Some years ago, the “Miracle on Ice” was voted by fans in the United States as the biggest sporting upset in history. The “miracle” took place during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, where the American ice hockey team stunned the world by beating the Soviet Union 4-3.

It wasn’t supposed to happen. The Soviet team of professionals were supposed to wipe the floor with a US team made up only of amateurs. They had won gold in six of the previous seven games and were overwhelming favourites to do so again. But the American team played out of their skins and emerged with a hard-fought, hugely unexpected win. “Do you believe in miracles?!” famed sportscaster Al Michaels shouted in the final moments.


Upsets are not that unusual in sports. That, in part, is why we watch. On any given day, the underdog can rise up and defeat the big favourite. On any given day, David can slay Goliath.

Test cricket comes alive

Recently, there were two unexpected results that jolted the cricket community. In Leeds, a West Indies team, made up mostly of relative Test-match novices, scored a most impressive win over a much more experienced England team that were supposed to crush them. While 5000 miles away in Dhaka, Bangladesh defeated Australia in Tests for the first time, a team that showed scant interest in playing Tests against them for over a decade.

These two games were not supposed to turn out the way they did. England had humiliated the West Indies in the first Test in Birmingham, smashing them by the huge margin of an innings and 209 runs. The Caribbean side were hardly ever in the game and were so dominated by the much stronger England side that nobody expected a good showing from Jason Holder’s men when they turned up in Leeds. Their five-wicket victory, therefore, though widely welcomed by those longing to see the game thrive once again in the Caribbean, was a significant surprise.

The Bangladesh team are often pejoratively referred to as “minnows.” No one can doubt the recent strides they have made, but Australian fans and pundits, despite their team’s past struggles in Asia, expected their team to win. We know this because they all seemed aghast at the results, the team being harshly castigated by every Australian pundit and every Australian publication.

But they should not have been that shocked. Bangladesh have quality spinners and are always a threatening proposition at home. Moreover, as was the case with the West Indies, the underdog tag made them more dangerous opponents.

The joy of an underdog win

In any sporting event, the underdog has little to lose and therefore little to fear. This fearlessness, in turn, provides freedom – freedom to be aggressive, freedom to be expansive – thereby elevating the threat they present. Beware of the man with nothing to lose.

“They will show us more respect now,” remarked allrounder and star of the game, Shakib Al Hasan, when responding to a query about sledging. While Captain Mushfiqur Rahim had this to say after their great victory: “They had aggression but we also showed that Bangladesh can be an aggressive side. They saw it in our body language, apart from how we did with bat and ball.”

The West Indies had reason to go hammer and tongs at their opponents as well. “Credit to the boys, to put up with the amount of criticism that they copped,” coach Stuart Law told an Australian radio station. “Not just from opposition fans but also their home fans. To come out and turn it around and produce that performance over the last five days was an outstanding effort.”

He went on, “I love being an underdog as well because you can sneak up and bite your opponent on the backside.”

There’s always the danger of underestimating the underdog. Many a great battle was lost because the greater power failed to prepare adequately to confront their supposedly inferior opponents, or they just didn’t take them seriously enough.

When Buster Douglas upended the boxing world by knocking out the unbeatable Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1990, reports are that the heavyweight champion had not trained for the fight as studiously as he should have. And, the challenger was made fearless by a number of difficulties that had plagued him before the fight: His son’s mother had a serious kidney ailment; he contracted the flu the day before the fight; and, most significantly, his mother died approximately three weeks before he stepped into the ring. Douglas, consequently, felt he had nothing to lose. He fought like a man without fear.


India were not supposed to beat the then unbeatable West Indies in the 1983 World Cup finals. Batting first India could only manage 183, a total the West Indies might have looked at and grinned. After Gordon Greenidge’s early departure, Viv Richards, who then sat on the throne unchallenged as the king of batsmen, set off as if he wanted to get the runs all by himself. He had rocketed to 33 from 28 deliveries with seven fours when he mishit a hook shot off Madan Lal, allowing Kapil Dev, fielding at midwicket, to run about 20 yards to pull off an amazing catch. The favourites struggled thereafter and could only limp to 140, losing by all of 43 runs. Like Law said, they had underestimated the underdog who then snuck up and bit them on the backside.

More often than not, the greater quality of the favourite is enough to offset whatever advantages the underdog status might bestow. Occasionally, however, it is not, and it is then that the better player, or the better team gets humbled by an opponent that is nowhere as capable. A lack of vigilance can be pricey.

What of Test cricket?

The above may or may not fully explain the recent occurrences in Dhaka and in Leeds. What is certain, however, is that what were expected to be damp, routine contests were set ablaze by the lesser-fancied protagonists, injecting Test cricket with a well-needed boost.

Cricket’s longest format has been floundering for a while now as T20 cricket has surged to the fore. These two games, however, has reminded those who may have forgotten, of the best qualities of Test cricket: the nuance, the ascendency shifting from one team to the next, the drama as multi-layered aspects of the story unfold over time, culminating in a final, sometimes breathtaking conclusion. You don’t really get that anyplace else.

Members of the elite were elated by Test cricket’s exciting week and as is the norm nowadays, took to twitter. “2 upsets in two days! Inspiring performance by @BCBtigers! Test cricket is thriving,” Tendulkar tweeted, while this came from Wasim Akram: “Great to see Bangladesh win against mighty Australians. Test cricket still is and always will be the ultimate form of the game.”

It will be interesting, of course, to see how the stories of both series will unfold in the remaining matches. September 4th (second Test - Bangladesh vs Australia) and September 7th (Third Test – England vs West Indies) can’t come soon enough. For sure, Test cricket will not be rescued by two exciting games. But the past week has shown that it is well worth saving.