A few days before the one-off Test against India in Hyderabad, Bangladesh skipper Mushfiqur Rahim made a bold declaration. He vowed that his team would play a brand of cricket that would compel India to invite them over and over again. Of nigh legal age in most parts of the world, for seventeen years old Bangladesh, it wasto be their maiden Test appearance in India. Naturally, emotions were running high.
But, if recent history is to be read as gospel, the recognition of the sense of occasion makes Bangladesh pregnable. Actor Joseph Gordon Levitt, who played a wire artist in movie The Walk, and endeavoured to walk the beguiling chasm between the twin towers in New York, regarded the final few paces of the act the most dangerous. He believed that he was at his most vulnerable, when he was conscious of what lay ahead. Recently, an otherwise improved Bangladesh, have been stricken by a similar malady.
It’s not all about just skill
In a format that is designed to examine one physically, mentally and spiritually, the jury on Bangladesh’s temperament is still out. On skill alone, they are world-beaters on their day. But on skill alone, Vinod Kambli could not reach the same heights as Sachin Tendulkar.
To their credit, Bangladesh have progressed rapidly over the last three years. They have now surpassed the group stage of a World Cup, usurped India, Pakistan and South Africa in home One-Day Internationals, and started running teams close more consistently, even in Tests. But when it comes to winning crunch moments, they are still novices, who are learning the art, through time honoured means of trial and error.
There was just a fleeting moment of madness that stood between an epochal series win over a higher ranked England, and what was eventually, a drawn series at home. With fortunes hanging by a slender thread, on the second ball of the third morning, Shakib Al Hasan gave Moeen Ali a suicidal charge, missing the ball by a mile. The fact that the captain was lost the previous evening and that a debutant; also the last recognised batsman, was at the other end, was forgotten and later rued, as Bangladesh capitulated from a comfortable 221/5 to 248 all-out.
Moments of madness
The collapse entailed that they conceded a first innings lead of 45 and lost the Test by 22 runs. This was not the first time Bangladesh were in a position to win a Test match against a top side, but it was the first time they were expected to actually do it. Previously they had only flirted with the thin line between hope and expectation, this time they had actually crossed it.
With the tag of the underdog renounced, came greater pressure, therefore greater responsibility. However, if anything was learned from this experience, then remedial measures were conspicuously missing in New Zealand, where Bangladesh earned the notorious distinction of becoming the team to score the highest first innings total (595/8) resulting in a loss, besides committing hara-kiri in second innings of both Tests.
Just on the cusp of another recovery in Hyderabad, the monster reared its ugly head again. Any ambitions of a win had been thwarted after India posted 687. However, an away draw against the number one ranked team in the world remained a reasonable possibility and incentive, given the benign nature of the pitch and the form of their premier batsmen – Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib.
Shakib survived, what he later described the most testing spell of fast bowling he has faced in his career, from Umesh Yadav, who took the pitch out of the equation. Soon after, he shifted gears, to tear into the spinners who were, presumably, the threat.
Take inspiration from Kohli
For majority of his innings, Shakib batted in similar vein to his remarkably paced double hundred in Wellington, and if he had not holed out to mid-on off Ravi Ashwin, against the run of play, he may have gone on to replicate that feat. He was in imperious form, but that, along with the fact that Bangladesh were still grappling to remain relevant in the Test match, conspire to work against him. Furthermore, the asinine timing of his dismissal, rendered a shot, that had hitherto been a lucrative option, look uglier.
It also highlighted the difference between inconsistency and dominance. Through playing their natural game, notwithstanding the need of the hour to buckle down, Bangladesh have regularly squandered positions of strength in recent times.
But they need not look too far for a tutorial, with Virat Kohli in the opposition camp. Kohli regularly alludes to gauging the body language of the opposition, before launching into an attack. He is also a great assessor of match situations, which may require him to play differently at different points, during the same innings. With abundance of time, tempo changes are an essential component of innings construction, in Test cricket. Recognising the right moment to go or hold back can be difference in the end, as it was in Chittagong, second innings of both Tests in New Zealand and in all likelihood, will be in Hyderabad.