Bangladesh may have lost the series but there are unmistakable signs of green shoots there. Hopefully, unlike the economists, we won't have to keep revising our estimates, for Bangladesh have hinted at progress before and fallen well short. But there are leading indicators and they are looking better than they have for a while. They now need three things to happen: Mashrafe Mortaza to return, a solid batsman at No. 3 and their sports minister to stay away from cricketing judgement.
At last they have an allrounder. Shakib Al Hasan
is the best spinner in Bangladesh and easily fits into the top six. And, in a welcome departure from deep-rooted trends, he bowls with a beautifully straight arm. I suspect too that in him they have found the right captain. There is an assurance about the way he carries himself and it doesn't seem to affect his performance. He needs time though and, as we have seen on either side of India, it is a luxury captains are denied.
There are a couple of decent seamers in Shahadat Hossain and Rubel Hossain and a third, ideally Mortaza, would be very handy. And they have an opener who likes to get on with it. There will be days when Tamim Iqbal will invite criticism for impetuosity but that comes with his style. Like Shakib, though, he needs time for he looks like he will become a special player for them. His 151
reminded me of one other; Mohammad Ashraful's incandescent 158 not out in Chittagong
a few years ago. Since then Ashraful has stayed where he was with only an occasional allowance to his special ability. Luckily for Tamim, he is coming through at a time when Bangladesh are seeing a little more success and hopefully that will make him, and others around him, a little more positive.
In time to come Mahmudullah will move up the order. His offbreaks are unlikely to be his best friends for long and, like Sri Lanka's Thilan Samaraweera, he might become a batting allrounder and eventually, a batsman. Indeed that is where he might serve Bangladesh better because they need someone a little more reliable in the top four.
For all these green shoots, though, Bangladesh lost rather easily. And I'm sure their coach will point out the real reasons. They, like almost everyone in our part of the world, don't seem too keen to do the simple things well. Better catching in the first Test might have embarrassed India a little more and a no-ball less might have made the second Test a little more interesting. But this problem is not theirs alone. Pakistan's fielding too has been woeful and while India catch well at most times, their out-cricket still gives you the impression it is a generation behind time.
It is an area the Asian countries have rarely been inclined to excel at. It could be that we are not natural athletes but increasingly I think it is because our young men play no sport other than cricket. Far too early in life (I met someone recently who asked what his six-year old should do to become a top cricketer!), they commit to cricket and, that inevitably means, to batting and bowling. And so our fast bowlers are not natural sprinters, our fielders don't have great throwing arms and nobody takes enough catches in practice. Inevitably, then, the Asian teams have to play 10% better to win a match.
India's batting future
India seem to have a couple of slots opening up in the middle order and that may not be such a bad thing. The first slot is the easiest to fill. If Rahul Dravid is not ready, Murali Vijay can bat at No. 3 but it is at Nos. 5 and 6 that an interesting debate seems forthcoming. There is little doubt that the first slot should go to S Badrinath. I know there is much to be said in favour of giving in-form batsmen a go but Badrinath has done everything in Indian cricket except play for India. If the selectors want to look elsewhere they need look no further than Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.
The greater fear though is with the bowling. Ishant Sharma took wickets but looked well short of top form in Bangladesh, Sreesanth is injured, RP Singh hasn't demanded the world look at him, neither has Irfan Pathan with the ball and Munaf Patel, I'm told, is around somewhere. It leads to a rather scary conclusion. If Zaheer Khan breaks down, India might just be the side to queue up to bat against.