Time of apathy
Wasn't there a sense of inevitability about the Lord's Test even before a single ball had been bowled? Even after the ultra-optimists back home had completed a swift lunch and postponed all business for the rest of the afternoon and evening to witness the Tigers' home-of-cricket baptism on Thursday, it was never going to be pleasant viewing - especially when the red cherry started taking on the shape of a banana. Bangladesh's batting was destined for trouble from the moment they were put in.
By Friday, the street crowd that could be spotted in front of television stores in Dhaka, gazing in earnest at the game and trying to figure out all the hoopla surrounding Lord's, was gone. The people who normally chat cricket when Bangladesh are in action were more inclined to talk about the intolerable heatwave that was blowing across the country. The listless batting display, and then an even more sterile bowling effort, compelled the fans to dream of another day, another match. Lord's is history already, and it would be interesting to find out how many will actually turn on the TV to watch the third day's play.
I bump into Mehrab Hossain, the former Bangladesh opener, at the bus stop. Now here was the perfect person to engage in a bit of constructive criticism of the Tigers' performance so far. Wrong.
"Did you see the match?" he asks. "Yeah. Trescothick and Vaughan are really murdering us," I reply. "No, I meant the Liverpool-Milan final. Don't have words for that game. Unbelievable."
Be it genuine apathy or a deliberate attempt to appear uninterested, Bangladeshis have not found enough reasons to feel enthusiastic about the England tour, perhaps foreseeing how difficult it would be for the batsmen to negotiate the swinging ball - especially those whose bats point towards the slips in the backlift and come down from gully while playing shots.
The interesting bit is that Bangladesh lost most wickets when the England bowlers were spraying it around, and showed the best fight against an unplayable Simon Jones, who was turning them inside out on either side of lunch on the first morning. It was hardly surprising, as the two individuals at the crease after the fifth wicket fell, Khaled Mashud and the 16-year-old debutant Mushfiqur Rahim, were also the ones who valued their wickets most. The fight could have lasted a bit longer but Indian umpire Hariharan was perhaps missing action in his first Test, and gave Mashud out lbw to a ball that hit his pad atleast three inches outside off.
Rahim's resistance ended in the only way expected, to a great delivery, but during his 52-ball stay he had shown enough character to give credence to Dav Whatmore's observation that "he is 16 but going on 30". Rahim is not the next big thing in Bangladesh's cricket, not the superstar in the making in the mould of a Lara or Tendulkar as some internationally reputed experts are suggesting. In fact, in terms of talent, he is not even a Mohammad Ashraful or an Aftab Ahmed. But while Aftab gives his wicket away after making 20 off 14 balls and Ashraful gets rooted to the crease while anticipating a moving ball that in reality was just a harmless low full-toss, Rahim sticks to the basics and gets on his feet without ever looking towards the dressing-room's direction after taking a Stephen Harmison delivery in the abdomen. But the teenager's mere presence in the main team is not a comforting thought, as his time is not supposed to start before another four years at least.
Casting sentiment aside, he should not even be in the 16-man touring squad, as that upsets the step-by-step elevation process. Also it unsystematically hastens the growth of the cricketer, expected to adapt to international cricket straight away.
It is now commonly acknowledged by local and foreign coaches who have worked with age-group selections here that Bangladesh at the moment possess arguably some of the finest talents in world cricket at youth level. Coaches express their awe in private about pupils with astonishing abilities. The problem is that their qualities are so obvious that the temptation to include them in the main team before they are ready always remains a possibility. Rahim is a classic example.
Bangladesh captain Habibul Bashar is someone who is comfortable with tried and tested individuals around him. He disapproved of young players getting in straight away before proving themselves. But for the Lord's Test, he was given an XI including three teenagers, two of whom were making their debuts. It is difficult to imagine that Bashar found that pleasing.
Rabeed Imam is senior sub-editor of the Daily Star in Dhaka. He was recently named as Bangladesh's Cricket Journalist of the Year 2004-05.