In February 2014, this writer and two other journalists went to meet Mehedi Hasan outside the dressing room in Abu Dhabi. It was the Under-19 World Cup and Mehedi, all of 16, was one of the youngest players in that tournament, and quite certainly, the youngest captain.
Bangladesh had just suffered a monumental collapse, losing a game to Australia they were never meant to lose. Poor Mehedi was so shattered he could barely bring himself to speak. It didn’t help that he knew very little English, but for some reason he didn’t ask for an interpreter. We never used his quote, but he needn’t have said anything. His face said it all.
On Sunday, he was beaming from ear to ear. Mehedi had just spun Bangladesh to their first Test win against England and their first against a major Test team, counting aside Zimbabwe and West Indies.
He finished with 19 wickets, a Bangladesh record for the most number of victims in a two-Test series. At tea, on the third day in Dhaka, an England victory looked certain. But 100 for 0 quickly became 164 all out, with Mehedi taking six of those wickets.
The series was shared 1-1, but it could so easily have been 2-0 to Bangladesh, had they converted the opportunity in the first Test at Chittagong. They were well-placed at 227 for 5, chasing 286, but narrowly fell short by 22 runs.The art of choking, when the going’s good, has been used to ridicule South Africa for years. Bangladesh’s collapses sometimes escapes attention, because it is expected from a weaker side. You can have 11 talented players in your team, but what good is it if you don’t know how to win? Put another way, knowing how to close out games when you have the advantage.
There have been many occasions when Bangladesh have botched it from winning positions. In 2003, they were one wicket away from beating Pakistan in a Test; three years later, they nearly upset Australia in Fatullah; gave Sri Lanka a scare in a Test in 2008; most recently, they choked against India in the World T20. The Chittagong Test against England was “more of the same”, before they made amends.
Panic In A Winning Position
Being in a winning position can trigger panic in a team that’s not used to winning. In the rush to reach the finish line, you look for shortcuts before you trip yourself up with rash shots. Bangladesh are slowly showing signs of handling the advantage in a more level-headed way, so the Chittagong win can’t be termed an “upset”.
When the pitch takes spin, anywhere in the world, Bangladesh are a threat. At home, they are getting tougher to beat. Ask India, Pakistan and South Africa – all three teams conceded one-day series to Bangladesh in 2015. In the World Cup, they knocked England out in the quarter-final. They drew Tests against South Africa and Pakistan. No longer can teams head to Bangladesh expecting to sweep all games.
This change of trend – after years of failure and near misses – is down to better quality players and better management. The man behind the change of mindset is their head coach, Chandika Hathurusingha, the former Sri Lankan batsman. Hathurusingha wasn’t amused when he saw his players celebrating a win against Afghanistan at the World Cup with a victory lap. It gave him the impression they were just there to be content beating teams at their level and in general, make up the numbers. It was clear Hathurusingha believed in the players more than they believed in themselves. After he put this across to them bluntly, the results against the big boys started coming.
With that came an influx of quality newcomers, Mehedi being the latest. Mustafizur Rehman, the left-arm swing bowler, was such a sensation in his debut series that counties and IPL teams – who previously were vary of investing in Bangladesh talent – started getting interested. In Soumya Sarkar they found a stylish opener capable of winning games. And both were absent for the England Tests. Imagine the potential if Bangladesh played their best possible XI !
Captain Mushfiqur Rahim said after the win that he hoped the ICC and the cricket boards start giving Bangladesh their due by organising more Tests and tours against bigger sides. It was good of England to show up, after fears of the security situation put the tour in limbo. The more they play, the sooner they will perfect the art of winning.