It was a day that illustrates why Test cricket is the premium form of entertainment in the sport; a day of ebb and flow seemingly leading the contest towards a stalemate, then all of a sudden changing directions through a passage of play that breathed such life into the match that a positive result for either West Indies or Bangladesh now seems the likeliest outcome.
In the last hour of the fourth day of the first Test at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur yesterday, it was Bangladesh who grabbed the bull by the horns, taking five wickets for 35 runs to leave the West Indies in a position of uncertainty. The visitors now lead by 215 with four wickets left -- one of them the crucial one of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who was sidelined by illness and may or may not bat today.
From the home team's perspective, fans can be forgiven for waiting for the penny to drop. They are playing Tests after almost a year, and yet ran up their highest total ever, 556. They have rarely played two consecutive days of good Test cricket, yet finished the third and fourth days on top. Individual brilliance rather than collective competence has been the hallmark of their moderate Test successes, yet at the end of the fourth day the identity of the player sent to answer the media at the post-day conference was a cause for speculation.
Rubel Hossain had performed admirably, taking the wickets of Chris Gayle and Darren Bravo on what looks like a pacer's graveyard while Shohag Gazi and Shakib Al Hasan engineered West Indies' evening session collapse. In the end Nasir Hossain, whose swashbuckling 96 gave the Tigers the all-important lead, showed up with the plucky demeanour that characterises his on-field exploits.
The Rangpur right-hander missed out on what would have been his maiden Test century in only his fifth match, but it is a measure of the team unity and perhaps the confidence among the young group that he appeared to have no regret at all over the missed opportunity.
“I was trying to give as little strike to Rajib Bhai (Shahadat Hossain) as possible. I did what I thought was right. No, I didn't think that (that refusing the singles contributed to him missing the century). Century is a matter of luck. It wasn't to be, so there is nothing to say about it,” said Nasir philosophically when asked whether he thought that farming the strike robbed him of the four runs needed to seal his ton.
On the state of the match, Nasir was optimistic but conservatively so. Perhaps he too was fearing that the penny might drop and the team would revert to type. The first focus understandably was on dismissing the visitors and then assessing the next course of action.
“I would say that we are in a very good position now. If we can get them out in the first hour, or within the first 20-25 overs then hopefully we will get a chaseable score,” said Nasir. “The way it looks now, it seems that we might have to bat out 60 overs, and maybe then the chase will be 300. We will have to see then, it has not yet been decided or discussed among the team.”
Whether the Tigers can pull off an unlikely and groundbreaking win today will likely depend on a few factors -- the state of the pitch which so far has played like a batsman's dream, Bangladesh avoiding the batting capitulation they have been historically prone to, and to a lesser extent the availability of the tenacious Chanderpaul.
“In the game of cricket a lot can happen, but we all have the confidence and self-belief that we will be able to do something good tomorrow (Saturday). The pitch is a beautiful batting wicket. Since it's the fifth day tomorrow, the ball will probably turn, but pace should not cause too many problems,” Nasir said and added that it will obviously be good for the home side if Chanderpaul is unable to bat today.
“I would say we batted very well. We still don't know the extent of our capabilities, what we can achieve. All of us batted well, which is why we achieved the score,” said Nasir when asked about Bangladesh achieving their highest Test score in this match.
While it is only natural to be prepared for disaster given Bangladesh's cricket history, as Nasir said, this is a team still discovering its limits. History has already been rewritten in this match. It is now a matter of continuing their bowling momentum and then repeating their first innings batting exploits. While fans across the breadth of the land will be fearing a fifth-day collapse, events so far have given them cause to hope that the penny stays airborne a day longer.