Of frustration and solace: Bangladesh's journey to 100 Tests

Bangladesh have not had too many successes since receiving Test status in 2000, but 99 matches on, support and talent holds the team in good stead for the future

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Status is an important word in Bangladesh society. It includes financial well-being, respect and value of a human being, a family and a community. It is such an important word in the country's lexicon that it almost sounds like a Bangla word.
When Saber Hossain Chowdhury and Syed Ashraful Haque spoke about Test status in 1996, many didn't get what the fuss was all about. But when the Bangladesh team won the 1997 ICC Trophy, they just had to get Test status.
It is not to suggest that Bangladeshis didn't know what Test cricket was. Many grew up watching Australia early in the morning and West Indies late into the night. India-Pakistan arguments were a regular feature at the dinner table.
Soon many figured out the value of Test status. Nationalism was attached to it, and an all-out effort was made, through Saber and Ashraful, to achieve Test status. It finally came in June 2000, and Bangladesh became the 10th Test-playing nation. But what have Bangladesh made of their status as a Test team? Eight wins out of the first 99 matches. The first time they beat a top-seven ranked side was 16 years after their debut.
As a Test side, Bangladesh's performances haven't met the expectations of their massive fan base, although success in ODIs in the recent past has helped. The country's cricket following is immense, and talented players are emerging from several regions. Cricket is a national pastime that has taken over one of every three conversations in modern Bangladesh - the others are about traffic and Facebook.
Cricket has given the people of Bangladesh a new identity, and that's what should keep the game, and its most cherished format, in the country. T20s are big in Bangladesh too. But gaining Test status has meant that Bangladeshis who work in paddy fields in Barisal, or in an air-conditioning factory in the UAE, have something to dream about.
On the field of play however, it has been more reality and less dreaming. Still, there have been moments of drama, and periods of progress.
Not much of a honeymoon (2000-2004)
Bangladesh's performance in their inaugural Test was an apt presage of what was to follow. After making 400 in the first innings, they were bowled out for 91 when they needed to push the game ahead. For the first four years in Test cricket, they didn't hit such heights often - crossing 400 runs only once during this period - but they managed to push the opposition to varying degrees.
Multan, in 2003, was the closest Bangladesh got to winning a Test match in the early period after Pakistan were pushed to the edge in a fascinating contest. But the one-wicket defeat was heartbreaking, and many felt at the time that the team had squandered its biggest chance.
Nine months later in Gros Islet, Bangladesh picked up their first "earned" draw, after rain-dominated draws against Zimbabwe in 2001 and 2004.
During the first four years, 20 of their 34 Tests were innings defeats, some of them brutal losses. They were bowled out below 100 five times, and went through 40 cricketers. Only four batsmen crossed 1000 runs, and one bowler took 50 wickets. There were only 15 century partnerships.
Towards the end of this period, around December 2004, questions about their place among cricket's elite intensified until Mohammad Ashraful smacked a superb 158 against India in Chittagong.
Some wins, and the arrival of promising players (2005-2010)
Zimbabwe had been going through a tough phase of their own by the time they arrived for their second tour of Bangladesh in 2005, which meant the hosts had to catch them on the hop. Enamul Haque jnr ran through them in the first Test, to confirm Bangladesh's maiden Test win. In the next game, Nafees Iqbal and Javed Omar batted for hours to ensure a draw, and give Bangladesh their maiden Test series win.
The following six years included their first long gaps in Tests, as they planned for the 2007 World Cup. It was also the period when T20 cricket broke new ground. At the time, some boards had asked the BCB to reschedule Tests, and the Bangladesh board was happy to oblige.
Still, Bangladesh managed to push Australia in a home Test in 2006. More failures continued until the tour of the West Indies in 2009 when they took on a depleted opposition. With their main players on strike, the WICB was forced to field a third XI, which Bangladesh beat to claim their first-ever away series win.
But that was a one-off, as defeats at home to India and England, and away to New Zealand and England followed. At the same time, however, a group of young players had emerged, through the 2007 World Cup, and were about to take the country, and parts of the world, by storm. Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan had already made an early mark, while Mushfiqur Rahim arrived later. Mashrafe Mortaza, though, still quite young but injury-prone, had to give up his Test dreams to prolong his international career.
A late realisation but a busy future beckons (2011-present day)
Bangladesh again had a long break in the format, between July 2010 and August 2011, and this time suffered heavily through losses to Zimbabwe, West Indies and Pakistan in the space of five months. Their advances in ODIs meant that they could take some of that confidence into the Test arena. Drawn matches against Sri Lanka in Galle (2013) and Chittagong (2014), a drawn Test series against New Zealand at home (2013) and some individual milestones lit up their path. Mushfiqur, Tamim and Shakib all scored double-hundreds, while Shakib soared with the ball. Bowling stars like Robiul Islam, Sohag Gazi and Mehedi Hasan also emerged.
Bangladesh players grew more agitated at the lack of Test cricket during this period, but much of it was down to the BCB's preference of ODIs and T20s to Tests. ODI successes in 2015 and a maiden Test win over England in October 2016 meant that Bangladesh started to have a bit of clout on the ICC table.
If their FTP negotiations pan out according to plan, Bangladesh have plenty of Tests scheduled in the next several years. The interest in the Bangladesh team continues to soar. What was achieved in 2000 is too big to be thrown away, and the BCB must stress on giving the format primacy despite all the successes in ODIs and the ambitions in T20s.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84