Cocky Aussie cricket fans should join the Tigers’ roar

Geoff Lemon Columnist

By Geoff Lemon, Geoff Lemon is a Roar Expert

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    Bangladesh will look to prove their doubters wrong with a first up win over Pakistan at the ICC World T20. (AFP)

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    There is a casual arrogance native to many Australian cricket fans. Ours is the most worthy side in the world, we think; our absence from the top an anomaly to be ironed out. Other cricketing nations are regarded with disdain.

    India’s achievements don’t count because they can’t win in Australia (and never mind the fact that we can’t win over there).

    West Indies are a twitching corpse, which those who remember the 70s and 80s still quite enjoy giving the odd sly kick.

    Sri Lanka are never rated, despite making three of the last five World Cup finals. England might have beaten us once or twice lately, but nothing can wipe away the memory of Mike Atherton. Anyway, we all know they’ll implode pretty soon because they got beaten by Pakistan.

    Pakistan, by the way, are a bunch of cheats. South Africa a pack of chokers. New Zealand don’t deserve a Shield side. (What happens in Hobart…)

    And then there are Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, who naturally enough don’t count at all; their only use a means of discrediting the records of subcontinental players who have the temerity to be deemed rather good.

    Bangladesh in particular have become a byword for cricketing incompetence – promoted too soon, never able to compete. The only references in Australia’s press are patronising or dismissive.

    Ironically, though, the cliché tells us that Australians are supposed to support the underdog. I consider it our patriotic duty to get behind the Desh. And there is a lot to like about this side; a lot to relish in their progress.

    Admittedly Bangladesh have historically been… well… a bit crap at international cricket. There were the endless collapses. The World Cup losses to the Aleutian Islands. Ian Bell’s average. The Jason Gillespie double hundred. (Lest we forget.)

    Yet something has been happening in the last few days that – utterly unsurprisingly – has received no Australian attention at all.

    Since March 11, Bangladesh have beaten the World Cup champions India, beaten the World Cup finalists Sri Lanka, and very nearly beaten the world’s current form side Pakistan. The result is that today, they’ll contest the final of the Asia Cup – something nobody would have predicted only a couple of weeks ago.

    Even winning consecutive matches is something that has been rare for the Bangladesh national team. Winning consecutive matches against separate top-flight teams has never happened before. Hitting a stretch – however brief – of competitive form and confidence has given a new look to this vibrant side.

    The results have not been gifted to them. After Pakistan’s openers piled on 135, Bangladesh applied the brakes and prised out 7/63. Only a late counterattack by Pakistan’s tail dragged the total up to 262.

    In the chase, Bangladesh were 5/224, needing 39 from 40 balls, and should have won. It took brilliant spells from the world’s best spinner, Saeed Ajmal, and one of its best exponents of death-bowling, Umar Gul, to derail the chase.

    The crucial thing, though, is that Bangladesh didn’t let this deflate them. After conceding 289 against India, they shrugged off a slow start to coolly chase it down in the last over. After strangling Sri Lanka out for 232, they wore a rain delay which cost them 10 overs and only wiped 20 runs off the chase, as well as spicing up the pitch for Sri Lanka’s pace attack. No problem. They ticked off 212 with three overs to spare.

    Nor can these results be attributed to jaded teams. Two days after that loss, India monstered a chase of 330 to beat Pakistan in 48 overs. Sri Lanka were the form side of the Australian tri-series, though they managed to lose the finals. Bangladesh earned their wins.

    Of course this doesn’t mean Bangladesh have suddenly become a first-rate team. It’s a high point in a graph that will rise and dip, but in the long term is on a gradual ascent. When Tamim Iqbal smashed consecutive Test centuries in England in 2010, it didn’t mean he could then do it every match. Predictably enough, he had a subsequent dip in form, but has now regained his upward arc.

    Indeed, Tamim has been a big part of Bangladesh’s success in this tournament, with half centuries in all three matches, and has demonstrated a developing adaptability and complexity in his own game that mirrors that of the team.

    Known previously as a see-ball hit-ball impulse player, he instead knuckled down for responsible innings of 64 from 89 balls against Pakistan, and 70 from 99 against India. Against Sri Lanka, where the reduced overs needed a positive start, he biffed 59 from 57.

    Top-class all-rounder Shakib al-Hasan has been the other key, with 64, 49, and 56 to go with his 30 tidy overs and four wickets. But the real key is that these two are not doing it alone.

    Nasir Hossain, Mahmudullah, Jahurul Islam, and captain-keeper Mushfiqur Rahim have all contributed 30s, 40s, and 50s with the bat. Veteran seamer Mashrafe Mortaza has returned from injury to stunning effect, while Abur Razzak makes a specialty of 10 overs, 2/40.

    In Bangladesh’s early years in international cricket, there were occasional high points. There was Aminul Islam’s century in his nation’s debut Test. There was a 16-year-old Mohammad Ashraful’s century on debut. There was Ashraful’s 2004 ton against India, which inspired one of my favourite cricketing paragraphs from Rahul Bhatia.

