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.

West Indies: Devendra Bishoo and the new hope

Darren Sammy has scarcely had a reason to celebrate during his time as West Indies captain yet as Pakistan crumbled and a procession of batsmen came and went in the afternoon he was beaming from ear to ear.

Perhaps it helped he’d played his own significant part, taking two key wickets, bowling a tight economic spell which helped crank up the pressure will put a spring in anyone’s step but it could have had something to do with what was happening at the other end.

Because it was pretty special. A young leg spinner gripping the ball, ripping leg break after leg break, beating batsmen with flight and guile time and time again.

Good batsmen, experienced players of spin looked like they were facing hand grenades being thrown from a soldier not a young debutant making his first steps into Test cricket. It was one hell of a way for Devendra Bishoo to say hello to the longest form.

Sure it helped he was on a raging bunsen rather than the type of flat deck more commonly witnessed around the world, sure it helped Misbah Ul-Haq got his footwork all wrong and UDRS saw off two of them. But leg spinners tend to have as many bad days as good ones so this was one of those days.

Quite what it means now is anything. Debutants are a tricky one to gauge, particularly leg spinners. Some do well, some do badly, and some do a Bryce McGain. West Indian has had its fair share of false dawns down the years so they more than any will be caution against hype.

But it’s a start for him at the very least. How he progresses will depend very much on how he is handled by the West Indian selectors. Their history with selections is mixed but with spinners it is dire.

The last promising leg spinner the West Indies produced burst onto the scene quickly too, taking wickets in Test Cricket from the off at a respectable average of around 30 but wound up ending his career at the age of 28. One hopes Bishoo doesn’t wind up the same way as Dinanath Ramnarine but there’s always a fine line between success and failure.

Though he may be new to Test Cricket he looked like he belonged there for years. That’s the wonderful thing about watching someone new and exciting making the world stand up and take notice: the fact that everyone wonders why on earth they weren’t there all along.

Indeed Devendra Bishoo, the new hope for West Indian cricket, looked like he could have been here for years. If he carries on like this he could potentially end up doing just that, which is no bad way to start.

Pakistan v India: Brave New World Meets End of an Era

What more can you say about a match which will be watched by hundreds of millions of people. A match so big that even the President of the ICC expects it to shatter all records for viewing figures for any cricket match ever. It is the kind of cricket match which would have Don King salivating.

After all this is Pakistan versus India. A match where, in a land renowned for worshiping it’s deities, the cricketing versions are masters of their own universe.

Take the politics out of it, the strong emotional ties, the history and everything which people will attempt to signify with it and it still remains a powerful entity itself because these are two countries where cricket means something entirely different to anywhere else in the world.

But while these two nations have a lot in common, they also are very much apart and in someways the differences could not be more marked. India have the batsmen to win this match and it is Pakistan who have the bowlers bar the honorable exception of the evergreen Zaheer Khan.

It is India who are the more consistent, Pakistan perhaps the more exciting. Even the two best players in the tournament, Shahid Afridi and Yuvraj Singh-both spinning all-rounders of differing varieties-will be up against one another.

While one team considers themselves to be the beating heart of all that drives international cricket, the other is still trying to redeem itself for it’s past transgressions.

For India this match is crucial. They are reaching the end of a cycle which has seen them boast some of the finest players, playing some of the finest cricket that the world has ever seen.

Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan cannot carry on forever and will surely never have a better chance to lift the trophy before finally following the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble into retirement thus bringing to an end a fine company of cricketers who have helped make India what they are today.

While fine players such as Yuvraj, Dhoni and Gambhir will help ease the burden of their eventual passing, it is hard to escape the sense that Indian cricket will take time to rebuild itself after these players, and in particular two of the greatest of all time in Tendulkar and Sehwag, move on.

Meanwhile for Pakistan, the scene is very different. This is a country which has been through more upheaval in the past year than other test nations have in the past two decades.Suspensions, ball tampering, match-fixing, the works. Throw in murder and racketeering and you have a rap sheet you’d expect a Baltimore police officer to be reading straight off The Wire.

Yet remarkably, perhaps even astonishingly, there are green shots emerging from what had seemed only last summer to be a desolate landscape.Granted, the likes of Mohammad Asif and Mohammed Aamir are missed, as is Salman Butt though less so perhaps. But in their place has come experienced heads like Misbah Ul-Haq, Younus Khan, Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq to help ease the burden.

Meanwhile the Pakistan production line continues to produce gems not only polished enough to shine at international level but to genuinely sparkle. Few young batsmen catch the eye quite like Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, or play with the maturity of Asad Shafiq.

Although their impact is not quite Inzamam Ul-Haq circa 1992, the potential long-term effect could still be as important in the years ahead. Add in the developing Wahab Riaz and you have a mixture of old heads and young colts who are gelling in a potent force.

Then to top it off you need leadership. A few months ago few people if any would have pictured Afridi and Umar Gul being the equivalents of Imran Khan and Wasim Akram but now they stand on the brink of emulating the ‘cornered tigers’. It would be a truly remarkable turnaround, and an excellent launchpad to put Pakistan cricket back into a far better place after years of struggle.

But these are just the back stories to what should be a truly major event in cricket’s history. Matches between these two rarely fail to disappoint, and with the calibre of cricketers on show it is certainly going to be anything but entertaining.

Because come tomorrow the eyes of the world will be focussed on a battle between two old rivals, fighting it out for one prize but with two very different outcomes still very much a possibility. Who will win is anyone’s guess, even for an audience of nearly a billion people.