Rafique, Pilot, Bashar unforgettable in Tigers’ first Test ‘victory’
Bangladesh are set to embark on a month-long tour in the West Indies this month to test their skills in all three formats against the home side, once an undisputed powerhouse of the game.
The first assignment for the Tigers and their new Test captain Shakib Al Hasan would be to turn the tides from the consecutive series defeats against South Africa and Sri Lanka in the two-match Test series at the Caribbean, slated to begin from June 16.
With Bangladesh's fifth tour of the Windies approaching, it will be a good time to start revisiting the highlight reel from the opening one.
The first Caribbean tour: Backdrop of the two sides
Before the Windies tour of 2004, Bangladesh were yet to win a Test after having played 28 Tests since their maiden Test against India in 2000. The only two draws came against Zimbabwe -- who were a formidable side back then, unlike now.
The first draw came at home in 2001 and then the away Test in Bulawayo – the last Test Bangladesh played at that time. However, both the draws were down to bad weather alone since the Tigers were comprehensively beaten in the other matches.
On the other hand, the West Indies were desperate to get back to groove after a disastrous home series against England earlier in the year. The Brian Lara-led side had lost a four-match Test series by 3-0 and faced heavy margins of defeat on all three occasions. Thus, it was high time to make a strong statement in the two-match Test series against the Tigers, starting with the first one in Gros Islet.
Day One of the Gros Islet Test: Sign of things to come
Bangladesh could not have asked for a better start, after electing to bat first, even though opener Hannan Sarkar fell in the first delivery of the innings. Two experienced campaigners Javed Omar Belim and captain Habibul Bashar Sumon, in at the crucial number three position, combined to a 121-run stand.
Bashar was in his usual aggressive self while his partner Belim was content to play the anchor role. Once Belim got out (32 off 92) to fast-bowler Pedro Collins, who grabbed a four-fer in the innings, Bashar found another able partner in Rajin Saleh, who carried on from where Belim had left off.
Basher slashed and pulled his way to 113-run knock off only 131 deliveries, featuring 15 fours, and brought up his third Test century of his career.
It must be remembered that at that time, Bashar was the only Bangladesh player to have score more than a single Test century, and was among the four players to have reached three figure alongside Aminul Islam Bulbul (145 against India), Mohammad Ashraful (114 against Sri Lanka) and Javed Omar Belim (Javed Omar 119 against Pakistan).
The skipper departed, however, after a 50-run stand and in came the youngest Test centurion. Rajin and Ashraful stitched a 56-run stand and once Rajin's gritty 89-ball 26 ended, it sparked a batting collapse as the light kept dying – an aspect of the game that would keep haunting the Tigers to this very day.
From a comfortable 227 for three, with two set batters in the middle, Bangladesh slumped to 250 for seven but Mohammad Rafique and Ashraful ensured that the visitors did not suffer any further blow. The Tigers ended day one on 278 for seven, with Ashraful and Rafique unbeaten on 68 and 17, respectively.
The next day: Two centurions in an innings for Bangladesh
Bangladesh had never seen their two batters score centuries in one innings before and it was set to come through Ashraful this time. But will he get the support from the tail, was the question.
As play on day got underway after a delayed start, Rafique had the Windies frustrated as the partnership kept on building and surpassed fifty.
On 337 for seven, Ashraful was trapped in front on 84 by Jermaine Lawson, and with the dismissal the 87-run stand ended. Then began 'the Rafique show'.
The left-hander came into his elements as a hard-hitter batter and pulled off the improbable one after another. With Tapash Baisya, in at number 10, Rafique scored the bulk of runs and added 33 runs until Tapash (9) fell to Ramnaresh Sarwan, the occasional leg-spinner who would go on to tally his career's best figures in the Test.
Tarek Aziz was the last batter but Rafique was seemingly possessed. Who would've thought that Rafique would become Bangladesh's fifth Test centurion? And that the Tigers would reach 400-plus score for the second time while riding on the bowling all-rounder, known for his occasional cameos with the bat?
Bangladesh ended the day on 405 for nine after 131.3 overs of batting, with Rafique unbeaten on 103.
