Does anyone want to play?
How much longer can Bangladesh endure large gaps between their international matches is a question that everyone from players and coaches to fans is asking. The question becomes more pertinent when you see the team remain unbeaten at home in ODIs and improve in Test cricket.
The ICC has no say in the organising of bilateral tours outside the ambit of the Future Tours Programme, so Bangladesh's playing calendar is often down to the BCB's skill (and the attitudes of the richer boards). They have only played Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and New Zealand in 2013, and their results should be enough to attract more takers, but neither is the BCB manoeuvring successfully nor are the other boards making any moves.
The cricket year started in March, with almost back-to-back tours to Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Bangladesh's next, and last, series of the year began in October, after a gap of five months in the interim, and ended in early November. They played six Tests, winning one. Significantly, they have never lost as few as two Tests in any year when they have played more than five Tests. The three draws were altogether unprecedented, particularly the one in Galle, when they not only pushed Sri Lanka to the fifth day but secured their first-ever drawn Test match in that country. Against Zimbabwe, however, it went pear-shaped, as Bangladesh were crushed in the first Test match. It shook them up, and they turned things around in the second Test, which they won by 143 runs.
It was their first Test win since mid-2009, an outcome that pointed to their increased confidence and stability at home.
The T20 performances have once again been disappointing, with just the one win in four games this year.
Winning ODIs without Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal has been a point in favour of Bangladesh. The BCB's decision to stick with Mushfiqur Rahim as captain till the 2015 World Cup is another positive move, given the board has tended towards short-term stints for captains in the past. What they will expect from Mushfiqur would be more of the same in terms of results - but not more in the vein of his hot-headed resignation in May. The team will also have to step past the BPL spot-fixing controversy, which dogged them from the time the news broke in May.
There have been a lot of fine individual performances this year, as would be expected when the team does well, but none could top Sohag Gazi's feat.
Gazi became the first cricketer in Test history to score a century and take a hat-trick in the same Test match. The first part of the feat, the unbeaten 101, ensured that Bangladesh didn't fall short of New Zealand's first-innings total, and put them in a position of strength. Gazi's restraint was impressive, particularly his ability to find the gaps and pick up singles; his ability to bat with the tail was also noticeable.
The hat-trick was a mixture of Gazi's use of variations and lengths, and luck. He trapped Corey Anderson with a quicker, fuller arm ball, easily given out leg-before. BJ Watling edged the next one, also an arm-ball, to Mushfiqur. The hat-trick ball, to Doug Bracewell, was another excellent, fuller-length delivery that took the outside edge, smashed into Mushfiqur's shoulder, and was grabbed by a diving Shakib at leg slip.
It enlivened a meandering final day's play, and though the game ended in a draw, Gazi's performance spoke loudly of his ability as a cricketer. Curiously, almost a year to the day, he had done the exact same thing in first-class cricket, playing for Barisal Division.
Off the field, the year's misery centred around the BPL corruption controversy, particularly the resulting suspension of Mohammad Ashraful, the former captain.
The more visible low point was Bangladesh's crushing 335-run loss to Zimbabwe in April. Their combined total in the first Test match against Zimbabwe, 281 runs, was just eight more than Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor had made during the game in an epic batting effort. That disparity said it all.
The batsmen had no answer to sharp, short-pitched bowling or to the constantly changing lengths. The cavalier approach, particularly not holding a training session at home between tours to Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, coupled with sub-standard facilities in Harare resulted in the big loss - a harsh reminder of how things can go wrong quickly for Bangladesh, who are unaccustomed to playing short-pitched fast bowling in foreign conditions.
New kid on the block
Mominul Haque's twin centuries against New Zealand provided a sense of assurance about Bangladesh's immediate future in Test cricket. He was adept at changing the pace of his innings according to the need of the situation. During his 181 in Chittagong, he realised quickly that the bowlers didn't know where to bowl at him, and he cashed in on the loose deliveries; when he began to be examined a little more, he contented himself with finding the gaps.
In Dhaka he played with a high fever but displaying an even higher level of maturity. He approached the task of surviving on the fourth day in the best possible manner, and had a great batting partner in Tamim Iqbal at the other end.
This was Mominul's first year in Test cricket, and he understands that he has a long way to go to establish himself in the international game, but his hunger and grounded attitude will serve him and Bangladesh well.
Ashraful has featured in this section in 2008 and 2012 for lack of form, but now his days as a cricketer seems over. He has admitted to the ICC's ACSU of his involvement in corruption during BPL. The BCB and the ACSU have set up a tribunal that will hear from Ashraful and eight others, all from the same BPL franchise. The saddest part is that 2013 seemed to offer hope of a revival for Ashraful, particularly after he struck 190 against Sri Lanka in Galle. Even if the minimum punishment is levied, it would likely spell a shameful end for Bangladesh's first big international cricketer.
What 2014 holds
Bangladesh have a busy year ahead, starting mid-January, when they host Sri Lanka in two Tests, three ODIs and two T20s. The Asia Cup is slated to begin four days after the last game of the tour, and a week after the regional tournament, the country hosts the World Twenty20 in March-April.
According to the ICC's Future Tours Programme, India are supposed to tour to play three ODIs in June, after which Bangladesh tour the West Indies in July. The home cricket season renews in 2014, with Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe touring Bangladesh, the latter scheduled to play two Tests in October-November.