'The best day of my life,' says Bashar
Just over a month ago, Habibul Bashar was telling us about his career aspirations, and on top of his wish-list was being the part of the first Bangladesh team to win a Test match. In a matter of weeks that dream has become a reality.
"It is the best day of my life," he said, after leading his side to victory by 226 runs over Zimbabwe at Chittagong. "I will never forget that I was a member of the side that won the maiden Test for the country."
Bashar, who top-scored in both innings of the match, thought everything else, including his own contribution, was irrelevant when it came to the emotions that preceded the winning moment. "I am just happy to be in this team," he went on. "Nothing is more important at the moment, [not] even my being captain. Everything went totally blank for me when the match was over. I can't remember what happened during those three or four minutes."
Bashar, who is Bangladesh's leading runscorer in Test cricket, felt the result was reward for months of hard work and patience in the face of difficult circumstances on and off the field. "We have been working really hard for this moment, and I give credit to all my team-mates. It's tough when you keep losing, especially for the captain. But everything is looking a lot easier already. We had a superb first innings with everybody contributing that set up the win. We got partnerships; there was some good bowling on a not-so-responsive wicket, and things went our way throughout: it was a unique team effort."
The 18-year-old left-arm spinner Enamul Haque jr was the hero on the final day, taking five wickets in 16.2 overs either side of lunch. Bashar reserved special praise for him: "Enamul is an outstanding bowler. He was a bit tense in the first innings, but came back later to show his potential. We now have two class spinners in [Mohammad] Rafique and Enamul, and a prospective allrounder in Mashrafe [Mortaza]."
Needing seven wickets to victory at the start of the fifth day, Bashar said no negative thoughts had crossed his mind, even when the overnight pair of Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor were putting together a useful partnership of 70 for the fourth wicket. "I was never worried," he said. "They started well in the morning but I knew a couple of wickets would put us back in control."
Amid all the euphoria, Bashar did not miss the opportunity to acknowledge the role of Dav Whatmore, the coach: "He has totally revolutionised our mentality. He has instilled the belief in us. We now go out believing we can win matches irrespective of the opposition." Turning to the next goal, he made clear that it would be important to play with same intensity in the second Test at Dhaka to win the series 2-0. "We must break into a winning habit," he explained. "But Zimbabwe are not a bad side. They have a good batting line-up and we have to be at our best at Dhaka. If we can stick to our tasks, I am confident of our chances."
Whatmore, as usual, did not talk about his own influence, but simply praised his charges for any reflected triumph it brought him. "It is my best day as Bangladesh coach," he said. "I give full credit to the boys because it was a hard-fought match. It was a very satisfying victory. Everyone was expecting us to win and it did not come easily. Even the condition of the wicket did not help much. Our boys have shown great effort. Now I think we should win the series."
Whatmore was relishing the prospect of unleashing his left-arm spin duo of Rafique and Enamul, who troubled Zimbabwe in the first Test, onto unsuspecting opponents in other Test series. "It's nice to have a youngster like Enamul in the side beside Rafique," he explained. "Enamul is different to Rafique but they do complement each other. It also helps to have a captain who understands the need of his players. Bashar is not a dictator: he is a democratic captain and he talks to all the players from time to time."
Enamul, who was named Man of the Match for his six-wicket haul in Zimbabwe's second innings, revealed that a telephone call the night before had spurred him on, even though he had only taken one wicket in the match before the last day. "My mother called me from Sylhet and asked me to do something memorable. She had total faith in me and told me to give it everything for the team and the country."
But Enamul did not want to compare himself to Rafique. "I think he is the best left-arm spinner in the world," he said. "Just look at his record, it is fantastic. It is a great privilege to bowl with him because he always comes up with something special no matter what the conditions are. He also has the best arm-ball in business."
Tatenda Taibu had boldly stated all along that his team had a genuine chance in the game, and refused to accept that Bangladesh were favourites for this two-Test series. Understandably the end was hard for him to swallow.
"It's disappointing," he admitted. "I thought we had the ability to win the Test match. It was a bit of bad cricket in patches from our side, and some good cricket by the Bangladeshis. We have to clean up the things we did badly before the Dhaka Test. And obviously we are going to continue the things we did well. We hope to win the second Test and come back."
Rabeed Imam is a sports writer for the Daily Star in Dhaka.