Day three: Another day of moral victory, Windies remain frustrated
Day three began on time. Rafique and Tarek frustrated the Windies for 26 more deliveries until Rafique finally got out on a Nelson of 151 balls, featuring 11 boundaries and three maximums.
The home side came out to bat and the likes of Lara, Chris Gaylewere set to bat aggressively to pull the momentum of the match back in their favour. However, tight bowling from Rafique and medium-pacer Mushfiqur Rahman had prevented the Windies from letting loose.
Gayle opted to play the anchor role while Lara and Sarwan showed urgency, however, both the latter batters failed to capitalise after getting set. Lara nicked one to Mushfiqur's delivery on 53 while Sarwan fell to Baisya on 40.
The West Indies ended the day on 262 for five but the fact that they played 86 overs meant that Rafique and Co maintained their smiles.
Day four: Tigers secured bragging rights but late afternoon session struck again
With Gayle on 141 and wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs approaching fifty, West Indies were well placed to take the lead. However, Baisya arrived to pick another key wicket as Gayle's marathon knock off 293 balls ended.
The Tigers, boosted by the dismissal, went on to clean the Caribbean tail soon as the West Indies were all out for 352 after 116.4 overs as Mushfiqur took four wickets while Rafique scalped three. It was a huge moral victory for the visitors to have scored more than a team featuring someone like Lara, and that too at their den.
With a tricky lead of 64, Bangladesh came out to bat again and both the openers were off to pavilion quick. The Windies had their tail up but again, Bashar and Rajin battled the adversity and stitched another fifty-run stand.
However, Bangladesh batters are habitually never quite comfortable in the final quarter of Tea session. And when Bashar fell with 14 overs left in the day, Bangladesh went from a position of giving themselves a winning chance to one where they would be sweating on the fifth and final day to save the Test.
Bangladesh ended day four on 94 for six, with Ashraful gone as well. Rajin stayed unbeaten on 34 however and with Khaled Masud Pilot did well to survive the day on 8.
A daunting task awaited the Tigers on the final day and suddenly, the Calypso tunes could be heard from a distance. The Caribbeans could smell blood since the lead was only 158.
Day five: Pilot saves Tigers from crash, a day to truly remember
Bangladesh had to bat at least a session to give themselves a chance of drawing the Test. And they did.
Despite Rajin departing after negotiating eight overs in the day, Pilot and Rafique – the two trusty old guards – steered the ship. Pilot demonstrated a masterclass on how to play with the tail and with the composure required in the longest format.
Rafique kept his form going but he played a lot cautiously compared to the first innings. A 56-run stand ended with Rafique dismissed for 29 off 70 balls by Sarwan, who grabbed his seventh-wicket haul to the surprise of many.
The Tigers were not still out of danger by any means. Pilot appeared unfazed but he had two partners left. Then in came Baisya at number ten and played the innings of his life.
Even though Baisya had scored a fifty on his debut against Sri Lanka and would hit another half-century later that year against New Zealand in Chattogram, the 26-run knock off 75 balls would arguably become his most valuable contribution with the bat for Bangladesh.
Tapash Baisya's valiant effort ensured a crucial 84-run stand, Pilot's maiden Test century but more importantly it meant that the West Indies had no chance of winning the match from then on.
Bangladesh never had two batters score a century before and they had three in the Gros Islet Test. After Baisya departed, the Tigers declared and that was also something to cheer for the Bangladesh supporters back home.
A target of 336 from around 25 overs was too much to ask for Lara and Co and yet the two Caribbean openers entertained their home crowd with some Calypso style batting as Gayle and Devon Smith combined to strike 15 fours.
In the end though, the Windies could score no more than 113 for no loss in 23 overs and Bangladesh had earned their first deserving Test draw, which surely had tasted sweeter than many of the victories that fell into the lap of the Tigers over the years.
Bangladesh would go on to lose the next Test in Kingston by an innings and 99 runs and lose the series 1-0 but the boost from the Gros Islet Test would have given the next generation of Tigers a much-needed confidence to shine as Bangladesh toured the West Indies the next time in 2009.
To be continued ...