Bangladesh skipper Mushfiqur Rahim with teammates after his side beat Sri Lanka in historic 100th Test © Getty Images
Bangladesh skipper Mushfiqur Rahim with teammates after his side beat Sri Lanka in historic 100th Test © Getty Images

Bangladesh’s win over Sri Lanka in their historic 100th Test has opened up the perennial debate: has Bangladesh cricket finally gained adulthood at the Test arena? Have they finally come of age in Test cricket? Though they have made significant progress in limited-overs cricket in the recent times, they have still waited for that ‘dawn’ in the longest format of the game. Right from that historic morning of November 10, 2000, when they played their maiden Test against India, to this day, millions of passionate Bangladesh fans have waited for that dawn. Instead, all fans have come across are despair and frustration.

Of course, they did have many false dawns in the last 16 years.

When they came closer to beating Pakistan at Multan in September 2003, the world thought Bangladesh had arrived. For a side full of ageing stars that did not know how to close five-day games, it was a punching-above-the-weight performance. But it was just a flash in the pan, as subsequent defeats showed. Similar sentiments had been echoed when they had found a new hero in Mohammad Ashraful, who became the youngest Test centurion, that too on debut, in 2001 and won many a hearts en route his 158 against India three years later.

When they first earned a respectable draw against a full-strength West Indies side led by Brian Lara at Gros Islet in 2004, fans and experts thought Bangladesh were finally competitive. But that ‘dawn’ and the newly-found hero soon ran into inconsistencies and gradually faded into oblivion, and Bangladesh’s struggles at Test level continued.

There were defeats: by an innings, and otherwise. Draws were rare. Victories were non-existent. However, Bangladesh were not to be blamed.

Bangladesh were granted with a premature Test status. There was virtually no proper First-Class structure in the country at that stage. Their players were not exposed to five-day cricket. Having played a lot of three-day cricket, their cricketers were aware of how to compete for three days. They however could not maintain intensity for five days, which is where Bangladesh suffered.

Infrastructure was a problem as well. Bangladesh did not have the best possible infrastructure for the game in the early years. Players had no access to the modern practices in contemporary cricket, coaching and training facilities, physiotherapists, etc.

Things changed towards the later part of the first decade of the millennium. The influx of young, readymade talents like Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mashrafe Mortaza and Mushfiqur Rahim changed things somewhat. Unlike their predecessors, these men were already finished products by the time they arrived on the international scene. After their arrival, Bangladesh beat Zimbabwe and a second-string West Indies in Tests, but remained miles away from consistency.

A major obstacle in the path of this team attaining consistency was frequent shuffling of players. Bangladesh never had a settled side. With more defeats coming their way, chopping and changing became normal. Players were not allowed to settle down in the side; they came in and went out. Building a stable side remained a work in progress. This did not help the side, which kept losing.

They say, nothing succeeds like success, and this holds true for any team in any sport. Bangladesh did not know how to win and that brought them more losses. There were occasional moments of brilliance. There were brain-fade moments that triggered collapses. There were implosions, which saw them lose from winning positions. They needed some success coming their way to learn the habit of winning.

Winds of change

In May 2014, Chandika Hathurusingha was named coach of the Bangladesh national side. From that day till today, he has worked with the single aim of making Bangladesh a competitive side, a team not afraid of its opponents and one that knows how to win. “In 2019, I want to bring the Bangladesh team to where Sri Lanka were in 1996,” Hathurusingha told Divaina recently.

The 1996 World Cup win was a coming-of-age moment for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka were not even among the top five contenders for the title. They ended up lifting the most coveted limited-overs trophy. That team left a huge legacy and inspired a revolutionary change in Sri Lanka cricket. Not only did they give Sri Lanka heroes like Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva, they also inspired more and more kids to take up cricket. Following this watershed success, Sri Lanka produced cricketers like Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, who earned worldwide acclaim.

Hathurusingha took charge for a five-year period in 2014. It did not take time for the results to start showing. The 2015 World Cup saw Bangladesh make it to the knockout stage for the first time, the highlight of the tournament being their victory over England. Bangladesh then enjoyed a great home season with ODI series wins over Pakistan, India and South Africa at home. The successful period also witnessed the emergence of Mustafizur Rahman. While the team started doing well in limited-overs, it was just a matter of time that confidence rubbed on to the Test team.

2016 saw the team register its first Test win over England. A new hero arrived in the form of Mehedi Hasan Miraz. It was a new dawn.

© AFP
Millions of passionate Bangladesh fans have stuck by their team, even in the times of despair and frustration. They have patiently waited for that ‘dawn’ in Test cricket © AFP

Though the win over England was followed by successive defeats against New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka in the first Test of the just-concluded series, Bangladesh came back from that crushing 259-run loss to register an emphatic win in their 100th Test. What made the win sweeter was the fact that it did not come through the contributions of a couple of players. The entire team stepped up and made contributions in the victory, something which had been lacking all this while.

So we come to the question again: have Bangladesh finally come of age in Test cricket? Looking at the status quo, we have every reason to believe that it is not a false dawn this time. Bangladesh needed some success to come their way so that they could learn how to win consistently. They got that impetus from their ODI wins, and it is gradually showing at Test arena. If winning against England was a fluke, take the recent win over Sri Lanka. This team has learned to seal Test matches.

Another fact which suggests that this team has a good future ahead is the average age of this young team. This Mushfiqur’s side has an average age of 25. Their three most experienced players — Mushfiqur, Shakib and Tamim — are 29, 28 and 27 respectively. The trio have been pillars of this Bangladesh side, having played half of the total Tests Bangladesh have played. They ideally have about eight years of international cricket ahead of them.

In Mehedi (19), Mustafizur (21), Mosaddek Hossain (21) and Taskin Ahmed (21), they also have players for the future, who are likely to serve the team for well over a decade. In their short careers, they have proved they are special talents. This core group will play together for years to come; it goes without saying that they will achieve more success in the time to come.

With a shrewd strategist in Hathurusingha, the team has a mentor who is doing all the right things in taking the team forward in the right direction. He is well on course of his Mission 2019.

All Bangladesh now need is more and more Test cricket. They have not got as many as they would have wanted; it can be understood by the fact that Mushfiqur, who had made his debut before Alastair Cook, has played only 54 Tests to this day as against Cook’s 140 — a stark difference. Playing more Tests may bring a few defeats, but at the same time, it will also present them with the opportunity to win more matches and importantly, to improve as a team.

These are good times for Bangladesh cricket, with results finally coming in their favour in Test cricket as well. This team understands the importance of this phase. “This is the time for all the senior players to regroup and take the Bangladesh team forward, especially in Test cricket. We have taken the step in ODIs, we are doing fine in T20s but this is the format where we all have to chip in, bring all the youngsters together and take it forward,” Tamim recently told ESPNCricinfo, before adding, “We are at a very important stage. We crawled, we walked, and now is the time to run.”