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If one were to understand the journey of Bangladesh, that seems explainable through the phrase tumultuous, then possibly revisiting their Asia Cup final against India may serve as sufficient fodder for an investigation of their cricket.
When Liton Das freed his arms and waved his bat to acknowledge the applause of the crowd in the UAE, he hadn’t just hit a century. He proved that the team had dependable batsmen right at the top of the order. In so doing, his belligerent hundred that came at a strike rate of over 100 in a final against India, proved that in order to lock horns with top-notch sides, Bangladesh didn’t have to rely on their famous experienced names alone.
Yet, in the same game the rest of the pack collapsed; paying homage to the falling ninepins in a bowling alley. In the end the team, aided by some ordinary Indian batting, managed to take the game to the final over, in fact to the final ball. But in so doing, the fate of the contest had been decided.
Bangladesh had lost yet another close contest to India. Or should one say, found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
That said, it might not be entirely incorrect to suggest that if one’s to understand the true standing of an international side, then visiting the youth in their ranks and the promise it offers is quite necessary.
Visiting a side like India, ably led by Kohli, supported by a Jadeja, Kuldeep, Pujara, Chahal, Bumrah and Rahul, explains the same. Yet, on the other hand, sides like Bangladesh and a West Indies- bolstered enormously by the flair of the youth- seem rather lucklustre.
Why’s that so?
Perhaps in the same vein that a Shai Hope firing twin hundreds in a single Test against England failed to prevent his West Indies from a series loss in 2017, Mehidy Hasan’s genius bowling recently against the Windies, wherein he picked 10 wickets from 71 overs- the most by a spinner- could do little to avoid a series whitewash.
Bangladesh don’t merely have able youngsters; their pack of talent seems capable of enforcing errors from biggies. In Mehidy they have a spinner who can open the batting in an ODI. In Liton Das- only 43 international caps- they have a T20 bat who clubs runs at a strike rate of 130. In Imrul Kayes, Bangladesh have their own version of an Asad Shafiq; one moment promising to be a batting great, the other, an ordinary marksman.
Maybe, in this very capriciousness, the fragility of a promising side that packs all the punches but fails to balance its own course whilst walking on a tightrope of pressure remains the problem with Bangladesh Cricket.
We’ve seen it on an occasion one too many- haven’t we?
We’ve seen how in the Nidahas Trophy final, against India, Bangladesh all but won the game and found a way to make Dinesh Karthik headline-material, considering his 29 off 8 gave him a new lease of life in the Indian squad.
It also then leads to a question that perhaps warrants a national discussion about their game and yet, in the last half a decade, it hasn’t.
Is the current side a bit too dependent on the famous troika of Tamim, Mushfiqur, and Shakib?
Here’s what the experienced core of Bangladesh brings to the table. Together as one, the trio brings an experience of 567 ODI caps, and 171 Tests.
The first half of this statistic presents a Wasim Akram-like ODI experience while the latter unfolds 7 more Tests than those played by Chanderpaul.
If one were to collectively remove the three from a Bangladesh Playing-XI, you get a sense that they’d do well to even cope up with even a Sri Lanka or say, a South Africa minus a Faf Du Plessis and Hashim Amla.
Then again, to be frank, if there’s a side that’s most suited to make giant inroads in the International game, something they haven’t quite managed to, then it’s Bangladesh.
In Mushfiqur and Shakib, they have two of the finest exhibitors of stoicism aged 31. Tamim, arguably, a Saeed Anwar for Bangladesh is merely 29. He’s already scored 11,000 international runs with 20 hundreds. On his day, there are fewer better sights in Test or ODI cricket then Tamim punching one through the cover. The fluent leftie is no Lara or Gilchrist. But he’s got all the shots you’d find in the books of a great stroke-maker
But not everyday does one see a gifted batsman- remember his understated 103 at Basseterre recently- underachieve so emphatically either, scoring 8 hundreds from 108 Test innings at the top order.
That Bangladesh are a sum of their parts and not a behemoth as a whole is understood from the moderate difference this troika has contributed.
There’s no reason why a Mushfiqur and Shakib cannot inspire the younger generation comprising Liton, Imrul, Mehidy, Shabbir to scale heights. But when you have, in your most experienced talent- one who can outfox the best in the world with his slow left-armers and ignite a stadia with his whacks down the lower order- a man who openly throws verbatim on others at an airport, going as far as nearly engaging in a fist-fight, you’d not know what to do.
A mere look at what Bangladesh have achieved in the last half a decade is worthy of some applause.
Since 2013, they’ve played 82 ODIs, from which they’ve won 38 and lost 39, maintaining a winning percentage that’s indicative of their DNA in the sport-fifty-fifty!
It’s one of those fragments that suggests they might do the unthinkable, but may also not.
In that same period, they’ve won 7 Tests, lost 17 and drawn 9.
That in this discord between their fluent potential and actual gatherings, rests the key to understanding Bangladesh also points to a possibility: imagine how much they could’ve achieved had they played as a unit, seldom resting on the highs of individual merits.
But then, it’s up to Bangladesh themselves as to what they want to be: a fish in the ocean or a Barracuda amongst the fishes?
And that is what they’d do well to realize, to help themselves out of the conundrum that’s surrounding them.