Bangladesh: Breaking Hearts and Cycles

Tears of the talismen

When Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib ul-Hasan broke down in tears after Bangladesh’s narrow defeat to Pakistan in the Asia Cup final it was not hard to imagine it was a scene being replicated up and down the country.

Because it wasn’t just a team who came so close to victory, it was an entire nation of Bangladesh fans who having grown so used to defeat, came so close to an unexpected victory. Theirs is a nation of cricket fans whose passion for the game overwhelms their disappointment at their team’s frequent losses since their unveiling as a Test nation in 2000.

As Wright Thompson, writing for ESPN Cricinfo, described them upon his visit to Bangladesh during the 2011 World Cup:

“The entire city is in the streets. Bangladesh, my colleagues tell me, has no winning cricket tradition. The Bangladeshis love the game, love it madly, yet it hurts them again and again.”

This defeat means that the game will have hurt them again, but it will be a different kind of hurt. It may even hurt more than the others, because for the first time in a long time they came to watch their side compete against a top level nation not in hope but expectation. Bangladesh had not just looked like competing, they looked like winning, and when the dust settles and eventually the disappointment subsides, they can look at their team and be proud.

They competed with the giants of Asian cricket, in some high stakes games and performed as well as any of the players which were available in the tournament. Undoubtedly the responsibility fell on the big players to perform, but each played their roles perfectly and lead from the front.

Opener Tamim Iqbal, dropped from the squad initially, regained his old sparkle and perhaps fired by his snub hit four consecutive half centuries in trademark style. Shakib was once again a star with bat and ball. Then there was Rahim himself, who captained with the frenzied energy of a man headed for an asylum rather than a final-but who emerges from the tournament with his reputation greatly enhanced.

Meanwhile they were ably supported by the rest of their cast. Abdul Razzak was economical, Nasir Hossain’s emergence was startling, Mahmadullah continued to make an impact with bat and ball and Mashrafe Mortaza’s rehabilitation gives them a genuine pace bowling figurehead again.

Yet this was a team effort. They fielded as well as any Asian team has done in the past year throughout the tournament-quite an effort considering Sri Lanka’s general dominance. But they fielded aggressively and positively and as a group. Their bowling generally was economical, while the manner in which they chased down totals often after losing key wickets was symptomatic of a team who performed like they believed they belonged.

Younis Khan, speaking ahead of the final, noted the change and said:

“They have some aggressiveness in their body language and that helps to bring about positive results. That is the way an international team should play. They performed as a group; all the bowlers, all the batsmen and all the fielders, they put in their 100%. This is the key thing about their performance.”

If they can continue in this vein, despite the narrow defeat in the final, then this could be the greatest impact this tournament will have on Bangladesh cricket. For too long they have been renowned as plucky losers, often caught up in a cycle of defeat and unable to turn those plucky performances into consistent, positive results.

But in this tournament they showed they can win, and that they can overcome some of the best. For if losing can become a habit, so too can winning and breaking that cycle of defeat they have been caught in far too often before could be the biggest step forward for Bangladesh.

Then who knows what might happen. As head coach Stuart Law surveys the bigger picture, he will see a young team capable of progressing further still, up against teams with aging players who will at some stage have to undergo regeneration. If they can build on this, then victories like these over India and Sri Lanka may arrive with increasing regularity.

Then perhaps the next time they reach the final-they might have learnt a thing or two about getting over the finishing line. So while this time their hearts may have been broken, breaking the cycle of defeat and getting that taste for success could make this a big step in the right direction for Bangladesh’s cricket.

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England v Bangladesh – Series Ratings

England

Andrew Strauss – 7

An authoritative return from the England captain after his self-imposed rest over the latter part of the winter. Shrugged off doubts about his early season form with a couple of decent scores at Lords though he will be disappointed to have missed out on a hundred. Captaincy-wise, he was in control without ever doing anything spectacular, and at times appeared unable to stem the flow of runs coming from Tamim Iqbal.

Alastair Cook – 5

After a superhuman tour in Bangladesh, this was back to earth with a bump for the vice captain whose technical improvements over the winter appear to have disappeared upon his return to England. Needs a big Pakistan series ahead of the Ashes campaign.

Jonathan Trott – 8

Would have been harsh to mark him down for his single figure score at Old Trafford after becoming the first English batsmen since Kevin Pietersen to rack up a double century. Reminiscent of the cool, calm presence we first saw in the Ashes rather than the vulnerable one over the winter. Needs to quicken his pre-delivery routine though, but a first test match wicket was a welcome bonus.

Kevin Pietersen – 7

Arrived into the series after being named player of the tournament at the World T20 and while he never lived up to that billing, he showed signs of hitting his straps in Test Matches. Though a year and a half without a Test Match hundred is a statistic he may want to end sooner rather than later.

Ian Bell – 8

A tale of two tests for the Warwickshire man, diffident, almost uneasy at Lords where he resembled the Bell of two years ago. But the Old Trafford Bell was the one of recent times, gritty, responsible and effective. His 128 dug his team out of a hole, and he played the spinners with consummate ease. He appears set for potentially a big year.

Eoin Morgan – 6

Two starts, but little to show for it. While this is just the start for the young Irishman, he will hope to improve on a so-so series. Technically looks the part, and the runs should start flowing should he have further opportunities.

