Young guns show the way
Over 48 hours later, a day that started with Bangladesh firmly on the back foot ended with the visitors staring New Zealand in the face, thanks to a record opening stand between two Test debutants after an inspired new-ball burst. Tamim Iqbal, 18, and Junaid Siddique, 20, put on 148 in a very confident final two and a half hours to keep their team's slim hopes alive in the series opener.
This is a side filled with dashers and allrounders but Bangladesh have struggled in the Test format for two reasons - they need batsmen to play long innings and bowlers to take 20 wickets. There have been exceptional hundreds from Ashraful (against Sri Lanka and India) and Shahriar Nafees (Australia), but it was hard to imagine Bangladesh coming off a 3-0 ODI series defeat and pushing New Zealand, especially since it was in the limited-overs format that Bangladesh were expected to offer the most resistance.
"Our young players are relatively experienced in international cricket and have been playing at this level for 2-3 years," Ashraful told Cricinfo from Dunedin. "So this is obviously a boost. It means the team has a more energetic outlook."
Although Ashraful's side is relatively inexperienced, he didn't see it as a deterrent. "I don't think we played that poorly. It was only in the last game that we really underperformed," he said. "Our top four batsmen have made runs and they have left the ball well. Test cricket is different and I have faith in my players."
A little bit of that faith was reposed by Tamim and Siddique. On Test debut, the young left-handed duo had a great time in the second innings. They faced a testing passage of play before tea, with Chris Martin clocking 140kph and moving the ball a touch, but came out unscathed. Iain O'Brien dropped a clanger at mid-on to give Tamim a life as the openers tried to manufacture quick runs but there were some positive shots from Siddique.
Siddique is still in the infancy of his cricketing career, having taken to the game in 2003-04. But he's been ushered in rapidly after some success in the latest format of the game, Twenty20. Three ODIs yielded just 15 runs, yet in his first Test he's impressed with his composure. Tall and upright in the crease, he atoned for a cheap first-innings failure with an innings of control. Tamim followed up his 53 with an unbeaten 72, leading the aggression with positive hooks and pulls and some stunning cuts against Daniel Vettori. The most impressive factor of their innings was that both rode the bounce from tall men like Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills, getting in line and punching the ball late into the gaps.
Before this Test, Ashraful mentioned that the returning Test specialists Habibul Bashar and Nafees could make a difference if they clicked but it's been these two debutants who've impressed most. Bangladesh have long been blighted by an ability to bat out sessions, especially at the start. In doing so well overseas, in the second innings, against a four-pronged seam attack, they've made a small statement.
After a good first half of 2007, in which they beat India and South Africa at the World Cup, Bangladesh slipped. They failed to dismiss Sri Lanka even once in three Tests, and lost all of them by an innings margin. What went wrong? "I believe we really suffered because of not playing Test cricket for 13 months. It was difficult to adapt to Tests after such a long gap because we had been playing ODIs only during that period."
And where did Ashraful see himself now, as captain of a young side coming off a disappointing second half of 2007? "My captaincy record is still poor apart from making the Super Eights in the World Twenty20," he said. "So this year I want to see improvement. I am enjoying my batting and have become more consistent after becoming the captain. I guess the added responsibility has been good for my performance because I never consider it as pressure."
Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo