Bangladesh's schizophrenic tournament came to a whimpering end on a pacy Kensington Oval pitch, but it would be unjust to remember this merry lot for their last match. More than any other team they were responsible for enlivening a World Cup that was so bereft of life and colour. Their cricket has a long way to go, but on the days when their wheels turned they showed they could, in the shorter version of the game, scrap with the best and be the better team.
When asked what Bangladesh would take from the World Cup, Habibul Bashar, an amiable and graceful man, said his team had taken a step forward. "We will now get respect from the other teams," he said. "They know that we can beat them."
To do so they would need to be at the top of their game and the conditions would have to suit their bowlers and batsmen. Read slow, low and turning. But no longer do they have to rely on the other teams having an off day to pull off an upset. India and South Africa were beaten comprehensively, out-batted, out-bowled, and in India's case, hopelessly out-fielded.
But of course, there are still plenty of days when they play like a minnow, however they might dislike that term. Today was one of those days. For nearly 40 overs their bowlers, who got the first use of a lively pitch, kept West Indies on a leash. And then they were overwhelmed. Ramnaresh Sarwan and Brian Lara were too classy for their bowlers at the death, and their batsmen never had a chance when even Corey Collymore got them to rear up.
Earlier in the tournament, they were thumped by Australia by ten wickets and New Zealand by nine and their batsmen collapsed to 143 against England. What would have rankled the most, however, was the rout at the hands of Ireland. In the last World Cup, they were beaten by Kenya and Canada, but they surely would have hoped to leave those days behind.
In a sense, they were unfortunate that they found themselves playing their last three matches in conditions that were the toughest for them, but Ireland batted first and posted 243. "We are not used to batting in these conditions," Bashar said. "This was one of the fastest pitches we have encountered in one-day cricket, and we were not good enough."
Bashar was honest to admit that their performance in the Super Eights was hugely disappointing. "The sad thing is that we could not achieve what we were capable of in this stage," he said. "It was satisfying that we made it to the Super Eights. We had some good days, and some ordinary days."
Consistency is an area he pointed out his team had to work on. "There were days when we fielded like the best in the world, and we were hopeless on some days," he said. He could have said the same about the batting.
Several of the players shone only once and never together. Tamin Iqbal was electrifying against India, but his second highest score was 29 and he ended with an average of 19.11. Mohammad Ashraful, who has promised much more than he has delivered, left South Africa dazed and confused with inventive scoops against their quick men, but did little else. Saqibul Hasan, who looked composed and mature beyond his years during his two half-centuries, fell to rash strokes in other matches.
But the biggest disappointment was Bashar himself. His nine innings yielded a mere 105 runs and the time spent in the middle was often embarrassing, none more so than against Australia where he pottered around for 43 balls for 24 runs in a 22-over match, nearly playing out Brad Hogg for a maiden in the late stages. He made no excuses for himself, saying the leadership wasn't a burden. "Every captain faces the same kinds of pressures in international cricket," he said, "and the truth is that I have not batted well."
The fact is that he has rarely batted well in one-day cricket, which has brought him no hundreds and an average of 21.68. Bashar isn't oblivious to the reality that a decision on his future in the shorter form of the game will have to be made. "I would like to play Test cricket for a few more years," he said. "But I will go home and think about my one-day career."
While the batsmen were inconsistent, the bowlers distinguished themselves. Mashrafe Mortaza was always a threat with the new ball, swinging it both ways at lively pace. He is one of most-improved players in the world and showed that while a few cheap wickets against Zimbabwe and Associate Countries might have helped him become the highest wicket-taker last year, he belongs on the big stage. Syed Rasel, the left-arm opening bowler, was the surprise packet. His control was impeccable and he was tough to get away. An economy rate of 3.85 would have made Glenn McGrath proud.
But it was the left-arm spinners, and Bangladesh used three of them, who proved the match-winners. They foxed India, strangled South Africa and had their batsmen managed 30 more runs, would surely have had England. Mohammad Rafique was outstanding as ever, Abdur Razzak showed he is getting ready to step into Rafique's shoes and even Saqibul, when the conditions suited him, was a handful.
The last three matches were a reality check for Bangladesh, but undoubtedly they were one of the few successes of the World Cup. They leave the tournament with their reputation enhanced.