When everything fell in place
The lack of patience from their batsmen has often been the bane of Bangladesh's cricket team. The closely fought Dhaka Test, where Bangladesh held out for a draw that ensured a historic series win, was also significant for the way their batsman batted out five sessions in the last two days. It signaled growing up.
It is easy to slam them their refusal to go for a win on the last day, but those who do so betray a lack of perspective and fail to grasp the context. It reeks of negativity to ignore what has been achieved rather than highlighting what hasn't. For Bangladesh, the primary goal was winning their first-ever Test series and their batsmen simply rose to that task in clinical fashion and secured a draw. Had they gone after those runs and capitulated, the same people who are now criticising their mental approach would have wasted no time in saying that the team lacked the temperament even to force a draw.
Here was a team that didn't know what it felt like to hold a series trophy until Tuesday and they couldn't care less about entertaining the rest of the world just for the sake of adventure. The script had been written when just 30-odd runs came in a dour pre-lunch session and although Habibul Bashar had the big-hitting Mashrafe Mortaza padded up to come in at No. 8, a charge for victory had been taken out of the equation the moment their second innings began.
But saving the game was itself a remarkable feat as even the most ardent of Bangladesh's fans would not have fancied them batting out 142 overs in just under five sessions to save the game. It also proved another theory for the series success - their new found ability to handle the pressure. Bangladesh did not play as consistently as they would have liked in the two Tests but always lifted their game when it mattered. They were put under pressure from the start of the second Test but refused to give in even after conceding a 87-run first-innings deficit. Then when the tourists had set them a stiff target, Nafis Iqbal (121) and Javed Omar negotiated everything and saw off 87 overs. The normally attacking Iqbal's first Test hundred innings lasted 355 deliveries while Omar (43) spent four and a half hours at the crease. This sort of composure was unprecedented.
Throughout the series there has been a definite air of purpose and self-confidence in everything Bangladesh have done. Even when things were not happening for them, they were prepared to play the waiting game without losing the intensity. The source of that belief can be traced back to December 19 when Mohammad Ashraful set the example of defiance with that epic 158 not out on the third day of the second Test against India. That single innings appeared to clear the inhibitions in his team-mates and their confidence doubled after their first-ever home triumph in the second one-dayer against India on December 26.
Mortaza, whose return to the international scene after a career-threatening knee injury, played in the second game despite a sore back as his presence meant a lot to the team's morale. Mohammad Rafique endured a painful hamstring injury and took painkillers to play in the second Test. Enamul Haque Jr, who snapped up 18 wickets in the series, broke records at will. Just last year, Enamul, Nafis and Aftab Ahmed were representing the Bangladesh Under-19 side. They are now signifying the importance of youth in a growing Test team.
Zimbabwe, an even younger side, displayed exuberance, enthusiasm, and heart but could not match Bangladesh's collective effort. For the most part, it was a case of Tatenda Taibu v Bangladesh. Taibu's maturity and his age-defying calmness at the crease created quite an impression on and off the field. Unfortunately, he often found himself playing the lone hand coming in with three or four of the top-order batsmen back in the pavilion. He scored over 300 in the series but the next highest run-getter didn't even manage 200. And then he had try and get out of a mediocre bowling attack that did not have the experience and variety of their Bangladesh counterparts.
This was one series Zimbabwe could ill-afford to lose. For obvious yet unconvincing reasons, Zimbabwe has even a lesser number of sympathisers in the international media than Bangladesh. In many ways both teams are walking the same line but the hawks will surely be out to pounce on the Africans especially after this series loss. Bangladesh for the time being, have no such problems and can reflect on a satisfying couple of weeks when everything fell into place for them.
Rabeed Imam is a sports writer for the Daily Star in Dhaka.