Bangladesh ready to take on the elite under Hathurusingha's guidance

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It has been some year for Bangladesh cricket already.

Establishing yourself among the upper echelons of international cricket is no easy feat. It took New Zealand 25 years to win a Test. It was even longer before they were anywhere close to being competitive. Sri Lanka waited three years for their first win after gaining Test status in 1982 and only secured three victories in their first 10 years as a Test nation. It wasn’t until they won the 1996 World Cup that they were considered world class at the highest level. Zimbabwe has never had a side that could compete for more than momentary periods.

Bangladesh has had a similarly difficult first decade and a half as a full member of the ICC. They were rushed into the position of a Test playing nation before they had a first-class structure in place on the back of success in One Day Internationals. Back when they become a Test nation in November 2000, the ICC still had some inclination towards expanding the game beyond cricket’s leading countries and Bangladesh were the main beneficiaries.

They were given access to the top table of cricket despite being a long way shy of being ready to compete. They had to wait four years for a win in ODI cricket as a full member and until 2005 for a first Test victory. That win came against Zimbabwe, who remain the only full strength team that the Bangladeshis have defeated in the sport’s longest form. They won two Tests In 2009 against a West Indies side severely weakened by a player’s strike making the victories somewhat hollow against a third-string team. Well over half that West Indies side never played for their country again.

Turning the tide

There have, however, been some positive signs in the Test arena of late. Drawn matches against India and South Africa and further victories over Zimbabwe show signs of improvement. And in ODIs the results have been nothing short of fantastic in recent months. Beginning with the World Cup, the unfancied Bangladesh put together an amazing string of results.

They qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals ahead of England thanks to a victory over the inventors of the game in the group stage. They lost heavily to India in that knockout match, but the team left the tournament with their heads held high and with plaudits aplenty.

Bangladesh followed up that strong showing in Australia and New Zealand with victories at home in ODI series against Pakistan, India and South Africa. The latter two teams were World Cup semi-finalists and, for the first time in their international history, the Tigers are a force to be reckoned with.

It takes two to tango

Furthermore, there hasn’t been a sudden influx of new talent. This improvement in results has come with the same core group of players that have been part of the Bangladesh set up for some time. This makes the turnaround all the more interesting when trying to find its antecedents.

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The current period of good form has two architects. The first is Mashrafe Mortaza, who was appointed ODI captain in September 2014. His tactical nous, combined with superb performances with the ball, have been vital to the results, while his backing of young quicks like Taskin Ahmed has yielded great results. Ahmed’s ODI average of 26 and economy rate of 5.5 is phenomenal, especially for a 20-year-old.

The second person to have presided over this period of plenty is former Sri Lanka international Chandika Hathurusingha, who has been coaching the side since May 2014. He has taken a talented but inconsistent group of players and turned them into a unit with clearly defined roles and the confidence to realise their potential. Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim have blossomed as players under his stewardship and the latter is growing as a Test captain.

“It is mainly the change in attitude from the players – to training and of course to game situations,” Hathurusingha told Sport360. They are starting to believe in themselves and are getting the right combinations. Getting certain players into certain positions and giving them clear roles were key. So those are the big two factors, believing and getting those combinations right.”

He also points out that Mortaza has had a massive impact on the way the team have played. Hathurusingha calls his captain “a great leader of men”, and says his never say die attitude has been a massive boon for his team.

Bangladesh players celebrate beating England at the 2015 CWC.

Combined with helping those already within the squad to achieve more, Hathurusingha has been responsible for fast-tracking the hugely exciting left-arm seamer Mustafizur Rahman (although, when asked the player’s progress, he is keen to attribute some of the credit to Mortaza). Rahman’s first two matches saw him claim back-to-back five-wicket hauls as he became the first man to finish his second ODI with 11 wickets to his name. Hathurusingha admits that they took a punt on the teenager, giving him his first international cap in a T20 against South Africa despite never having played a domestic game in that format. It is a gamble that has already paid off.

Improving at a pace

Under Mortaza it has been the seamers that have been Bangladesh’s most potent weapon. Of the six leading wicket takers since he took over the ODI side four of them are quicks, including the captain himself, who has 26 wickets at an average of 28. This focus on pace has been by design and was influenced initially by the World Cup taking place in Australia.

“It happened because the World Cup was playing in Australia so we concentrated mainly on the fast bowlers because of the conditions and mainly trying to get quick bowlers to play a big role,” Hathurusingha explains.

“They got confident that they can make a difference because before in Bangladesh fast bowlers don’t get any kind of help on those wickets.

“When we came back because we practiced so much on those hard, bouncy wickets going back to what they were used to was a struggle for them. So although we were playing Pakistan and their strength is fast bowlers we produced wickets that had a little bit of carry and bounce. I thought our players would do better on those pitches and it allowed our fast bowlers to continue to do their hard work. It is all about breaking that previous notion that they had to win with spinners and that batters can’t bat on those type of tracks.”

Changing perceptions

For Hathurusingha the best way to see just how far his players have come is the attitude of opponents towards the team. Speaking during their ODI series win against India he spoke about their opponents sending a full-strength team rather than the weaken squads that have toured Bangladesh in the past.

“The best example is India sending their strongest team,” he said at the time. “It speaks for itself, how far we have come. I think it is a big rap for our boys that India came with their full strength.”

For a long time Bangladesh were rooted to the foot of the ICC rankings, but no longer is this the case. They are currently sitting in seventh, just two ranking points behind sixth-placed England. They have qualified for the 2017 Champions Trophy and are looking set for an automatic spot at the 2019 World Cup, which has been reduced to a 10-team event.

The top eight sides in the ICC rankings earn a place at the tournament in England in 2019. The likelihood of Bangladesh making one of those spots was considered so remote when the qualification for the tournament was conceived that the competition to decide the final two places takes place in their country. The rise under Mortaza and Hathurusingha has been quite remarkable.

Release the beast

There are still questions for this team to answer and they need to show that they can win in Test cricket against quality opposition, first at home and then overseas. They need to ensure that this brilliant white ball form extends to the World T20 in India and beyond to ensure World Cup qualification and use this form as a springboard to sustained success at the highest level.

Not only that, Bangledesh’s tigers must use this deservedly heightened confidence to ensure that they capitalise on their success and not return to the servant’s quarters. Increased performances and a few scalps are all well and good but the true test of the BCB will come in how they utilise this run in securing the future of Bangladesh cricket from the grassroots up.

With increased media attention and a passionate fanbase currently relishing in their side’s performances at the wicket, the likes of Mortaza and Hathurusingha, as well as the governing body and its star players, must be thrust toward the limelight and reach out to budding cricketers in the country who wish to emulate their heroes. Cricket needs a strong Bangladesh, finally it seems like it has got one. 

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