work, much like New Zealand in the 1930s.

"Bangladesh - catching up with the big boys in Test cricket" © Associated Press

Bangladesh v England was a very boring Test series, which represents a triumph, if perhaps a modest one, for Bangladesh.

Five years ago, a Bangladesh Test involved far more action than it should have. There would be a day and a half of their opponents gaily bashing their way to 500-6 or so, surrounded or followed by a day and a half of Bangladeshi batsmen throwing their twenty wickets away like confetti, and the whole ritual would be over in three days.

Now it takes five days to beat Bangladesh. They have enough batsmen with enough gumption to bat extremely boringly in the name of crease occupation and enough bowlers who may not be threatening but can at least bowl a line and length which keeps the runs down for them to have chances of drawing a game. Another fifteen overs batting at Mirpur and England would have needed 250 off 40 overs, which ought to have been possible to defend, which means Bangladesh came quite close to achieving a draw, which is by no means bad. If they had been luckier with the umpiring, England could well have had to bat for more than a day to get 350, which would have been an even more interesting prospect.

Five years ago, Mohammad Rafique was their only Test-class player; Habibul Bashar was thought to be, but he rightly acquired the nickname “Habitual Basher” and was soon shown to be nothing but a slogger. Now they have three definites and a couple of probables.

Shakib is that rare beast, the genuine Test all-rounder: with the possible exception of Sri Lanka, who might not have room for a slow-left-arm-bowling all rounder, and New Zealand who already have one, any Test side would be happy to pick him, and he would be worth his place in either discipline.

Tamim Iqbal will spend his career being criticised for throwing his wicket away, but since he is liable to have scored at least fifty runs before doing it, the criticism will miss the point. In the time he is at the crease, he can wreak havoc. Alastair Cook was clearly thrown badly off-course during his first-morning assault in the second Test, and such impact can make it easier for his batting partners. Well, some of them at least, because there is no helping Imrul Kayes, who is clearly not up to batting at Test level. But Tamim's ambition is clearly to be Virender Sehwag when he grows up, and there's little reason to suppose that he can't do it.

Mushfiqur Rahim is another class batsman with a rather more admirable temperament for Test cricket. He has some nice shots but also showed his tenacity and ability to bat for long periods. On the other hand, his wicketkeeping leaves much to be desired, being no better than that of Rahul Dravid or Marcus Trescothick, stand-ins who kept in ODIs in order to accommodate extra bowlers.

Junaid Siddique gained a lot of confidence from his maiden Test hundred at Chittagong and played very nicely at Mirpur, but I'm still suspicious that he can only cope with Test-class bowling on pitches which have been drained of all life. Mahmudullah, or “Armadillo” as my wife calls him, may have some talent too, but much more evidence is needed.

That is at least the nucleus of a team.

In cycling terms, they have still not caught up with the peloton, but the peloton is very much in view. One boost, and they will be there. That boost needs to be the discovery of a new bowler, preferably a quick, who is at least as good as Mashrafe Mortaza was before he broke down, seemingly irretrievably.

Without such a bowler, they have almost no chance of bowling a decent side out twice, which means that they are very unlikely to win any matches, but the coming years should see them drawing on a fairly regular basis. Bangladesh are no longer a hopeless joke team who should not be playing Test cricket, but a weak team who still need to do a lot of work, much like New Zealand in the 1930s. Achieving that milestone is a triumph.