Bangladesh December 24, 2015

The year of Bangladesh

And a year of many firsts: a World Cup quarter-final appearance, series wins over Pakistan, India and South Africa, and the unearthing of a bowling star

Mustafizur Rahman: Bangladesh's new hero (he bowls left-arm, but not spin) © AFP

The image of Mustafizur Rahman on his new team-mates' shoulders is the image of Bangladesh cricket in 2015. A happy bunch that now expects to win as a matter of course, the team have managed to completely change their opponents' perception of them. By beating three top sides in the space of four months, Bangladesh, it can now be safely said, have turned the corner in international cricket. They have become familiar with winning ODIs now, especially at home.

The successes of 2015 look even better when you remember how down in the dumps they were for most of 2014. Captain Mashrafe Mortaza and coach Chandika Hathurusingha have combined well with their honest approaches to bring a passionate, team-first attitude back into the dressing room. In his third stint as captain, Mortaza has injected his own enthusiasm into even the most dour characters.

He also had the confidence of his fellow senior players, like Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah, while Mustafizur, Soumya Sarkar and Sabbir Rahman have brought their own brand of exciting cricket to the mix. They played as a family, helping Rubel Hossain in difficult times, and ensuring someone like Nasir Hossain felt a part of the team despite losing his old batting spot.

The genesis of this new Bangladesh was the 5-0 win over Zimbabwe in late 2014, after which Hathurusingha and Mortaza took the team through hard training camps in Dhaka and Brisbane in January this year. But preparations for the World Cup campaign went so badly that after the fourth consecutive defeat in the practice matches, Mortaza publicly criticised them.

Bangladesh's opening match of the World Cup was against Afghanistan, who less than a year before had crushed them in an ODI in Fatullah. Bangladesh's win was comprehensive, and the players later admitted that they were under utmost pressure to win this game.

Mahmudullah and Rubel then brought together all their skills to eliminate England from the World Cup, which meant Bangladesh reached the knockouts for the first time. Rubel, who was arrested in January after being accused by a former girlfriend of reneging on a marriage proposal, needed bail and the assurance of a judge to play in the World Cup. So the four-for against England was a personal triumph.

After his 103 against England, Mahmudullah did one better, with a classy unbeaten 128 against red-hot New Zealand. Bangladesh's World Cup campaign ended in a whimper against India but not before a hue and cry was raised about the no-ball called by umpire Aleem Dar when Rohit Sharma was caught on 90, because his eventual 137 helped India reach the semi-final easily.

The World Cup win over England was just the first of several major ODI triumphs Bangladesh enjoyed in 2015 © Associated Press

The team came home heroes, with public receptions, gifts and the works. Mortaza was afraid all the attention would affect their preparation for the home series against Pakistan. But Sabbir struck a fast hundred in the practice match and Bangladesh hardly looked back in the ODIs.

Tamim and Mushfiqur made centuries in the first ODI, which was Bangladesh's first win over Pakistan in 16 years. Tamim scored a second century to secure the series in the next game before Sarkar unfurled his shots in an unbeaten 127 to wrap up the ODI series 3-0. The T20 match was also won quite easily.

In the drawn first Test, in Khulna, Bangladesh broke some batting records: Tamim and Imrul Kayes added 312, the highest opening stand in the second innings of a Test, and the highest stand by a Bangladesh pair. Tamim's 206 was the highest score by a Bangladesh batsman. Pakistan, however, won the second Test, in Mirpur, by 328 runs.

Normally a Bangladeshi cricket season ends in May, but this time India and South Africa toured the country between June and August, during the monsoon season.

The Fatullah Test against India was a rain-affected draw but the ODI series in Mirpur was no damp squib. The rains stayed away, mostly, and new boy Mustafizur took a five-for and a six-for in the first two games of the series and his ODI career. The Indian batsmen looked clueless against his variation of old-ball offcutters, and Bangladesh duly had their maiden ODI series win against India, 2-1.

Despite these major wins, few thought Bangladesh could stand up to South Africa, especially since they had been playing non-stop since last October and were expected to be tired. South Africa won the T20 series 2-0 before breezing through the first ODI. Mortaza and Hathurusingha then reminded the team how they had won series against Pakistan and India, and within 48 hours Bangladesh turned their performance around.

Mashrafe Mortaza managed to energise his players every time they wilted in the face of defeat © Raton Gomes/BCB

The two new stars - Sarkar and Mustafizur - combined to bring home the series win. Mustafizur took three wickets in the second ODI to restrict South Africa to 162 before Sarkar blasted 88 not and finished the chase inside 28 overs. The decider, in Chittagong, was a miracle game. A terrific storm and heavy rain stopped play for nearly three hours. But in the eventual 40-over-a-side game, Sarkar shocked South Africa with a 75-ball 90. Bangladesh had their maiden ODI series win against South Africa as well.

One sour note in the year was Australia's decision to postpone their October tour due to security concerns. The Bangladesh government made efforts to ensure the visiting team's safety but Cricket Australia was not convinced.

The board instead brought forward a part of Zimbabwe's scheduled January 2016 trip. The story was now familiar: Bangladesh beat them 3-0 in the ODIs and drew the T20s 1-1.

Critics will point out that Bangladesh haven't won abroad, which is true. But 2015 should always be remembered for a comeback from hard times and in the biggest and most fun way.

High point
Beating Pakistan and India had the emotional element of triumphing over subcontinent rivals, but the series win over South Africa was much more significant because of how poorly Bangladesh have played against them historically. The voodoo was lifted with two comprehensive wins.

Low point
Bangladesh's increasingly standoffish attitude towards Test cricket could have been dealt a serious challenge if Australia had decided to go on with their tour.

Tamim Iqbal scored two one-day hundreds in Bangladesh's whitewash of Pakistan © AFP

New kid on the block
From the south-western edge of Bangladesh emerged a once-in-a-generation talent called Mustafizur Rahman. He shocked India and then ensured his 13 wickets in that series wasn't a fluke by keeping South Africa under check with orthodox left-arm fast skills, not just his slower balls and cutters.

Fading star
Shahadat Hossain's selection for the second Test against Pakistan in May this year came as a surprise. He wasn't a regular in domestic cricket, but it was his lack of fitness that cut short his comeback. He fell over bowling the second ball, hurt his right knee, which was further damaged when he tried to bowl in the lunch break. Four months later, he and his wife were charged with allegedly assaulting a housemaid, and Shahadat was arrested in October. He was granted bail in December, but the case will be long drawn out and it is more than likely that the May Test will be his last.

What 2016 holds
Zimbabwe are scheduled to play a Test in January before Bangladesh host the Asia Cup T20s and then go to India for the World T20. They will return to India in August to play their maiden Test in the country before hosting England for a full series in October.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84