Bangladesh's battle against Test stagnation

Shakib Al Hasan looks on as Rubel Hossain acknowledges the crowd AFP

Bangladesh have endured many disappointments since their last Test series win in 2009, leaving question marks over their future and leading to a quiet but growing apathy towards the longest format among their fans. An unassailable 2-0 lead over Zimbabwe, on the back of a single win in 24 Tests and a horrible 2014, would therefore taste sweeter.

Dhaka's drama was followed by a dominating win in Khulna, where Zimbabwe's collapse on the final day was not only payback, but a craving that was satisfied for the home fans. They had seen Bangladesh fold similarly far too often.

Individual performances have been aplenty, particularly from Shakib Al Hasan whose all-round prowess was a reminder of what Bangladesh missed in West Indies in August. Mushfiqur Rahim, Tamim Iqbal, Mahmudullah, Taijul Islam have also been in the runs or wickets, but more importantly all of them came good when the team needed them to be calm and stay patient. If 2014 has taught the Bangladeshi cricketers anything, it would be patience and how ultimately, it does pay off. A year which saw them lose to everyone, including Hong Kong at home in the World T20, has now seen two Test victories, which helped leap past Zimbabwe in the ICC rankings.

The setting was quite similar when Bangladesh travelled to the West Indies in 2009. Mohammad Ashraful had been removed from captaincy after his side were beaten by Ireland, tumbled out of the World T20 and lost most of their confidence. Mashrafe Mortaza took over, with Shakib as his deputy and they hit pay dirt in the West Indies. A player's strike meant the hosts fielded a second-string team that Bangladesh gleefully beat 2-0. They lost the next four series against India, New Zealand and England, both at home and away.

From July 2009 to October 2014, Bangladesh have drawn five Tests and won against Zimbabwe in 2013 which helped them level that series 1-1. They also held 0-0 against New Zealand last October, which looked like an improvement until they were thumped by Sri Lanka in Dhaka in January 2014. They bounced back with another draw in Chittagong, but were so abysmal against West Indies a couple of months ago that they barely looked like they could win a tape-tennis game in their backyard.

While the lack of quality and mental strength are usually discussed when describing Bangladesh as a Test-playing nation, they have also played the second-fewest Tests between their two series wins.

A part of the reason for the stagnation in Bangladesh's Test performance might be the preference given to ODIs. A prime example was when the BCB agreed to forgo a Test series against New Zealand in October 2010. Seniors in the board, at the time, were conscious of preparing the team for the World Cup. Bangladesh didn't do well in the tournament, went 14 months without playing a Test and resumed with a loss to Zimbabwe, who were making their own comeback into the Test arena after six years in the wilderness.

A weak domestic first-class structure also hinders growth in the Test arena. The BCB have recently introduced a more refined tournament called the Bangladesh Cricket League, but this competition depends whether the sponsors have enough national cricketers in their respective teams.

The sad reality is that Bangladesh were perhaps the happiest country to gain Test status. Following up on that achievement, however, has been poor for too long. But as they have shown in this series win against Zimbabwe, in front of enthusiastic crowds in Dhaka and Khulna, Test cricket is alive and healthy and can be quite entertaining in Bangladesh.