Tigers take ownership of their fate
100 may just be a number converted into a landmark by the pattern-seeking human mind, but it does present us with an opportunity to take pause and look back. Before Bangladesh's 100th Test at the P Sara Oval in Colombo, there were a lot of backward glances and evaluations of the progress Bangladesh cricket had made in the 16 years and four months it took to reach the milestone. The journey was dissected in all imaginable ways. Even so, there was a surprise in store, a happy one if you are a Bangladesh fan.
One of the backward glances was at the coaches that played such a crucial role in the development of the youngest Test nation. There is a huge debt to be paid to the likes of Eddie Barlow and Gordon Greenidge before the elevation to Test status, and coaches like Dav Whatmore, Jamie Siddons, Stuart Law, Shane Jurgensen and now Chandika Hathurusingha. The coach and the support staff take on a large role and a large profile in the story of a fledgling team, and that has been the case with Bangladesh.
But something changed after the Galle defeat, and it was evident in Colombo. Bangladesh were a team thought to be in turmoil with Mahmudullah Riyad's exclusion and its attendant controversies looming large over the historic match and a gloom descending over the dressing room. But the players tasked with doing something special to take a share of the series away from home against a higher-ranked team for the first time, decided to look inwards rather than seek answers from the more than capable backroom staff they have, also for the first time.
“After losing the Galle Test all the seniors decided that we will have a meeting before each and every game from now. I think that was the game changer,” said Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal, whose innings of 82 was instrumental in Bangladesh exorcising their fifth-day hoodoo. “We might lose games doing the same thing, but at least we are trying to do something different. So all the players got together on the night before the game and we discussed how we want to play this game and how we can win this game. There were a lot of discussions and there were very honest discussions in that room. I think that changed things.”
Close observers of the match will have noticed the changes. Tamim himself was instrumental in pumping up the likes of pacer Subhashis Roy -- one of the newer members of the team -- on the first day and on the fifth morning, when Sri Lanka's total seemed to be swelling a little out of control, there was not a moment when Bangladeshi fielders hung their heads, instead constantly geeing up the bowlers. Mustafizur Rahman and Shakib Al Hasan's bowling effort against a Test line-up on a flat pitch on the fourth afternoon -- the best time to bat on this pitch -- is not something that has been seen before from this team. Debutant batsman Mosaddek Hossain having a vital say in the win in both innings is a glimpse into what the future holds.
There were only two fielding lapses throughout the whole match -- Mushfiqur Rahim dropping a very tough chance off eventual centurion Dimuth Karunaratne in Sri Lanka's second innings and Mustafizur's drop off tailender Lakshan Sandakan in the first innings. Otherwise, every catch was held, and the fielding was uniformly sharp -- think Imrul Kayes's sharp interception of a pull shot, a swivel and a direct hit at the non-striker's end to almost run Dinesh Chandimal out, or indeed Subhashis's recovery after a misfield to gather the ball for a fast throw that produced the first wicket yesterday. Try to think whether field settings like the man positioned between deep third man and deep point who saved a lot of runs off the spinners would have been possible by players not dictating their own destinies.
“If you see the fielding setup, and the way each and every player talked and supported. So these were the things that we discussed,” said Tamim.
Most importantly the individuals coalesced into a collective. Just like Bangladesh have done in ODIs from late 2014 onwards, they have shown in this game that they can respond to difficult setbacks within a game, and that has been the pad from which Bangladesh's graduation into an outfit to reckon with was launched.
“I didn't do much. They decided they need to change. I prompted the questions. They had a heart-to-heart in the dressing room and said that they were going to do things differently. They used to give up in certain situations, but in this game I saw that they were in the game in all five days. And after making four changes, to get a result like that...total credit to the boys to respond.”
So, unlike what all the players were saying yesterday and all the headlines will declare today, the four-wicket win in Colombo was not special because it was in the 100th Test. Instead, the 100th Test was special because it was the match from which the Tigers took ownership of their own fate.