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     Volume 6 Issue 16 | April 27, 2007 |

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Cover Story

Bangladesh's Surprising Show

Nader Rahman

The first thing Bangladesh had to do was to pick a team to travel to the West Indies and that turned out to be a major headache. The usual suspects were picked, but eyebrows were raised over a few members in the squad. Farhad Reza was chosen over Mehrab Hossain Jn, while interestingly enough the ever-inconstant Rajin Saleh was also included. The selectors also kept faith with stodgy Javed Omar, but the main talking point was over the selection of the wicketkeeper. In what would later prove to be a masterstroke they picked 18-year-old Mushfiqur Rahim over Mr Reliable, Khaled Mashud. There was a massive public backlash as the press tore into the selection, they claimed he was too young, too inexperienced and in general nothing compared to one of Bangladesh crickets greatest servants, Mahsud. The selectors stuck it out, citing Mashud's poor form with the bat as the reason for not being selected. It was a brave move and if it backfired they would have had to eat their words, but they were clear in their intentions towards building a team for the future, for them the future started now. With the selection dilemma solved, now Bangladesh only had the tournament to concentrate on.

Habibul Bashar led the team well, but struggled with the bat.
Dav Whatmore, the architect of Bangladesh's success.

With the meticulous Dav Whatmore in charge Bangladesh's preparation for the tournament was planned down to the last second. They were one of the first teams to arrive for the tournament and used the extra time to acclimatise to the Caribbean conditions. They played a mini tournament before the official warm up matches and sailed through to victory with the help of two centuries from their rising stars. In their first match they restricted Bermuda to a little over 200 and then with the help of a Shahriar Nafees's century they romped home by 8 wickets with plenty of overs to spare. The final was to be played against their bogey team Canada. Bangladesh avenged their defeat to Canada in the last World Cup by beating them by the slim margin of 13 runs. In the process of the game Saqibul Hassan notched up the highest individual score for Bangladesh in a One Day International as he remained unconquered on 134. The traditionally brittle Bangladeshi batting showed some promise as they made best use of the Antigua recreation ground, traditionally one of the flattest pitches in the world.

Next in line were the official warm up matches which funnily enough were not awarded full international status as the earlier mini tournament was. In their first game they took on the much touted New Zealanders who were fresh from demolishing Australia in the Chappell-Hadlee series. Batting first New Zealand struggled to 226 but not before a few major scares. They slumped to 65/6 as Bangladesh bowled magnificently drying up the runs and picking up wickets at regular intervals. Mashrafee Mortaza was the wrecker in chief as he picked up early wickets with a devastating spell of fast bowling. Then came a 105 run partnership between Jacob Oram and Brendon Mcullum that stabilised the innings. The game was finely balanced when left arm spinner Abdur

The Tigers celebrate the fall of another wicket.

Razzak took the wicket of Oram for 88 as New Zealand crumbled to the pace of Mortaza and the guile of Razzak. They both ended with four wickets a piece as Bangladesh was in with a chance of a major coup. In reply Bangladesh got off to a great start as 17 year old Tamim Iqbal set the 3W's stadium in Barbados alight with a breathtaking innings of 46 from 48 balls. Everyone got starts but failed to hold on to them as Bangladesh continued scoring but lost wickets at regular intervals. When Mohammad Ashraful fell with 35 runs needed and only three wickets in hand the game looked dead and buried. That was until Mashrafee Mortaza continued his fine day in the field, only this time with a bat in his hands. He clobbered 30 runs in 14 balls to guide Bangladesh to victory and capped a fine all-round day in the field. The might of New Zealand had been dealt with in a way Bangladesh had never done before, clinically. Ignited by their own self belief, the team had finally come to compete, not merely make up the numbers.


Mushfiqur Rahim celebrates after hitting the winning runs against India.

