How on earth do you bowl to this?
One of the delights of sport, and one with such longevity and steeped in such history and tradition as Test cricket, is in watching the peaks and troughs of various teams throughout the years, decades, centuries even.
The dominant West Indian side of the 1980s and early 90s, who soon fell away to the Australian superstars of the early noughties, who in turn succumbed to a resurgent South Africa, bouncing back after years in apartheid wilderness.
One of the more compelling aspects of this rollercoaster is the emergence, often followed by the ascendancy, of new teams arriving onto the Test scene.
India’s miracle in Madras in 1952, New Zealand’s long-awaited moment of triumph over the West Indies in 1956, and Sri Lanka’s relatively rapid rise to beat their next-door neighbours, India, in 1985. It took New Zealand 26 years to register their first win.
India managed it in 19 years, and Sri Lanka in just three. Pakistan, remarkably, recorded their first win in just their second Test, against India, on their first ever series following Partition.
Last week Bangladesh, arguably the minnows of the Test cricket world, recorded their first win against a top tier nation, running through England’s batting line-up in the space of just one afternoon. The feat had been a long time coming, 95 Tests, in fact, Bangladesh’s only previous victories being against Zimbabwe and a West Indian side arguably at the nadir of their existence.
The understanding that good things come to those who wait should not be a virtue lost on followers of Test cricket. Yet, over the years a lot has been said about the credibility of Bangladesh in the Test arena, given how dire their record is to date.
But, time passes and memories fade. A shift has occurred where Bangladesh will now be judged against the power teams of the world and not their former fellow minnows.
Just as for years tours to Pakistan served as the precursor, or more condescendingly still, the “warm-up” to the main event in India, Bangladesh has similarly slipped into the role of second fiddle.
It was excruciating during England’s recent tour to Bangladesh, that during interviews, players could not help but place the mini-series in the context of the looming India tour.
That Bangladesh ran the tourists so close in the first Test did little to temper this view; England won, black and white, business as usual, move on lads.
Yet a seed had been planted – what if? What if Bangladesh did prevail, how bad a thing would it really be? Dare this view be aired, so un-patriotic that it was? Step up Daniel Norcross, the BBC Test Match Special pundit, who felt no such reservation in revealing what many, surely, were thinking.
“Now that we are in Dhaka,” began Norcross hesitantly, gauging the mood. “Just think what it would mean to Bangladesh if they could pull off a victory against England.”
“And to be here to witness it would be quite an experience I fancy. Not that I am willing ill on England, but there’s a flip side to everything, as we sit here egging on England’s batsmen.”
Two days later and the people of Dhaka were dancing on the roofs having demolished England.
‘Bangladesh’ trended globally on Twitter – not only was it number one in the UK, but in India, Australia and worldwide, such was the impact. The last time this had happened, a sweatshop building had collapsed. This time heroes had been born, namely teenage off-spinner Mehedi Hasan, whose return of 4 for 13 in that final innings instigated England’s collapse.
“If England could pick Mahedi or Taijul [Islam] next week [for the series against India],” lamented Simon Wilde, the Sunday Times cricket correspondent, “They would.”
For these two young spinners, their story was of a leap-frog into the Test arena from relative obscurity – they are special talents indeed. Yet for Bangladesh as a team, channeled by their talismanic batsman, Tamim Iquarterbackal, their journey has come through exposure to international level cricket borne first out of triumphing in the short-form game.
Lesser an achievement though it may be, Bangladesh know what it’s like to taste ODI victory against big-time opposition. They’ve recorded victories against Australia (2005), South Africa (2007), India (2007) and most memorably perhaps, England, having knocked them out of the 2015 Cricket World Cup.
As with England, victory over these other traditional giants is a matter of when not if. In the last year alone, series victories over Pakistan (a whitewash), India and South Africa, make the immediate future of Bangladesh cricket an exciting one.
We are in an era in which the composition of whole teams changes drastically between the different formats and pundits talk of these various formats as being almost entirely different sports in themselves. Such circumstances mean that it is easy to forget that cricket can still be a simple game, of bat and ball and hand, and that it is the psychology of winning which may be more important perhaps than the various lengths of each game.
The ICC recently announced that Ireland and Afghanistan are to receive Test status, yet the sport’s governing body are to deprive (most likely) these nations and the other ‘associates’ tussling for recognition – and funding – of a place at the next World Cup. Well-thought-out plans to expand cricket into China, to introduce it into the Commonwealth Games, perhaps, even, the Olympics have been floated while simultaneously endorsing an extravagant money-making venture of has-beens to the Americas. It’s a mess.
If cricket is to take global development seriously, there needs to be a clear pathway for emerging teams in all formats of the game, and the knowledge that Test cricket, however far off a prospect, remains a viable one. The Netherlands have a 100% record against England in T20 Internationals; there should be no reason why one day, this statistic couldn’t be a reality in Tests too.