Old Guest Column

Still mixing with the minnows

Rabeed Imam reviews Bangladesh's year of missed opportunities

Rabeed Imam

A few troughs but crests mostly: 'To call Mortaza's year eventful will be an understatement' © Getty Images
Fatullah on a grey April morning. The invincible Australia are seven down and need 24 to win with the captain fighting a lone battle against the 'might' of the Bangladeshi bowling. Shahadat Hossain, breathing fire, tests the world's best player of short balls with a skiddy bouncer. Ricky Ponting, in his 90s, mis-times and the ball flies to deep fine leg where Mashrafe Mortaza starts a shade late and is unable to grasp the ball despite a desperate dive.
Three months later, and Bangladesh are in Zimbabwe. Mortaza starts the final over of the third ODI. With 17 required, victory for the Tigers seems a formality. Then the last over yields 18 runs, the last ball being swatted by Brendan Taylor for a six. Mortaza hides his face with a sweater but can't hide the fact that he has lost a game for his country.
Compare those images with the one taken on the last match-day of the year. It's Mortaza again struggling to hold a couple of trophies, a cheque for being the man of the match and a plaque that says, 'The world's top wicket-taker in ODIs in 2006'. To call Mortaza's year eventful will be an understatement. He missed just one of Bangladesh's 28 limited overs games and passed a rare injury-free season, rare because not a year has gone by since his debut in 2002 that he hasn't had a prolonged injury-enforced lay-off.
This has also been the year in which he got married, starred in commercials, did justice to his allrounder tag by winning games with the bat and sat comfortably atop the wicket-taker's list in international cricket with 49 victims. His side won 18 ODIs, including a continuing streak of eight in a row; and, if you consider the winning percentage, Bangladesh are third in the world just behind Australia and New Zealand.
That success wasn't based on Mortaza's exploits alone. Left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak came third in the wickets' list with 45 and the veteran Mohammad Rafique was the third Bangladeshi in the top ten with 34. Shahriar Nafees, the left-handed opening batsman, became the first Bangladeshi to cross 1000 runs in ODIs in a calendar year, including three consecutive hundreds against Zimbabwe. A colourful 12 months got just got better for him with the appointment as vice-captain and Bangladesh Cricket Board's player of the year award.
The downside wasn't tough to spot: Bangladesh played just four Tests in the year, with the next one due in May 2007, thanks to the game's administrators who cannot ensure a decent number of Test matches and yet expect the team to be competitive against higher-ranked sides. "We are feeling good about our cricket and playing well as a team", said captain Habibul Bashar. "The spirit is the best I have seen in a Bangladesh side. What pains me though, is the fact that we will not get a Test for a staggering 12 months. It is so unfortunate, especially after the series against Australia where we proved that we are a match for anybody if we play to our potential."
"We have the future tours programme and unfortunately that is the way it is so we make the best we can with what we have and at the moment it's Zimbabwe and Scotland," said coach Dav Whatmore.
The year began with Sri Lanka's visit and Bangladesh had moments in the two Tests that they lost but then stunned the Lankans in the second ODI in Bogra before going down 2-1. Kenya came and were brushed aside 4-0 and Australia expectedly made a clean sweep of the Test and ODI series but not before a scare or two on their first tour of this country.
Bangladesh won 18 ODIs, including a continuing streak of eight in a row; and, if you consider the winning percentage, they are third in the world just behind Australia and New Zealand
Bangladesh's overseas assignment began shakily after Zimbabwe won 3-2 against the odds but revenge was taken in style at home with a 5-0 whitewash of the same opposition. In between Kenya were blanked 3-0 in Nairobi and an inexplicable collapse from 91-1 to 161 all out against the West Indies spoiled Bangladesh's Champions Trophy challenge in India. The last opposition was interestingly Scotland who went down without a fight in two one-dayers.
New man on the block - Saqib Al Hasan Batting, bowling, fielding, you just can't keep him out of a game. Saqib, 19, was a star of the Bangladesh U-19 squad in the World Cup at the start of the year and was later inserted into the Zimbabwe-bound squad. Since his debut he has averaged 45 with the bat and has snapped up 15 wickets. He is fast making the number four position his own and is an integral part of Bangladesh's three-pronged left-arm spin attack.
Fading stars - Mohammad Ashraful When Ashraful made that epic 136 in his first innings of the year (1st Test against Sri Lanka), followed by a couple of 50s in the one-day series, many thought the boy-genius was finally coming of age. He lost his touch, though, and then lost his place in the squad for the home series against Zimbabwe before a much-debated recall. Averaged 25.22 in ODIs in 2006, a shame really, considering his world-beating talent.
High point - Victory over Sri Lanka and deal with Nimbus The most creditable win was undoubtedly against Sri Lanka in Bogra, where Bangladesh chased down 212 with four wickets to spare. In November, Nimbus Sports International struck a six-year deal with the Bangladesh Cricket Board for its worldwide marketing agency rights for approximately US$ 57 million, over four times the amount of the previous deal, signifying the growing value of Bangladesh cricket.
Low point - Third ODI in Harare What should have been a prelude to the party in honour of Shahadat Hossain, who'd completed the first hat-trick by a Bangladeshi bowler, went badly wrong with Mortaza's 18-run final over handing Zimbabwe an unlikely win. That was a sucker-punch from which Bangladesh could not recover.
What does 2007 hold? Apart from the World Cup in the Caribbean and a much cherished visit by India in May, there isn't much to look forward to unless there are arrangements made for series on the side of the FTP. The World Cup will be fascinating if Bangladesh can pounce on either India or Sri Lanka - that would make the Trini Posse go wild.
Bangladesh in 2006
Matches Won Lost Drawn/NR
Tests 4 0 4 0
ODIs 28 18 10 0

Rabeed Imam is editor of tigercricket.com