The victory against a full strength New Zealand side was the tonic the team needed as they next brushed aside Scotland by seven wickets in their final warm up match. Now there was only the small matter of playing India in their first game of the World Cup. To say the odds were stacked against Bangladesh would be a severe understatement. The Indian team had more than 40,000 ODI runs between them not to mention a couple of hundred wickets. What Bangladesh had to offer was a team of bright eyed youngsters without anything to fear. The game was supposed to be a walkover as India won the toss and against good judgement elected to bat first. It has been rumoured that the Indian batsmen asked Rahul Dravid to bat first even though they knew the pitch would not be easy to play on in the morning, because they wanted some batting “practise”. The implication was that they needed batting practise against the weak bowling of Bangladesh to get into some form. That thought was turned on its head as Bangladesh attacked with gusto from ball one, eventually dismissing India for a merge 191. Mashrafee was the stand out bowler as he bowled with pace and fire on a lively pitch. He took out the top order and cleaned up the tail to cap what could only be called an electrifying performance. But the Bangladeshi bowling was more than Mashrafee that day, Razzak and the wily Mohammad Rafique took three wickets a piece as they throttled the Indian batting in the middle overs. Razzak also took the all important wicket of Sachin Tendulkar as his left armers were unplayable, while Rafique plugged away with much spin but with plenty of accuracy. Of the five bowlers four of them bowled two maiden overs each as they dried up the runs and the wickets fell as India tried in vain to up the rate.

Syed Rasel celebrates taking a wicket

The bowling was only half the match; Bangladesh has kept oppositions down to reasonable scores before only to self destruct with the bat, to win the match they would have to play peerlessly with the bat as well. Chasing down a score of below 200 can often be tricky as players try to knock the runs off without much fuss doing it in ones and twos. But Bangladesh knew only too well the traps of taking it easy in a relatively low run chase. They threw caution to the wind as Tamim Iqbal who was playing in only his 5th ODI took the attack to the Indians. After losing the early wicket of Shahriar Nafees, Iqbal set about flaying the Indian bowling to all parts of the stadium. It was a lesson in fearless power and aggression as he charged down the pitch to the Indian fast bowlers, treating them with scant respect. By the time he was done he had 51 runs to his name off 55 balls with seven fours and two mammoth sixes, each more audacious than the last. The momentum was with Bangladesh as they eased through the run chase with two composed fifties from two of their teenagers Rahim and Hassan. The chase was timed perfectly as one down Rahim was left unconquered on 56 off 107 balls. Three teenage fifties shattered the hopes of a billion people and set the nation of 150 million people on alight. The nation was turned upside down as they celebrated victory over big brother India. Sleep was the last thing on anybody's mind as they took their celebrations to the streets at 3:30 in the morning; this was the stuff dreams were made of.


Abdur Razzak's magnificent bowling was one of the pillars of Bangladesh's success.

Next in line for Bangladesh was the might of Sri Lanka, after their bright start against India much was expected of the match. Seemingly winning the toss was the only highlight of the day as they were dispatched to all parts by a rampant Sanath Jayasuria and towards the end by Chamara Silva. Jayasuria's century was a lesson in controlled aggression as he took Sri Lanka to 318. The target was always too high to be chased down as Bangladesh crashed and burned in their reply to lose by a mind numbing 198 runs. The only score of note was Ashraful's sedate 45 not out as the rest folded meekly. It was an enormous setback as their victory against India was now being put down as an off day for India, and yet again the word fluke was flying about. Bangladesh's scratchy win against Bermuda in what was effectively a 20/20 game did not help to quell the voices of discontent as they went forward to the Super 8's in place of India. The fact that their batsmen had such a tough time with the swinging ball against the inexperienced Bermudians served only to fuel the fire that they would be out of their league in the Super 8's. But all criticism aside it was a stupendous performance that took them through to the Super 8's, cheered on by 150 million people, they really had to live up to expectations or else be ridiculed out of the World Cup.

