Bangladesh Humble England

Mirpur, Dhaka

Only last week, I wrote about how Bangladesh – a fledging limited-overs cricket outfit (finally), but a frustratingly mediocre Test team – had probably blown their chance to win a Test against a proper Test team (England) in Chittagong. They came achingly close, but were undone by their own lack of belief on the final day.

A week later, I find myself in the position of writing about a historical win – as if they carried on from Chittagong and refused to relent. A previous Bangladeshi team would have rolled over and died in the second Test, giving away the series without a fight. But this one had been on to something. They realized that they had, in fact, outplayed England in the series, and still found themselves 1-0 down and on the back foot even in the second Test after the English openers had put together a century partnership while chasing 273. They should have won this series 2-0, but the hosts were now staring down a familiar abyss. Then something strange happened.
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Only a day after another overseas team capitulated phenomenally to spin-bowling on a typically subcontinental pitch – New Zealand lost their last 7 wickets for 11 runs against India and lost the ODI series after Amit Mishra ran through them – England decided to emulate the Kiwis. Sitting pretty at tea, with 173 to get with all 10 wickets in hand, England went from 100-0 to 164 all out in the next 22.3 overs. The losing margin: 108 runs.

They were bowled out well within a single session, by two spin bowlers. The series ended 1-1, and history was made by a Bangladesh team who hadn’t beaten anyone but Zimbabwe and West Indies in their previous 94 Test matches. Some saw it coming. Some – mostly Englishmen in denial about their shortcomings repeatedly exposed in the UAE against Pakistan – didn’t.

Put together, New Zealand and England lost 17 wickets for 76 runs in 33 overs a day apart. This was all the nightmares coming back to haunt two teams who had fought valiantly up till this point of complete destruction. England had become the first overseas team to win a Test in Asia in two years, but nobody will remember that anymore.

Perhaps, like myself, they didn’t notice a young teenage spinner named Mehedi Hasan, who they had never seen or played before. The signs were there in the first Test. Mehedi, a conventional right-arm off-spinner, is oceans away from Bangladesh’s traditional reliance on left-arm bowling. He led the U-19 team to the semifinal in the World Cup earlier this year, and was kept a ‘secret’ by the senior team ahead of the England series – by not being picked for the Afghanistan ODI series.

Hasan, within two weeks, much like another teenager (Mushfiqur Rahman) who hit the scene two years ago, became an overnight sensation. He finished with 19 wickets in his first two Tests – the highest ever by a Bangladeshi bowler in a series. Hasan only became the 9th player ever to win the man-of-the-series award in his first series, and his Dhaka match figures of 12-159 became the best ever by a Bangladeshi bowler in a Test match. He finished with three six-wicket hauls in four innings, a remarkable achievement that puts England struggles into perspective.
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For the Cook-led English team, who came to these shores with high hopes, this will be a rude wake-up call ahead of an ominous 5-match Test series against India starting in ten days. Hasan did this to them, and imagine what R. Ashwin and R. Jadeja can do. This, after they have battered India twice at home in the last five years. Ashwin must have been licking his lips over the weekend, raring to have a go at a line-up that seems to be in the same boat as every other overseas line-up that has visited India since 2012. Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and now, England. Right now, 5-0 doesn’t seem unbelievable, given their struggles to a rookie debutant – unless, miraculously, they draft in some more batting experience into the side, or Joe Root suddenly rediscovers his mojo. Root’s failure in this series has cost his side immensely, as did Williamson’s against India in both forms of the game. These batsmen are too classy to be kept quiet for so long, though they will be entering Virat Kohli’s backyard to battle with a team that can be merciless on pitches that slightly assist spin-bowling.

Cook will do well to make a lot of frantic late-night phone calls to Williamson, who leaves Indian shores bruised and battered. Exchanging notes may help, but execution out in the middle is another ball-game altogether. For now, 2016 becomes the year Bangladesh Test cricket finally takes a stride, a year after their ODI team has sounded the alarm bells. They are not your conventional ‘minnows’ anymore. At least, not for now. 

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