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     Volume 9 Issue 42| October 29, 2010 |


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Graduating from Cubs to Tigers

Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

Are the bad days history?

Following a shocking series defeat to minnows Netherlands, Bangladesh cricket fortunes looked at an all time low. On October 5, 2010 as the Tigers went on to face the Kiwis in their home ground in front of a fully packed crowd in the Mirpur Sher-e-Bangla stadium, even the most optimistic Bangladeshi cricket fan hardly expected what was to follow. Few were counting on the Tigers to carry on the day against a fully spirited New Zealand squad.

Yet the unthinkable was going to happen and the Kiwis' worst fears going to come true. Daniel Vettori, who before the series started had stated, “Shakib is the main threat for us.” Yet even Vettori, a veteran and a realist could hardly foresee the events that were going to follow that day. Shakib Al Hasan almost single headedly carried the day with an all round performance of 58 runs from 51 balls, that earned Bangladesh a respectable total of 228 on a slow track where runs were difficult to score. The match interrupted by rain, had to revert to the controversial Duckworth-Lewis method that generally gives the side batting first, an undue advantage. Reduced to 37 overs, the Kiwis fell short of nine runs.

The second match was washed away by rain and the next match was going to take place on October 11. A rain-washed match put extra pressure on the New Zealand side. The calculation on that day would be if the Kiwis were going to lose one more match, they were at best going to draw the series against an underdog Bangladesh side. Haunted by rain ever since their arrival in Bangladesh that has deprived them of a single practice match on Bangladeshi soil, the Kiwis were desperate for the sun to shine literally and figuratively. But if the outcome of the first match was unexpected, what would follow next was to put it mildly- - extraordinary!

The New Zealand side must have been pleased when they saw the sun shining brightly on the Mirpur stadium. Yet disaster struck on the very first over as Shafiul Islam removed the internationally dreaded Brendon McCullum who has the potential to single headedly destroy the best teams in the world. The Kiwis caught in the spinning web, on their first match would once again trap themselves. The spinning attack, this time led by Sohrawardi Shuvo who went on to claim three wickets for 14 runs in a 10 over spell. Unlike the first match where Shakib single-handedly carried the day, this was an all round performance by more players both in bat and ball. The Kiwis restricted to a meagre 173 runs, were thrashed by a superior Bangladeshi side that after their brilliant bowling performance completed the run chase with 10 overs to spare. The opening partnership led by Imrul Kayes and Shariar Nafees literally sealed the fate of the Black caps.

Previous Bangladeshi victories against established teams such as New Zealand has been memorable in only one aspect, the huge celebrations that followed every single victory. These huge celebrations would generally be followed by huge defeats for the Tigers that would take away any reason the Bangladeshi fans have to celebrate. This time the scenario was different.

On October 14, 2010 Bangladesh sealed their historic series victory against New Zealand. The Tigers' fortunes were not looking good as the Kiwis tightened their grip and the hosts were limping at 44-3. But this was a different series – this time the Tigers who have so far been famous for their sudden batting collapse actually reversed their reputation led by none other than the brilliant skipper Shakib Al Hassan who scored 106 contributing to a total score of 241.

In reply, the New Zealand top brass failed to fire and at 80-5, a historic Bangladesh victory seemed inevitable. However, the Kiwis fought back and an anxious Bangladesh held their breath as bad memories flashed through their minds as the more experienced side gradually begun to gain ground. First Kane Williams along with Grant Elliot put on a 70 run partnership before the latter was caught off the bowling of Shakib. After Kyle Mills went out for eight, Nathan McCullum joined Williams and they took the score to 225 in 48 overs. The equation stood at 17 runs needed for New Zealand to win from 12 balls. It looked like Bangladesh was going to be deprived of their series win after all.

Yet this series was extraordinary from Bangladesh's perspective. A brilliant throw from substitute fielder Naeem Islam send McCullum back to the pavilion. His successor Daryl Tuffey would be caught off the bowling of Shakib for a duck, and Williamson who had till then defied all odds and kept Bangladesh on the edge would fall quickly amidst a roaring home crowd at the Mirpur stadium who could scarcely believe what was happening in front of their own eyes. Bangladesh had sealed off their series victory against New Zealand, winning the match by 9 runs.

As if this was not enough, the Tigers now on a roll would complete their domination over the visitors by going on to win the final ODI on October 17. Bangladesh scoring a miserable 174 looked deprived of a whitewash over the New Zealand side. Not that the fans would have been disappointed, a series victory over New Zealand had so far been unthinkable. But this time, everything has gone the way of the home side and the last ODI would be no exception. Most importantly, the squad led by Shakib has become a fully Professional one, and even with the series secured, the Tigers were in no mood to compromise.

The Kiwis started the run chase disastrously. Before they could even cross 20 runs, they had lost 5 wickets. But a 86 run partnership led by their skipper Vettori and Grant Elliot threatened to snatch the match away from the home side. Yet as mentioned earlier, the Tigers had become a truly professional side.

In the 31 st over, Shafiul Islam ran 15 yards and drove full length to the right pulling off a phenomenal catch breaking the threatening partnership. N McCullum this day coming in next did not look promising and was dismissed by Shakib after scoring four runs from 15 balls. Elliot would be the next to fall, caught off the bowling of Shuvo and all the menacing batsmen looked to be back into the pavilion. The next batsmen Mckay, would fall without scoring a run and the scorecard for the visitors had not moved since the dismissal of the previous batsman Elliot- - the score stood at 145 for 9.

But Kyle Mills put on a defiant show. He struck sixes off the bowling off Shuvo and Shafiul Islam until the match had reached the last over, and the Tigers needed seven runs to defend off the last over. The last over was to be bowled by Rubel.

Defending a meagre 174, Rubel had more than played his part in his opening spell, dismissing New Zealand's top three batsmen in his first three overs. But when Mills struck his first ball, a full toss for a boundary, one can only wonder what was going on in the minds of the young bowler and the spectators, who started to wonder whether the young man would be able to handle the pressure. Five balls were left, and only four runs were required. But the next ball was a perfect yorker on the leg stump and Mills struggled to keep it out. Rubel, calm and mature beyond his years repeated the perfect delivery and this time the batsman was not so lucky. The great crash of the ball uprooting the stumps could be heard and Bangladesh had whitewashed their supposedly superior opponents in a remarkable and unprecedented ODI series.

Great challenges still remain for the side. Shakib, the man of the series has been cautious remarking on his team's unprecedented domination and his own remarkable performance. His team and especially himself has been showered with gifts, but considering his professional approach to the game, it is likely that Shakib is going to continue his modest outlook that is so necessary for developing his all round career and leading the team from the front. Meanwhile, Bangladesh expect a reasonable and improved performance from their cricket team in the upcoming World Cup next year, and it is quite probable that Shakib and his teammates are not going to disappoint us.



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