Friday, 25 October 2013

Have Bangladesh reached a tipping point?

Bangladesh played their first Test match in November 2000, nearly thirteen years ago. They started promisingly, putting together 400 in their first innings against India. In that innings Aminul Islam scored their first Test hundred, a hard-working 145. In the second innings of the match, India took the lead with 429, but Bangladesh could dream of an impressive draw in their first Test match. Then came the collapse, bowled out for 91, allowing India to stroll home for a nine wicket win.

The next twelve years generally proceeded like that, the odd rays of hope, followed by crushing disappointment. So far, it has brought them four wins, nine draws, and 67 losses. They have not yet beaten any team other than Zimbabwe and a strike weakened West Indies. But is 2013 the tipping point into a team that can compete with everyone?

Last year they played only two Tests, losing them both, and between 2010 to 2012 they lost all but one of the fourteen Tests they played. This year however, they’ve been competitive. They managed a draw on the flattest of decks in Galle, but lost the second match of the series against Sri Lanka. An encouraging win followed a big defeat in Zimbabwe to draw the series, and now another drawn series against New Zealand, which they thoroughly deserved, rain robbing either team of the chance to push for a win on the final day of the second Test.

The New Zealand series showcased a depth of talent in the Bangladesh side that hasn’t been seen before. Tamim Iqbal may be in the middle of a century drought, but he makes consistent runs at the top of the order, and showed new-found maturity in making two diametrically opposite fifties in the second Test. Mominul Haque has been a revelation at number four, with two centuries in the series, scoring 376 runs in the two matches.

Shakib and Mushfiqur are proven run-scorers in the middle order, although fairly quiet in this series, with just a fifty each, and Shakib adds balance as their most consistently incisive spinner. Naisr Hossain at seven adds batting depth, and a useful spin option whilst Sohag Gazi at eight became the first man to score a hundred and take a hat-trick in a Test match in the first Test.

There are still areas that need work: Amanul Haque and Marshall Ayub haven’t settled into Test cricket fully yet at the top of the order and number three. Abdur Razzak may be a great ODI player for Bangladesh, but 21 wickets at 69.85 hardly shows aptitude for Tests, and the pace bowling is popgun at best.

Now is the time for Bangladesh to ramp up the number of Tests they play, and the length of their series. This year their six Tests have come in three separate two match contests, next year they are scheduled to play another three two match series. Those contests are not set in stone though. Sri Lanka are supposed to come in February, according to the Future Tours Programme (FTP) but there are no fixtures confirmed yet, and Sri Lanka have been in the habit of postponing Test series’.

Zimbabwe are due to come to Bangladesh to renew the basement rivalry, in an eminently winnable series, and Bangladesh are due to tour West Indies, where spinning pitches now abound. All three series are ones in which Bangladesh can be hopeful of some success.

The real problem is that Bangladesh have not got a series longer than two Tests scheduled in the current FTP, stretching up until 2020. Also, eight of their next nine Tests series are at home, meaning that between January 2014 and December 2016 they play just one away series. After that, their next five are away, followed by five more away, and one at home.

In anyone’s books, that’s a stupid schedule; most other countries roughly alternate one or two home series with one or two away, but Bangladesh play years at a time at home, then years away. It runs the risk of new players coming into the team and spending their first couple of years playing in the same sort of conditions, not getting much of a chance to expand their games.

The gaps between Tests further mean that players don’t get a chance to build on their success. Bangladesh may have hit a tipping point, they may have turned the corner towards competitiveness, but the ICC has stacked the odds against them. It’s going to be a struggle.

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