To reach the Super 8's was Bangladesh's goal all along, but getting there was only half the battle, now they had to perform. The schedule could not have been worse for them as they had to play Australia, New Zealand and South Africa before they took on 'relatively' easier oppnents of England, Ireland and the hosts the West Indies. The game against Australia was reduced into what was effectively a 20/20 affair, which to the layman seemed to even the odds just a little. That stream of logic was thrown out the window as Australia strangled the Bangladeshi batting as a late surge saw them post a total of over 100. But the innings will be remembered for a Jekyll and Hyde performance by two Bangladeshi batsmen. Bashar plodded his way to a painstaking innings that ate up many more balls than he should have been allowed to play. On the other hand the shot of the day was a little bit of outrageous audacity as Ashraful stepped across all his stumps, way out side off stump and scooped his first ball that too from Glenn McGrath over short fine leg. McGrath watched on with hands on hips.

The target would never bother Australia as they swept aside the Bangladeshi bowling with disdain to win by 10 wickets. Their next match was not much better as a good batting performance crumbled against some attacking Kiwi bowling. The target was knocked off with countless overs and nine wickets to spare. Two thumping defeats and questions were again being raised about the luck factor that got Bangladesh into the Super 8's, the international press had a go at them, as they rightly should have. Bangladesh looked at sea against the big boys of international cricket and things could only get worse as they were next slated to play the number one side in the world, South Africa.

After two embarrassing defeats, the game against South Africa at least on paper looked like another drubbing. After winning the toss Bangladesh was sent in by South Africa on a pitch that looked good for spin in the second half of the game. Wickets fell consistently as everyone except Bashar made a start but could not continue. Then in walked a man named Ashraful, who along with Aftab Ahmed put together a 95 run partnership in good time. They played freely without the usual high risk shots, that was before Ahmed went for 45. With not much batting left and a few overs to spare Ashraful went berserk against what had to be said was wayward South African bowling. With a collection of textbook drives, wristy flicks and the most unbelievable paddle sweep scoop shot over short fine he set the stadium on fire. He continued to move outside off stump and flicked the fast bowlers over short fine leg in the most extra ordinary manner, it was inventive genius bordering on madness. With a little help from Mashrafee at the end the total was pushed up to a respectable 251.

Mashrafee Mortaza in full flight.

Bangladesh started off defending the total in fine form. Mashrafee and Syed Rasel bowled good lines without over attacking. Greame Smith was the first to fall to a Rasel slower delivery, one down Kallis rode his luck to a quick-fire 32 before becoming Rasel's second wicket. With the new ball out of the way Bangladesh's trio of left armers took to the stage as they strangled the South African middle order. De Villiers was undone with a beauty from Razzak as Boucher fell to Hassan along with the smart run out of Ashwell Prince. 87/5 quickly became 87/6 as the powerful Justin Kemp meekly offered Hassan a return catch. The game was just about up and the left armers were having a ball on the dusty Providence stadium in Guyana which mimicked sub continental conditions to tee right down to the sapping humidity. Bangladesh had found a little piece of the Sub-Continent on mainland South America, Providence it really was. The game was finished well and truly before it ended, after six wickets fell the run rate climbed as the spinners bowled immaculate lines and lengths, in the end Bangladesh won by 67 runs. The victory was emphatic, South Africa was never in with a chance and for a team that bore the brunt of a brutal media attack against their entry into the Super 8's it was head turning victory. The best in the world fell Bangladesh again, they are seemingly making a habit out of this. first Australia in Cardiff now South Africa in Guyana. The critics were silenced, but Bangladesh's hot and cold World Cup would continue.

The next stage of Bangladesh's World Cup odyssey would lead them to Barbados where they would take on pace and bounce of the historic Kensington Oval. With the wind in their sails they were to take on an English side, which had just come off a number of consecutive defeats. But even an average English side had some bite in them as Bangladesh continued their Jekyll and Hyde game. On a fast Kensington Oval pitch Bangladesh never really felt comfortable as England with their battery of fast men bowled short and fast. With the ball zipping around their heads, their technique was put to the test and they failed miserably. Scared batsmen ducked and weaved for their lives as their batting resembled average club level cricketers rather than international cricketers. A target in the 140's was never going to bother England, that was at least till Bangladesh's awesome threesome came on to bowl again. They spun the ball viciously and bamboozled the English with their low trajectory and guile. Wickets kept falling regularly Bangladesh were still in with a chance, but in the end the target was too small to defend. England snuck home by 4 wickets, but one has the feeling that 20 more runs and the game would have gone the way of the Tigers.