Matt Prior – 7

Hard to criticise his wicket-keeping, as he kept reasonably well with an injured finger. Couple of decent scores, notably his 93 at Old Trafford though he will feel he missed out on a certain hundred with an ugly reverse sweep. Should have done enough to be England’s keeper through until the Ashes, despite the claims of Kieswetter, Davies and Foster, bar a nightmare Pakistan series.

Tim Bresnan – 5

Clearly short of first class form, but his bowling was painfully dismissed by Tamim Iqbal. Will be short of opportunities to impress with the test team before Australia, though his batting could be invaluable in a five-man attack. But sadly for the Yorkshireman this was a series to forget, ended prematurely by a stress fracture.

Graeme Swann – 7

No wickets at Lords, six at Old Trafford. At Lords found conditions which were ill-suited to his style of bowling and clearly struggled. More at home at Old Trafford, where he ran through the Bangladesh line-up. An integral part of this team.

Ajmal Shahzad – 7

Picked for the second test and didn’t disappoint. Pace-regularly clocking up 90 miles per hour, reverse swing and a touch of controlled aggression. Ability to swing the old ball, which was reminiscent of Simon Jones in his pomp, could be vital. A find, and certainly one to watch in the future.

James Anderson – 7

Nothing demonstrated how much Anderson was improving through the series’ than his first and last bowling efforts-the first a rather disastrous struggle, the last a wonderful piece of swing bowling which even Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons admitted would have got better batsmen out. When conditions suit, remains unplayable, and very much the leader of this attack. His Slip fielding-as shown by his catches off Graeme Swann at Old Trafford-is very much improving.

Steven Finn – 9

Perhaps, quite literally, the biggest find in England’s bowling attack since Stuart Broad emerged onto the scene. Offers terrific height at decent pace, which was too much for the Bangladeshi batsman and on Australian pitches, he could prove more than useful. Two five wicket hauls tell a story, but all of a sudden he has leapt up the pecking order as an Ashes candidate.

Bangladesh

Tamim Iqbal – 9

Two centuries, each scored in spectacular fashion, confirmed his place as one of the world’s most exciting young batsmen. Far more prestigious names will have struggled to score a better century at Lords than the 21-year old, who could well be a star for Bangladesh over the next decade.

Imrul Kayes – 6

Weakness to the short ball was ruthlessly exposed by Strauss and Finn. That apart, he looked at home and it is a credit to him that, working in tandem with Tamim, he put the English bowlers under pressure in all but the last innings.

Junaid Siddique – 6

Scores of 58 and 74 at Lords-both patient, well-measured innings, showed a sound temperament and technique which will serve the 23-year old well throughout his test career. Had one to forget at Old Trafford, but was by no means a tour to forget for the number three.

Jahurul Islam – 5

Started well at Lords, before falling to the part-time dibby dobblers of Jonathan Trott in the second innings. Yet after that it was the stuff of nightmares for the batsmen, as he was out twice to horrible shots, one to a turning Swann delivery the other to a rising Finn ball which he hit straight to the wicketkeeper with Bangladesh in trouble.

Mohammed Ashraful – 3

The batsman will have fond memories of his previous trip to England when he led Bangladesh to victory over Australia, but this was a nadir even by his recent standards. A player of obvious talent, and still the countries’ leading century-maker, but his game appears in crisis as his average continues to plummit.

Shakib Al Hasan – 6

Tough to mark, because his bowling-tight and perhaps the most threatening of all his bowlers-deserves far higher. But his batting was poor as he struggled to cope with England’s bowling, and his captaincy was at times far too defensive-indicative of his side’s expectations. Needs help from others if he is to lead this team out of their present position.

Mushfiqur Rahim – 3

Much improved keeper, but his batting floundered as he was probably put two rungs too low in the order and often left trying to save positions with only the tail for help. That said, he badly underperformed-with only 40 runs in 4 innings-but despite such travails appears technically sound enough to bat at number 5.

Mahmudullah – 7

Deserves better from his team, as a player who clearly can bat-as his maiden test hundred against New Zealand shows-he too deserves a place two places up the order rather than his current spot at number 8. Showed plenty of spark with a late hitting 38 at Old Trafford, but was too often marooned with the lower order. His bowling was useful, and his off-spinners perhaps should have been used more often by his captain.

Shaful Islam – 6

Not picked for Lords, but bolstered his side’s pace bowling ranks at Old Trafford. Two wickets, Strauss and Trott were real reward for a lively bowler who could well be a big part of Bangladesh’s plans in the coming years.

Shahadat Hossain – 6

A five-for at Lords were real reward for a capable spell of swing bowling, but after that the pace man became more synonymous for the grunts after his release of the ball. Was hit to all parts in the second innings at Lords, and presented little more than a passing threat at Old Trafford.

Abdul Razzak – 5

Ostensibly the slow left armer is Bangladesh’s number one spinner, but he was outshone by Shakib and Mahmudullah at Old Trafford after not being picked at Lords, despite picking up Alastair Cook with his first ball of the series.

Rohibul Islam – 3

Picked by Jamie Siddons for Lords, but the youngster struggled to cope with conditions and failed to make much impression on the game.

Rubel Hossain – 3

Picked up one wicket, that of Ian Bell, but offered little real threat and was perhaps a wicket which as much surprised the bowler as much as the batsman.