    “I felt robbed when Mohammad Ashraful walked away, head bowed… The show had ended halfway, and I wanted my money back. This kid had scored 158 in a few hours, made decent bowlers look really bad, and played as if he’d come out to set things right for Bangladeshi cricket all by himself.

    “He hooked, pulled, jived, boogied, nearly killed spectators, and, to top everything, went at the follow-on mark like an enraged bull. Each time you thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, Ashraful would not only make it better, he’d also give you free ice-cream. I think the word for an innings like this is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

    In the overall picture, these bright moments were anomalous. But in more recent years, the bright spots have been markers of a slow and steady upward trend in Bangladeshi cricket.

    While this may be parochial, for mine the shift dates back to their defeat of Australia in Cardiff in 2005, on the back of another Ashraful hundred.

    It was a win against the best side of the time in totally unfamiliar conditions, and with that, a high-water mark was set. Bangladesh had proved it could be done. It was just a matter of how to keep doing it.

    Jamie Siddons’ tenure as coach from 2007 helped take great strides in professionalising the team’s outlook, as did the emergence of the tenacious and thoroughly admirable Shakib.

    As captain, he often took the team on his young shoulders, leading with bat and ball while taking every result personally. Having passed the captaincy on, that burden has lightened, and he is free to be his team’s champion without also being its strategist. No man should have to be both Achilles and Odysseus.

    Around Shakib, though, a core of modest Myrmidons is assembling. Where the Pakistan collapse belonged to the Bangladesh of old, the India riposte showed a refusal to regress. Bangladesh do not expect to win, but they now truly believe they can.

    Yes, the Asia Cup is a big deal to them. Skipper Mushfiqur described it as “the most incredible day in our cricketing history.” But he doesn’t think it’s an accident.

    “When you reach the finals of a tournament with three top teams, and you win twice and play pretty consistently, I don’t think it’s an upset. It was a well-planned and well-executed progress.”

    These players have pride too. According to Tamim, when Geoff Boycott pronounced that Bangladesh should be ejected from Test cricket, “I felt very bad and could not sleep until 1am. It made me determined to do something to show him in the field.

    “They are the senior cricketers whom we respect. We expect them to respect us as well. We are a developing team and we really deserve some support.”

    The next day, at Lord’s, Tamim crashed 103 from 100 balls. One more blip on the graph, one more hopeful step. The results against India and Sri Lanka are another, and another. Contesting the final is yet one more. And most important of all is the spirit in which they have got there.

    Whether or not they win today doesn’t matter. There is still a whole lot to like about Bangladesh.

    Perhaps it’s time we started to give them a bit of respect.

    Follow Geoff on Twitter: @GeoffLemonSport

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.

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    The Crowd Says (116)

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 12:27pm
      sheek said | March 22nd 2012 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

      Geoff,

      Wonderful reading.

      The Asians have had to put up with 4 mostly European teams for over 80 years (from India’s introduction to test cricket in 1932) – England, Australia, South Africa & New Zealand.

      At one time of another there was a Smith or Jones name crop up in all 4 countries.

      Now we Westerners will have to get used to the idea of 4 Asian nations playing cricket, & seeing a Mohammed or Khan name crop up across all 4 countries! (Well, maybe not so much Sri Lanka, who like to annoy us with tongue-contorting, vowel-twisting names).

      But a great read…..

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 12:38pm
      Pope Paul VII said | March 22nd 2012 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

      I love Bangers. Although it’s all fun and games until you lose to them. I also love Jason Gillespie’s 201not out.

      Pakistani supporters might take exception to labelling their team cheats. They were match fixers. If they hadn’t been so intent on the fix they might be the number 1 test team now.

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 12:55pm
        Ian Whitchurch said | March 22nd 2012 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

        Gillespie’s innings was a masterclass on how to play on a slow, low pitch.

        It should be noted that Clarke averaged 25 in that series, Hayden 36 and Martyn 5.5

      • Columnist

        March 22nd 2012 @ 7:43pm
        Brett McKay said | March 22nd 2012 @ 7:43pm | ! Report

        little known fact about Gillespie’s last ever Test innings: his second hundred came at essentially a run a ball…

        Great article, Geoff, by the way. It’s great to see Bangladesh playing the way it was always hoped they could..

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 12:46pm
      Ian Whitchurch said | March 22nd 2012 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

      The Tigers search for respect goes further back – I’d put the start of it at Cairns, in 2003.

      It was a two Test series, and they’d been cleaned up, badly, in Darwin the week before. Certain dropkicks in the media were talking about a two-day Test match, and this was the Australia quicks in their pomp – McGrath, Gillespie and Lee – backed up by Stuart MacGill.

      Batting on a greentop, Bangladesh ended up the first day at 8-289, and put on 295 for the first innings.

      Yeah, so then Australia put on 556 declared and won easily, but Steve Waugh had it right when he said they showed a lot of backbone.

