6 of the Best: When Tigers prowled the British Isles

Shayan S. Khan
Thursday, May 18th, 2017


 

Bangladesh’s cricketers returned to competitive action last Friday, but it all proved a bit of a damp squib as their opening match against plucky hosts Ireland, of a tri-series also involving New Zealand, was washed out after just 31.4 overs in Dublin.

 

The series, which will see each team playing each other twice, is part of preparations for this year’s Champions Trophy that kicks off on June 1 in England. Bangladesh certainly are taking their appearance in the lucrative tournament – sometimes called the Mini World Cup, first held in Dhaka in 1998 – featuring the top 8 ODI teams in the world very seriously.

 

Mindful of the vastly different conditions that prevail in England, especially around May and early June, the Tigers have been encamped in the UK since late April, including a 10-day conditioning camp hosted by Sussex County Cricket Club.

 

The cricketers’ extended stay in ‘Bilat’ (as the UK has been referred to in these parts since colonial days, in turn inspiring the name ‘Blighty’ that some Brits still use today as an affectionate slang for their country), plus their itinerary taking them seemingly all over the British Isles – prior to Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, the Tigers were in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, and they will return to England of course for the Champions Trophy – has served to remind us of some of the most memorable moments from previous tours, when the Bengal Tigers prowled the British Isles. And occasions us to recall 6 of the Best.

 

The first World Cup

 

In a sense, although the game has been played here since the days of Empire, Bangladesh’s journey as a cricketing nation started with their appearance at the 1999 World Cup, fittingly hosted by England. Qualification had been through victory at the ICC Trophy in Singapore two years earlier (who can forget that scrambled single off the last ball in the final?). Yet it was the highly creditable showing they managed to put up in the tournament proper, winning two of their five games in what was a very tough group including both eventual finalists, that really set them on their way. Most importantly, it provided the impetus for Test status, that came in a year’s time.

 

The first of the two victories came against fellow qualifiers Scotland, in a game played at Edinburgh, which got to host all of Scotland’s fixtures. It was Bangladesh’s third game of the tournament, after two defeats at the hands of New Zealand and the West Indies, and actually turned out to be a bit of a nail-biter.

 

Scotland had performed well in their own previous two games, and had in their ranks one Gavin Hamilton, later to play for England, in great form. When Bangladesh batted first and only posted a total of 185/9 off their 50 overs (it could have been much worse, were it not for one partnership between Durjoy and Nannu, who was man-of-the-match), most supporters were gutted by the thought of losing to Scotland. After all, we regarded it as almost axiomatic at the time that outside the Test-playing nations, there was no-one to match, let alone beat us. So losing to Scotland?! The mere thought of it was demoralising. Granted they were playing at home. But still, it was Scotland! And this was cricket, not football!

 

Fortunately the bowlers managed to turn things around, and in the end the team managed to squeeze out the win by 22 runs, as the Scots were dismissed for 163. Although it was far from over till Hamilton was finally dismissed in a bit of a fortuitous (for us, not him) manner, backing up at the non-striker’s end.

 

The first ‘big’ win

 

Ask almost anyone – player, fan or support staff – and they will tell you that the win against Scotland was reward enough for our first appearance at cricket’s showpiece event, and they would have been happy for the team to return home with nothing else at that point. Especially seeing our last two fixtures actually happened to be against the two toughest teams in our group and eventual finalists – Australia and Pakistan.

 

Australia, starting a remarkable run of 7 straight games that saw them go all the way to lifting the first of three World Cups on the trot, duly thrashed us. But then what happened against Pakistan, on the last matchday of the group phase, was entirely unexpected. So much so that the BCB had taken the step of announcing the sacking of coach Gordon Greenidge prior to the match, making the occasion a bittersweet one at best, for the great West Indian.

 

There was nothing much in the air to suggest the old guard of Bulbul, Akram Khan, Nannu and Shujon had something up their sleeve on the last day. Not even after some lusty blows from Shujon (Khaled Mahmud, these days the team manager) had carried Bangladesh across the 200 mark for the first time in the tournament, after being asked to bat first in sleepy old Northampton.

 

But then the Pakistanis one after another seemed to lose the plot against the innocuous medium-pace of Shujon, who quickly bagged three wickets to reduce them to 5/42. From there, they never recovered, and in the end Bangladesh won at a canter, by 62 runs.

 

The Slaying of Australia

 

Not too many people know, or realise, or maybe even acknowledge this, but Bangladesh had a very, very important role to play in the downfall of Australia. If that’s too strong, you might just say halting their juggernaut in the 2000s. At the very least, in making them lose their vice-like grip on the Ashes. It happened on a fine summer day in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, in 2005.

 

This was Bangladesh’s first ever tour of England (in cricketing language, a ‘tour’ always comprises at least one bilateral component, which wasn’t the case in 1999). They had spent the early part of the summer getting thoroughly thrashed over two Test matches that could have been fitted into one. The one-day component was a tri-series also involving the mighty Australians, who themselves would then stay on to play The Ashes, the symbolic name given to Test series between Australia and England. The last time England had come out on top in this most storied of cricket’s most enduring battles, Ershad was calling the shots in our part of the world, still sitting pretty in fact – 1987.

