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As ever, in 2007 too, you never could tell which Bangladesh team would show up on any given day
December 31, 2007
Bangladesh were playing their first Test in almost a year when they took India on in Chittagong in May. To the first ball, from Mashrafe Mortaza, Wasim Jaffer shouldered arms and lost his off stump. Mortaza had the index finger of his left hand pointed towards captain Mohammad Ashraful as he went on a celebratory run. Apparently Mortaza had told Ashraful beforehand that Jaffer had a tendency of premeditating his leaves, and that, with a reputation as a predominantly outswing bowler, he was sure he would get Jaffer first up with one that came in.
In a year where they had other moments that they would cherish much more, it was this beginning at Chittagong that gave one cause to feel that Bangladesh belonged. That first day was followed up by a rearguard action with the bat by Mortaza and Shahadat Hossain to save the game. It is a different matter that they have only gone downhill in Tests since then. Overall, it was a year of two clearly demarcated parts for Bangladesh. In the first four months, with eight wins out of the 15 ODIs they played, they looked like emulating 2006, when their numbers were impressive. In 2006, Mortaza was the world's leading wicket-taker in ODIs, Abdur Razzak was third on the list, and Shahriar Nafees became the first Bangladesh batsman to make over 1000 runs in ODIs in a calendar year. They won 18 of the 28 matches they played, the third-best win percentage after Australia and New Zealand.
They may not have similar numbers to show in 2007, but the wins have been bigger - against India and South Africa at the World Cup. Still, the old lack of consistency persists. While they came up with good cricket to win those two matches, they lost others tamely. Immediately after they beat India, they were bowled out for 112 by Sri Lanka. Just after the South Africa game, they managed only 143 against England, one of the weaker teams in the tournament. Bangladesh asked the world to take notice and then themselves failed to turn up. It was evident from the way they let India off the hook in the first match of India's tour, which was looked forward to more than any other series in Bangladesh.
The dual nature was on display at the ICC World Twenty20 too, where in beating West Indies they suggested Twenty20 might just be the game for them, but then deceived in subsequent matches. They seemed to lack a plan, and unable to appreciate that innings need to be built, even in 20-over games.
They won nothing in the second half of the year, which included five Tests. Apart from the first Test against India, where they fought hard to save a follow-on and enforce a draw, they were hopeless in the remaining. The only saving grace came from personal efforts in lost causes.
Also they were a team in transition, young talent shining only in flashes, and veterans such as Habibul Bashar and Javed Omar slowly losing their grip.
After Dav Whatmore's contract expired, they spent a long time without a permanent coach. Jamie Siddons' first series as coach was the one against New Zealand that began in the last week of 2007; Whatmore left in May.
The second ODI against India, in Mirpur, perhaps summed up Bangladesh's year. Aftab Ahmed, the most representative member of the team - now mercurial, now ordinary - was at the centre of it. Chasing 285, they had lost Tamim Iqbal early. But Aftab, promoted to No. 3, treated the Indian bowlers with scant respect, straight-driving, charging and back-scooping Zaheer Khan. He flicked Munaf Patel for a six and then cover-drove him for a four. And then he gifted his wicket away.
Whatmore is not around, but he has left his successor plenty of pointers to the major areas that need work. "We have the ability to scare some people," Whatmore had said after the Mirpur game. "But we continue to present some easy gifts to people. When we don't we are capable of causing major upsets, which we need to do more often."
Habibul Bashar, who has been their best Test batsman, had a horrendous 2007. He scored 328 runs in 17 ODIs at 21.86, while in 10 Test innings he managed 115 runs, with a best of 37. The pressure from individual non-performance showed in captaincy, which he relinquished after the Mirpur Test, which they lost to India by an innings and 239 runs. He was dropped from the ODI side thereafter.
Definitely the World Cup. The wins were not flukes by any stretch. These results came in conditions other than home, against strong opposition, and on the biggest stage. If the first one, against India, was a stunner, the win over South Africa, that came in the Super Eights, was reaffirmation that Bangladesh couldn't be taken lightly.
The Tests against Sri Lanka, who toyed with Bangladesh. They couldn't dismiss Sri Lanka even once in the three Tests, and lost all of them by an innings margin.
What does 2008 hold?
The ongoing series in New Zealand will be a big challenge. An eye will also be on the tri-nation Under-19 tournament in South Africa, with India the third side. The senior South Africa team will tour Bangladesh for two Tests and three ODIs. Bangladesh are a much improved team from the last time South Africa toured, in 2003. The big one follows after that: the Asia Cup in Pakistan.
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