      Fast forward ten years or so and there is an acute lack of filler in the Tigers side. Yeah, Shahadat is a poor man’s Mitchell Johnson, and he bowls a lot of leg side crap – but he also sent The Wall to hospital, and he can take wickets with bounce and aggression.

      You’d have to be happy with a subcontinental team that can leave Rubel and Shaiful on the bench, and still have a workmanlike quick bowling attack.

      As to the slow bowling stocks, the fifth best Bangladeshi slow bowler, Enamal Haque Jr, would stroll into the Australian side.

      Ash has been permanently retired from the national team, by the way … to give you an idea of how frustrating a player he has been for us, take a player with double Mark Waugh’s quality, and a quarter of his commitment, grit and hard work.

      The big problem, of course, is that teams simply refuse to play Bangladesh. Theres Pakistan in Pakistan, which probably wont happen due to terrorism risk, but apart from that, Bangladesh’s Test dance card is looking empty for 2012.

      It sucks when you cant deliver big tv contracts, and when the rich teams are allowed to play each other to their hearts content.

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 1:06pm
        Pope Paul VII said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

        The Sri’s suffered from similar il treatment. Interestingly David Hookes one and only test century came in the first SL vs Australia contest, a one off in Kandy. I look forward to the day Bangers get a run at a major Australian test venue.

        • March 22nd 2012 @ 1:26pm
          Ian Whitchurch said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

          I’d actually be real happy to see a tri-series involving Australia, Bangladesh and, say, Holland, Scotland or Afghanistan, played in Darwin and Cairns during the cricket off-season.

          I dont even really care if Australia “rest” a number of players and play an effective B-side – the example I’d use are the MCC tours of New Zealand and the West Indies in 1929-30.

          Once my Tigers can beat Australia in Darwin or Cairns, then I think we’ve earned matches at Bellreive or the Gabba 🙂

          • March 22nd 2012 @ 1:35pm
            Pope Paul VII said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

            Sounds good. Definately bung in some tests. Australia treated NZ very poorly sending B teams but not playing a test between 1946 and 1974! A wasted opportunity as those fiesty kiwis battled the other test nations during that period.

            • March 22nd 2012 @ 2:50pm
              Ian Whitchurch said | March 22nd 2012 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

              As I’ve said before, the first time Australian cricket helps any other country will be the first time.

          • March 22nd 2012 @ 5:01pm
            Osmond said | March 22nd 2012 @ 5:01pm | ! Report

            Very good idea. I’ve also thought for a while it would be good to see teams from these sorts of places come out and play a couple of games against Shield sides (even second XIs) to help improve their cricket.

            The way cricket is run to benefit three or four countries is a bloody racket.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 1:06pm
      jameswm said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

      It’s funny – I consider myself a true critic of our current team, when they deserve it, but I certainly consider “our absence from the top an anomaly to be ironed out”.

      Good description of our attitude to the other teams too.

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 1:36pm
        Pope Paul VII said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

        I reckon the Tendulkar cult leaves Australian parochialism for dead.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 3:02pm
      Brendon said | March 22nd 2012 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

      Bangladesh was promoted into test ranks too quickly and that had a lot to do with India wanting another vote on the ICC but their performances over the past 24 months has been better.

      Zimbabwe was developing quite nicely until the whole country imploded.

      If Shakib Al-Hasan was Australian he would be one of the first players picked. He is a class above the chumps we call “spin bowlers” that we have but I know people who would be outraged by the mere suggestion a Bangladeshi player would be good enough for the Australian team.

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 4:06pm
        Ian Whitchurch said | March 22nd 2012 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

        Brendon,

        Since promotion to Test cricket, Bangladesh have gone entire twelve month spells without Test cricket. When they do tour, the tours have grossly inadequate first class games to prepare for the conditions – for example, their recent tour of New Zealand had *no* zero nada nil first class games before the Test in Hamilton,

        When they go to England, they are forced to go early in the season, when greentops are at their most difficult.

        People like you then whine about how badly they are going, and how they arent developing.

        Like I said, the first time Australia helps another country’s cricket will be the first time.

      • Columnist

        March 22nd 2012 @ 4:35pm
        Geoff Lemon said | March 22nd 2012 @ 4:35pm | ! Report

        Agreed on Shakib, Brendon. It’s been really heartening to see him being given his due by foreign journalists and commentators. A class competitor in general as well as a class operator in his cricketing disciplines.

        • March 22nd 2012 @ 6:06pm
          Ian Whitchurch said | March 22nd 2012 @ 6:06pm | ! Report

          Just as an aside, he got sacked as captain because he was snoozing in the dressing room, and otherwise not being a captain who drove his team.

          Mushy has taken over as captain – when he first played at Lords as a skinny sixteen year old, security thought he was Rafique’s son and refused to let him get into the dressing room.

    • Roar Guru

      March 22nd 2012 @ 4:54pm
      The Bush said | March 22nd 2012 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

      With a hundred and fifty million people, who are apparently Cricket mad, it’s only a matter of time before Bangladesh joins Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka at the pinnicle of World Cricket.

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