On the same pitch Bangladesh next took on plucky Irish in what was supposed to be their only victory of the Super 8's. Having already beaten South Africa this should have been a walk in the park, but Bangladesh came unstuck yet again, as they conspired to lose a game they should have won quite easily. The bowlers could never create pressure as the Bangladeshi fielding was utterly pathetic and a flourish at the end of the innings took the Irish to a very respectable score against a solid Bangladeshi bowling line up. Then again the bounce undid their batsmen as a combination of loose shots and fear of the rising ball held Bangladesh back from ever making a decent attempt of the chase. The loss to Ireland was humiliating and humbling, their World Cup campaign had truly come full circle. Their final game against the hosts was yet another case of batsmen not following up the good work of the bowlers. The bowlers put on a stupendous performance till the 40th over never letting the West Indies get very far. The last 10 overs went for a few but Bangladesh were still left a very gettable score. In reply the batting folded like a deck of cards as the steeping pace and bounce could never be mastered. Their lack of technique against the raising ball was never more evident and it left a lot to be desired for what people call an international batting line up.

In the end Bangladesh will take more positives out of the World Cup than negatives, but difference is not much.

The selectors got it right and chose a squad with a good blend of youth and experience. Dav Whatmore was also instrumental in achieving Bangladesh's success, since he took over four years ago their cricketing culture has been on the raise. And the World Cup was the culmination of his time with the team. One might say he was also treated unfairly by the press as they took him to pieces over an alleged remark when he said that he would not mind taking over the reins of the Indian team. The statement was blown out of proportion and it could be what resulted in his subsequent decision to leave Bangladesh. Whatever it may be, the team, the nation and the cricketing structure in Bangladesh owes him a debt of gratitude. Aside from goodbyes there was also a lot to take out of the teams performance in the West Indies. There seemed to be self belief, which was seemingly non existent before. But even that ran hot and cold, as against India and South Africa they believed in themselves while at other times they simply believed they were the 9th best team in the world and merely gave up.

The spinners deserve an honourable mention as they were the heartbeat of the team's awesome bowling performances, that is not to say the pacers did a bad job. Mahsrafee was the standout player of the tournament, bowling with fire and brimstone his never-say-die attitude rubbed off on his colleagues. Even his batting came of age as he made useful contributions in almost every innings he played. His future as a bowling all-rounder should be looked into. Abdur Razzak, Sakibul Hassan, Mohammad Rafique and Syed Rasel also performed valiantly, with Sakib also chipping in with the bat. Razzak was epscially menacing as his bowling really came of age, after being the third highest wicket taker in ODI's last year. Rasel provided superb line and length along with an economy rate to die for. And what does one say about Rafique, he was in a different class altogether. For the batsmen there were not many things to take out of the World Cup, Tamim Iqbal proved he was a real talent, but his age showed as he threw his wicket away far too often. He should be persevered with. Ashraful had a good World Cup and he may finally be finding some level of consistency, but that is yet to be seen. Shahriar Nafees and Habibul Basher were the major disappointments, while Nafess has a lot to look forward to, while Bashar on the other hand may well be contemplating his one day future.

The team went there with a plan and that was to reach the second round. After achieving it looked it seemed as if they were out of ideas. The second stage of the World Cup was disappointing even though they beat South Africa, yet they can still take plenty out of the tournament. At the end of the day they lacked consistency, and we all know consistency is the name of the game. The search for consistency goes on after taking a short pit stop in the West Indies, but what a pit stop it was. With a few stolen victories one might say they returned as Pirates of the Caribbean.



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