December 26, 2011

One-day tigers

In 50-overs cricket Bangladesh had a very good year, beating India and Sri Lanka, and West Indies in a series. But they couldn't take the form into Tests and T20s

Bangladesh made the best of the few opportunities they were handed this year. The only team that played fewer matches in each format was Zimbabwe. Bangladesh played only two Tests, the fewest since they were first admitted into the format, and nine ODIs, the fewest since 2001. But their performances and win percentage in ODIs suggests they are a much improved team. In ten days of Test cricket, they enjoyed most of the first five but not the second.

Their first international engagement in 2012 was in March, when they hosted the Asia Cup for the third time. But unlike in their previous appearances in the regional tournament, where they were routinely rolled over by their neighbours, this time Bangladesh beat India and Sri Lanka.

Against India, three top-order batsmen scored half-centuries, but it was Shakib Al Hasan's 31-ball 49 that swung the game Bangladesh's way. Their win over Sri Lanka took them to their second tournament final, which they lost to Pakistan by an agonising two runs. The poor final over and the stuttering chase were soon forgotten by the fans, the tears of captain Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib were feted as heroic, and the form of Tamim Iqbal, who had hit four fifties in a row, was praised.

But a bizarre twist in fortunes followed. Coach Stuart Law departed abruptly, and with much flourish, Richard Pybus was named his long-term replacement. Bangladesh went to Zimbabwe, Ireland, Netherlands and Trinidad to play T20s to prepare for September's World Twenty20, which they exited after the first round.

The period gave Pybus a sense of how the Bangladesh board operated, and it turned out to be too much for him to handle. His resignation in October showed how poorly Bangladesh cricket is run. The BCB did not discuss the terms of his availability in detail before he started on the job, nor did it get him to sign a contract. All this less than a month before the team's first Test in nearly a year.

But the players were determined to put up a fight against West Indies and posted 556, their highest Test score, in the first innings. However, they failed to chase a target of 245, falling short by 77 runs, and bombed in the second Test in Khulna.

In the one-dayers, while everyone was talking about a 0-5 whitewash, Bangladesh beat West Indies in the first two games with their battery of spinners. Their 160-run win in the second match was their biggest ODI win ever. West Indies fought back to make it 2-2 but the hosts were competitive in both matches. In the final ODI, Bangladesh battled a six-hitting spree from Kieron Pollard before Mushfiqur and his deputy Mahmudullah took charge of the chase, and Nasir Hossain, Mominul Haque and Sohag Gazi batted like their lives depended on the game (and it probably did too) to give Bangladesh their best performance in international cricket.

High point
Among the team's five ODI wins were two outstanding chases, but Bangladesh's best win has to be the 160-run mauling handed to West Indies. Before this game, in a series against a stronger opposition, Bangladesh had never won the second match after winning the first. They made a sizeable total batting first, aided by young Anamul Haque's 120, and went on to shut out the visitors in 31.1 overs, an hour before the scheduled end of the match. Never had Bangladesh looked so dominant in an international match against a higher-ranked, more fancied and in-form opponent.

Low point
They gave up in the final session of a Test and lost the next one badly, but Bangladesh can be forgiven their five-day lapses since they were playing their first Tests in 11 months. What they can't escape censure for is their T20 loss to Scotland in July. Little-known Richie Berrington slammed a century off 57 balls and Bangladesh never recovered from the shock. They also lost a game to Netherlands on this tour of Europe, the second stage of their marathon preparations for the World Twenty20, where their campaign fizzled out into nothing.

New kid on the block
Bangladesh's selectors decided to pick a specialist offspinner - Sohag Gazi - for the first time in nearly a decade when faced with a West Indies side full of left-handers. Gazi, who opened the bowling in all three formats, showed composure, after being whacked for a six off his first ball, and flexibility. He was also willing to use flight in his bowling, a rare quality among Bangladeshi spinners. Anamul, Mominul and Abul Hasan all had their moments, but Gazi was the notable newcomer of 2012.

Fading star
Most of Bangladesh's current players are hardly old enough to be consigned to the scrap heap but the case of Mohammad Ashraful is a little different. He has been given every chance to return, and this year was even picked as a T20 opener. But the 28-year-old has not played a Test or an ODI this year, and in his six T20s he averaged less than 20. With so many youngsters filling his usual batting positions in the middle order, it looks like a hard road back for the once-exciting Ashraful. His domestic form has dipped considerably too, further pushing him down the pecking order for national selection.

What 2013 holds
Bangladesh will aim to take the impetus from the one-day series win against West Indies to Sri Lanka, where they play a full series in March. Then they go to Zimbabwe in April before hosting New Zealand in October. The BCB will look to fill the gaps like they did in 2012 but this time with more substantial international cricket.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent