India won both series, but the headlines were stolen by Bangladesh's stunning one-day victory at Dhaka, when they upset a second-string Indian side to achieve only their third victory over Test-playing opposition in 90 matches. Yet India's first full tour of Bangladesh might never have happened. When a carelessly scribbled letter was faxed to the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, from the Islamic group Harkat-ul-Jihad, the departure of the Indian squad from Kolkata was delayed by two days. The letter reportedly contained a death threat to the team, but after assessments by a governmental security delegation, the trip was given the green light.
Such was the predictability of the results that initial interest focused on the milestones approached by Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar. Kumble needed one wicket to pass Kapil Dev's Indian record of 434 in Tests, while Tendulkar required a single Test century to equal Sunil Gavaskar's world mark of 34. Both tasks were dealt with deftly on the first two days of the tour.
Bangladesh's place in the order of Test-playing nations was under constant scrutiny, and the fact that they lost the two matches convincingly - both by an innings in a little over three days - did nothing to further their cause. Their coach Dav Whatmore pleaded for the cricket world to be patient, but that plea fell on deaf ears - at least until the third day of the Second Test at Chittagong, when Mohammad Ashraful answered the clarion-call of a cricket-mad nation with an innings so pure in its freedom of strokeplay that it invited comparisons to a young Tendulkar. His footwork was stunning, his shot-selection impeccable, and his complete disdain for the bowlers a breath of fresh air. Ashraful's unbeaten 158 suggested that the talent on the streets of Dhaka was not necessarily inferior to that in Colombo, Karachi or Kolkata. That Bangladesh failed to avoid the follow-on, and collapsed to another humiliating defeat, paled in comparison to the self-belief and inspiration they drew from Ashraful's innings.
It proved a catalyst for their one-day victory, when they played out of their skins against a depleted and amateurish Indian side. Ultimately, the tour will be remembered not for Irfan Pathan's five-fors or the centuries from Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir, but for this single defeat. If critics insist that Bangladesh do not deserve to play international cricket, then the result left India's claims to be the second-best side in the world sounding a touch hollow.
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