A harness and the horizon

Rabeed Imam
Bangladesh's dream season began with their first Test win in five years since their debut, followed by a one-day win over Australia and the emergence of some young exciting talent

Mohammad Ashraful's aura of dominance was infectious © Getty Images

You know for certain that New Year's treats are heading your way and while you are waiting for the goodies to arrive, Santa pays you a totally unexpected visit. Now that's a dream transition from one season to another and at the beginning of 2005 Bangladesh were experiencing a similar flight of fancy, only this one was real.

On December 26, Bangladesh had brought India back down to earth when they marked their 100th ODI appearance with a 14-run win. Just 11 days later they were celebrating a first Test win after 34 futile attempts in five years. To the cricket-obsessed millions and the genuine well-wishers of Bangladesh cricket, it mattered little that the vanquished were Zimbabwe. After all it was not Bangladesh's fault that Zimbabwe had left their leading cricketers behind for the tour in the wake of a rebellion. This was a series in which Bangladesh were favoured to prosper even before the first ball had been bowled and they lived up to that expectation in style.

After a 226-run rout in the first Test in Chittagong, Bangladesh secured a maiden series triumph by drawing the second and final game in Dhaka. January would turn out to be a month of firsts for Bangladesh. Before the Test euphoria had subsided, the Tigers found themselves 0-2 down with three matches to go in the ODI series. A 40-run win in Chittagong gave them breathing space and they were back in the hunt after beating Zimbabwe by 58 runs in the fourth ODI. On the last day of the month, Bangladesh became only the second country in the history of limited overs cricket to take a series after trailing 2-0 when Zimbabwe's 198 was overhauled with 17 overs and 8 wickets to spare. Bangladesh had never won two one-day matches in a row before let alone three and this was also their first ODI series victory.

Left-arm spinner Enamul Haque jnr was in the thick of things throughout both series but stamped his true class in the Tests. The 18-year-old spun Bangladesh to victory in the first Test by taking six wickets in the second innings and followed that up with a 12-wicket haul in the second game, which made him the first Bangladeshi bowler and the youngest in Test annals to claim a 10-for.

While toppling Zimbabwe was important for self-esteem and pride, the Tigers' knew that recognition would only come if they can impress in England in May-June. Before they could take to the greens, the media came at them all guns blazing. For their part the Bangladesh team did themselves no favour as the Test tour ended in sheer misadventure. The Lord's Test barely lasted three days while Durham saw action for two days and a quarter. But this bruised, battered and supposedly clueless team became the toast of world cricket on June 18 in Cardiff when they conjured a near miracle by handing world champions Australia a five-wicket shock in the NatWest tri-series. Mohammad Ashraful, the gifted right-hander, ran the show on that unforgettable day as his run-a-ball hundred made the impossible possible. Ashraful would play another couple of more daring innings against the best fast bowlers in the world before the end of the series albeit in lost causes. But his aura of dominance was infectious and he almost single-handedly enhanced his side's reputation.

Much was expected after the Aussie-kill but Bangladesh's last assignment proved a forgettable one in Sri Lanka where they went down without a fight in both forms of the game.

With just six Tests and 14 ODIs completing the international commitments, the top cricketers of the country were available for the only first-class competition, the National Cricket League. Matches are being played on sporting wickets which invariably have a dash of green grass, a novelty but a welcome one. Already there is a healthy competition building up with quick bowlers, spinners and top-order batsmen all having their moments.

Towards the end of the year, the Bangladesh Under-19 side lifted a tri-nation competition title which was arranged as preparation for February's World Cup in Sri Lanka. Bangladesh were the in-form team at this level in 2005 winning 13 out of 16 under 19 internationals including victories against world champions Pakistan, Australia, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

On a somber note, the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka and the MA Aziz Stadium in Chittagong signed off as cricket venues by holding their final games during Zimbabwe's tour.

New man on the block Shahriar Nafees Ahmed. After some consistent performances for the Under-19s and the A team, he was brought into the senior side in the hope that his left-handed batting would give a new dimension to the right-hander dominated top-order. Got his first break as an opener in the NatWest tri-series and hit 75 against Australia. He didn't have to wait long for a Test debut and brought up a maiden half century against Sri Lanka. Style is not his forte but makes up for that with doggedness and fight. Doesn't look out of place.

Fading star Alok Kapali. Once dubbed as the next big hope of Bangladesh cricket, Kapali would struggle to get near the probables list on current form. Anyone who has seen him play wants him to succeed as his potential genius is so obvious but he played just one ODI in the year, the fifth and final match against Zimbabwe. Left out of the tour party to England, he was given a chance to redeem himself when the A side visited that country in July but did not do anything noteworthy to press for a spot in the Sri Lanka-bound team. His domestic form has not been convincing many.

High point Nothing compares to the emotions experienced during Bangladesh's amazing run chase in Cardiff. It came at a time when every possible odd was stacked against the Tigers. 250 would have been a pretty stiff target to get for established teams even against the likes of Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie. The fact that it was achieved comfortably with five wickets in hand dispels any notion the result being accidental. Bangladesh's win was the undoubted highlight of the year.

Low point India's repeated reluctance to host the Tigers. With the Australia tour in April, Bangladesh would complete a cycle of playing against all Test sides home and away except their next-door neighbours. There has been no shortage of excuses from the Indian authorities on why they could not accommodate Bangladesh including flimsy ones like the Dasaraa and Diwali programmes clashing with the proposed itinerary. There is no guarantee that a series is a possibility in 2006 also.

What does 2006 hold? Lack of practice in playing longer-version matches at the domestic level has often been described as a primary reason why Bangladeshi players have not adapted in Tests. However by the time Sri Lanka and Australia arrive around March-April, the cricketers who will be in the running for selection, will have a handsome number of four-day games under their belts as the international calendar has not clashed with the domestic first class fixture this season. It remains to be seen how much the team's notoriously inconsistent batting benefits from that as another year of stiff examinations of credibility begin. The Tigers would also desperately hope for a full recovery of pace ace Mashrafe bin-Mortaza who has not played any cricket since August due to a back injury.

In the beginning of the year there will be curious eyes keeping a close watch on the U-19 team's assault on the World Cup. There are some precocious talents in the youth side, lads like Sakib al-Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, and don't be surprised if some of them earn senior international caps before the year is out.

Rabeed Imam is the editor of TigerCricket.com