Bangladesh emerged from their first senior tour of the West Indies with renewed optimism. Although a highly coveted victory over the fallen giants of the game remained tantalisingly out of reach, they made significant progress towards international respectability. In the first one-day international, Bangladesh were within a wicket of a sensational win, and in the First Test, they passed a series of personal and team milestones and secured a hard-fought draw. It was only the third time in 29 Tests they had avoided defeat: both previous draws had been against Zimbabwe and owed everything to the weather. But Habibul Bashar's young squad still lost the rain-affected one-day series 3-0 and the two Tests 1-0. By the ultimate yardstick - winning cricket matches - they failed to counter those who argue they have no right to be playing at this level.
From West Indies there was little celebration, only sighs of relief that another home humiliation had been avoided. England had just emphatically ended a 36-year drought without winning a Test series in the Caribbean, and failure to beat Bangladesh, the whipping boys of world cricket, would have been too much for proud local hearts to bear, not least that of their beleaguered captain Lara.
Lara's world-record 400 not out, against England in Antigua, had erased lingering doubts about his genius as a batsman, but not the justifiable criticism of his leadership. His second coming as captain had not had the messianic impact optimists predicted: when Bangladesh saved the First Test with honour, his overall record was 19 defeats in 35 Tests.
It looked as if he had had enough. On the eve of the Second Test, in Kingston, Lara made an eye-opening proclamation: he would quit the captaincy if West Indies did not win (leaving open the possibility that heavy rain could unseat him). In fact the weather forecast was good, and victory a fairly safe bet. But such a desperate attempt to galvanise himself and his side betrayed the depressing level to which West Indies had plummeted. Increasingly disenchanted, Lara had already used a newspaper column to air his gripes with selectors, administrators, groundstaff, and almost anyone else with a semblance of influence. It added up to a tacit admission that he had failed to halt the agonising decline.
Victory by an innings and 99 runs at Sabina Park may have reassured the less discerning part of the Caribbean population, but those with more insight knew the quality of the cricket betrayed the teams' positions in the bottom three of the ICC Test Championship. Catching, for instance, was embarrassingly poor on both sides.
The frequent errors made the 14 wickets taken by the left-arm seamer Pedro Collins all the more creditable; these included a Test-best six for 53 as Bangladesh capitulated in the last innings of the series. Yet that crash of seven for 22 contrasted sharply with admirable batting efforts in their previous three innings, highlighted by three centuries in the First Test. Before that, Bangladesh had managed only five in their Test history.
West Indies had four centurions in the series, Ramnaresh Sarwan's unbeaten 261 taking the spotlight. Yet almost as important were Sarwan's frequently used rolling leg-spinners: he and the off-spinning all-rounder Omari Banks took 14 wickets between them. That helped reinforce Lara's claim that the quality of West Indian quick bowlers no longer justified an all-pace attack, and that the selectors were languishing in a time-warp, trying to impose the pattern of the past as the solution to the troubling problems of today. "Instead of relying on our dream team we should focus on the current situation," he said.
Match reports for
West Indies Cricket Board XI v Bangladeshis at Kingstown, May 12, 2004
West Indies Cricket Board XI v Bangladeshis at St George's, May 22-24, 2004