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Feature

Miracle in Mount Maunganui (or how Bangladesh pulled off the mother of all upsets)

Practically everything was stacked against the Bangladeshis but, against all calculations, they put up a performance for the ages

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
05-Jan-2022
The Bangladesh fans made themselves heard in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand vs Bangladesh, 1st Test, Mount Maunganui, 5th day, January 5, 2022

History, form, logic - everything was against Bangladesh when the Mount Maunganui Test started  •  Getty Images

Just a couple of weeks ago, Bangladesh's tour of New Zealand looked like it was in jeopardy. Health authorities in New Zealand had ordered the visitors to spend an additional three days in hotel quarantine after they had spent around a week in their rooms already. Rangana Herath, the spin-bowling coach, had tested positive for Covid-19. Eight Bangladesh players, identified as close contacts with a Covid-positive case in their New Zealand-bound flight, were also in isolation. If it wasn't bubble fatigue, it was certainly cabin fever of some sort - the Bangladeshis were not in a good place.
Not to forget, this was after the 2-0 Test-series defeat at home to Pakistan, where they lost the second Test, in Dhaka, despite two-and-a-half days being lost to the weather. That came after the T20 World Cup, where they began with a loss to Scotland in the first round, somehow made it to the main round, and lost all their five group-stage games.
In New Zealand, Bangladesh were without two of their most-experienced cricketers, Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal. The home side was missing Kane Williamson. Sure, there was some optimism, of the wide-eyed sort, but very little confidence.
The opposition now.
New Zealand, world champions of Test cricket. Not a subjective one that many teams have been called over the years, but bona fide ones. Before the first Test, they were undefeated for 17 Tests at home. They had won the last six matches. They had won their last eight home series - against Pakistan, West Indies (twice), India, England (twice), Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. They are so good at home that they left out left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel, who had become only the third man in Test history to take ten wickets in an innings, in their previous Test.
And then, the history.
Bangladesh had not won a Test against New Zealand in 21 years. They had never won a match, across formats, the 32 times they had faced New Zealand in New Zealand.
Then, they went ahead and made history.

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The first day in Mount Maunganui was even. New Zealand scored 258. But Bangladesh, fighting hard, picked up five wickets.
On the second morning, New Zealand collapsed - not for the first time in the game. And then a top three that seemed like walking wickets before the game batted out 67 overs. Indeed, between days two, three and four, they batted a total of 176.2 overs. Four of the top six scored half-centuries. Bangladesh were 130 in front.
All along, despite everything, there was the fear of the familiar. Would Bangladesh be able to carry on?
They did. Ebadot Hossain did. On the fourth evening and then, on the fifth morning, finishing New Zealand off for 169. The last five wickets on the final day fell inside ten minutes of play in the morning, and they strolled home just after noon.
In terms of both the scale of the win and the manner in which it was achieved, it was a sporting miracle.

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What stood out for Bangladesh was how almost every member of the team turned their form around.
As much as Mahmudul Hasan Joy won praise for batting out of his skin for nearly five hours, Shadman Islam, too, batted with more confidence than he showed in the dismal Pakistan series.
Najmul Hossain Shanto, Mominul Haque and Litton Das are looking like the new leaders of the batting group already. Shanto batted like a proper No. 3 for possibly the second time in the last 12 months. He pushed the scoring, yet remained solid in defence. Mominul batted like the senior pro he is, while Litton took forward his confidence in Tests, and didn't go the way he has in T20s of late.
And Mushfiqur Rahim, a bit of an odd-man out in a younger team, in the absence of Tamim and Shakib. He is pushing to become the first Bangladesh batter to reach 5000 Test runs, and though he went just 12 runs in that direction in the first innings, his 85-minute vigil in the middle on the second day proved why he is regarded so highly. It was tough work against an accurate pace attack, but Mushfiqur thwarted them with grit and class. He didn't score a lot of runs, but the dressing room knew that everyone was in it together.
"I think this is a sign of our improvement in Tests," Mominul said after the game. "I think we all wanted to do better in every department in Tests after the Pakistan series. We helped each other. The coaching staff was supportive. I think Mushfiq bhai, our most experienced player, was very emotionally involved. As a young captain, I get a lot of support from him. When we play as a team, we get the right result. I think that's the most important thing.
"New Zealand have a deadly new-ball attack, so we got ahead in the game simply because of the way Shadman and Joy tackled them. Joy just showed that he is a superstar in the making. Shadman ensured the ball got old, which helped me and Litton. [Mehidy Hasan] Miraz and Rabbi [Yasir Ali] played important knocks."
Bangladesh have made more runs in a single innings in New Zealand before, but batting out more than 170 overs with this line-up was unimaginable to most. Yet, they did, and that created a sticky situation for the home side.

****

Taskin Ahmed's comeback was one of the few highlights for Bangladesh in what was a poor 2021. How he improved his fitness, corrected his bowling action and returned to the Bangladesh team was a great sign for the often-ignored art and craft of fast bowling in the country.
Ebadot wasn't making a comeback, but he hadn't shown too many signs of being a class act. But the coaching staff believed him. Maybe some of his team-mates, too, believed he was good enough. But he didn't, and neither did most Bangladesh fans.
Yet, with the game opened up after the first-innings exchanges, Taskin got them Tom Latham's big wicket, before Ebadot took the next six. It reduced his bowling average from 81.54 to 56.55. His strike rate now stands under 100 for the first time since he made his debut in 2019.
"Ebadot has been working hard for the last three years. He bowled an unbelievable spell," Mominul said. "Our coaching staff worked with him a lot. We have been expecting something from him for a long time.
"Taskin was playing only his eighth Test match. Shoriful [Islam] his second. But they bowled like experienced bowlers. They have the ability. They are keen to learn. They will do much better with more experience."

****

But how did it all come together, how did the Miracle of Mount Maunganui happen?
No major secret, it appears.
Bangladesh played without the burden of expectation. Perhaps no one gave them a chance. But they made use of the training sessions to allow their young batters to acclimatise to the conditions. Maybe it helped that Mominul, Mushfiqur, Shanto and a few others had a bit of an idea about this place - Cricket New Zealand is, after all, the only major cricket board that invites Bangladesh regularly for Test cricket.
According to those in the backroom, like team director Khaled Mahmud, there was a bit of soul searching after the Pakistan series. But a lot more time was spent in the training ground smoothening out the rough edges.
Perhaps getting away from Dhaka also helped. There was a lot of talk about their poor 2021 and about what is wrong with the team. When the team plays overseas, there are fewer voices, the noise is less.

****

"On the Richter Scale, it's off the scale."
This was David Lloyd on TV commentary after Bangladesh beat Australia in an ODI 2005. At that time, Australia were closing in on ten years of domination in world cricket. This was the pre-2005-Ashes Australia. So when Bangladesh, complete outsiders, beat them, it was one of the great upsets.
The win over New Zealand is at that level in terms of cricketing surprises.
The difference is that this time, Bangladesh dominated a much superior opponent, in their conditions, for all five days. It's the sort of result that changes things.
Like at home, with the BCB. The misfiring, one-dimensional team can win overseas, that too with fast bowlers showing the way and their batters taking their game a step higher. It's something to cash in on, build on, and not fritter away.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84