 

There really was nothing, nothing whatsoever, to suggest in 2005 it was going to be any different. But that year it was, after a nerve-wracking, enthralling summer of cricket that saw the Englishmen edge out their great rivals 2-1 over 5 Tests. Since then, they have gone on to win several times more, including in Australia, as the halo of invincibility slipped from Ricky Ponting’s team, and Michael Clarke and Steve Smith have since endured much greater parity, even inferiority, against the old enemy.

 

What could possibly have occasioned that slip in 2005? To understand, you must get the meaning behind the Bengali phrase ‘bismillay golod’ (doomed from the start). While Bangladesh were getting ready to wrap up their tour with the tri-series, Australia’s was only just beginning. And in their very first match after arriving in England, they faced Bangladesh, a side against which they had never lost before. And just to compound Australia’s ‘bismillay golod’, the tone for the day was set from the moment a young, strappy colt called Mashrafe bin Mortaza removed Adam Gilchrist, the destroyer-in-chief in the Aussie batting line-up, off the very first delivery of the game.

 

Ashraful’s Moment

 

Despite ending his career as the consummate underachiever, Mohammad Ashraful’s name will not be soon forgotten by Bangladeshi cricket fans. His tortuous struggle to do justice to his talent was something the entire nation experienced. On the relatively few occasions in which he managed to blossom, the joy as well was something heady for the entire nation to share in. As in the opening few games of the 2005 tri-series.

 

If you saw the video above (or caught the game that day), you would have seen him at his serene best. A compact batsman who with his quick feet got behind the ball and kept his head still. Against Australia, he had kept it as cool as the other side of the pillow as well, guiding Bangladesh to that famous victory with an even 100(105), at almost a run-a-ball.

 

In the very next game against England, we saw another side of him, and this was what made him special. He was the first Bangladeshi batsman who could hurt opposition bowlers in any number of ways, and it always seemed a matter of his own choosing which way he did it (when he wasn’t busy giving his wicket away chasing the demons in his head). Whereas in Cardiff his batting had been serene, this against the hosts in Nottingham was nothing less than savagery.

 

Coming in to bat with his side at 30/2 chasing a target of 392, to say that he throws caution to the wind here would be an understatement. His cavalier stay in the middle keeps Bangladesh improbably in the hunt, but it’s all definitively over when he falls short of back-to-back hundreds, out bowled for a thrilling 94 off just 52 balls. He rides his luck a bit, but who wouldn’t, after the first ball he faces takes an inside edge, squeezes its way through and actually hits the wickets, but the bails fail to dislodge!

 

On the Honours Board, in style

 

Since Ashraful’s departure, in somewhat disgraceful circumstances towards the end, Tamim Iqbal has been the talisman for Bangladesh’s batting, and has gone on to compile all sorts of records that that will probably see him retire as Bangladesh’s finest, or most accomplished batsman at the highest level.

 

But Tamim, just because he has matured into the crafty batsman that he is today, had his cavalier phase as well, riding on the pure adrenaline that comes from talent to burn. Perhaps never was this more exhilaratingly expressed than in the second innings of the first Test of Bangladesh’s 2010 tour of England, played at the Mecca of Cricket, Lord’s.

 

It is important to note that it came with Bangladesh following on, and staring at another massive innings defeat, that would have been their third straight such loss in England. Tamim’s innings, with its aggressive intent and sublime execution, represented a turnaround that would then carry through to the remainder of the tour, and in this match as well, England were made to work for their win.

 

Laced with 15 boundaries and two sixes, it was at the time the second-fastest Test hundred ever recorded at Lord’s (it has since slipped to third, after Ben Stokes took the record away from Mohammed Azharuddin in 2016). Cricket enthusiasts will know – as high as abodes go, this one is stratospheric. But Tamim, with that regal air about him at the crease, and his imperious strokeplay, playing as if with a wand not a cricket bat, sure looks like he belongs.

 

A heist in Bristol

 

The first Test win against England, that came last October in England, prompted great fanfare and celebration that will surely still be fresh in our memories. For a long time, the English scalp evaded Bangladesh in ODIs as well. When it finally came however, at the 21st time of asking, it was in the form of a genuine thriller played at Bristol, a swanky city in West England with a strong Bangladeshi presence, in the second of three ODIs in 2010 played after the Tests earlier in the summer.

 

It was also the end of a particularly long drought for the Tigers, during which they had lost 24 internationals, and not won a game in 250 days, as Inzamam would. Just before the series started, Shakib al Hasan was relieved of captaincy duties which went back to Mashrafe for a stint, and he immediately made a difference. Bangladesh played more aggressive cricket in this period, a precursor to the fearless approach of more recent times.

 

The credit for the victory really belongs to the hunger the team displayed in the field, defending a modest total of 236. There the burden was shared admirably among all the bowlers, though it was really Rubel in one of his earliest gunslinger outings who got the ball rolling. Mashrafe however was man-of-the-match, and it was as much for his captaincy as anything else. With England needing 10 off the final over, Shafiul keeps his cool despite conceding runs off the first two deliveries, and conjures up the last wicket with his side almost despairing, and ready to do anything to not let it slip away. Not this time.

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