It is perhaps one of the greatest delights for the cricket aficionado to witness an epochal moment in the history of the game. Especially when seasoned with the spice of infectious celebration. And in this case, there was the further garnishing of being vindicated, pleasantly ahead of expectation.
It could not have been more symbolic an end, a fractal-fragment for the future. Mehdi Hasan, still in his blissful teens, swept Rangana Herath behind square to bring up the winning runs, while the battle-scarred skipper Mushfiqur Rahim held fort with his guiding hand at the other end. This moment of history captured the tale of Bangladesh’s fortunes in a miniature snapshot of history.
The seasoned veterans have hauled the destiny of nation’s cricket on their able shoulders through the dark days of despair, and at long last, they have been joined by a capable coterie of young cricketers who can carry the now glowing torch into the promising new era.
Pioneering victories in the den of the opposition is an occasion for celebration for every cricketing nation. Be it Fred Spofforth skittling England out with fire and venom as they chased 85 in 1882, to give birth to the lore of The Ashes. Be it the historic win of West Indies at Lord’s, 1950, with the crowd flocking into the ground dancing to the tunes of the Calypso ‘Those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine’. Be it Fazal Mahmood running through the Indians in Lucknow or destroying Len Huttton’s men at The Oval. Or be it India finally overcoming the West Indians at Port of Spain in 1971 or, some months down the line, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar sending down the Mill Reef on the way to another sensational victory at The Oval.
It is not that Bangladesh had not won overseas earlier. They have been victorious in a series in West Indies in 2009. But that carried with it doubts and skepticism associated with the morass of mediocrity in which the erstwhile powerful Caribbean cricket finds itself today. In the record books, the Tigers had turned a corner, but that very corner had been cut severely in the recent past to make the bend a joyless cakewalk.
In contrast, beating Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka is a task that comes with all the trappings of an uphill endeavour. It is an island where wickets turn into snake-pits, where Muttiah Muralitharan has spun them to victory after victory, a tradition continued by the able fingers of Rangana Herath. To defeat them in a Test match in their own treacherous backyard is the sign of a serious cricketing unit.
What a moment! Bangladesh snatch a historic win against Sri Lanka by 4 wickets and level the series 1-1. #SLvBAN
— Bangladesh Cricket (@BCBtigers) March 19, 2017
As I mentioned, this win on the happy occasion of the 100th Test carries with it the personal satisfaction of vindication. Just as Mushfiqur’s men had been on the verge of taking field in the landmark Test, I had written in these very pages that for all the poor record eked out in the last 17 years, there were signs of a change of fortunes. The able old hands had been joined by some outstanding young ones, and perhaps it was just a phase of patience that would allow Bangladesh to become a force to reckon with. Happily, it does seem that the players themselves were short of patience with their journey, most eager to redeem themselves as soon as they could. That the long missing watershed moment would arrive in that 100th Test itself was a pleasant and unexpected surprise.
The turning of a page
It was not only the final moment of the match that emerged as a symbolic snapshot of the country’s cricketing journey. So many moments and phases retold the past and signaled the future.
That the bona fide great of the nation’s short cricketing history, Shakib al Hasan, would play such an important role in the epochal victory is one of those events that make up the romance of the game. As I had said in the earlier article, Shakib has done enough for the fortunes of a new cricketing country to stand shoulder to shoulder with great Aubrey Faulkner and his monumental deeds in the early days of South African cricket.
Not only did Shakib score the match-turning century and pick up the four wickets in second innings. The knock was a history of the side’s cricket in miniature. When he came in on the second evening, he was strangely rash and impetuous, almost trying to throw it away as Bangladesh has done it so many times in the past 17 years. The signs were ominous, a hard fought few hours dipped in hope before everything seemed on the brink of disintegration, a tale told umpteen times.
But when Shakib returned the next morning, Mushfiqur in tow, he was a different man. There was patience, application, experience and responsibility. In that first session of the third day, Bangladesh cricket had matured and taken a huge positive step for the future. The two veterans, who have already done yeoman’s service to the nation’s cricket, carried them yet again out of crisis. And then there emerged the debutant who believed in himself, Mosaddek Hossain. Calm and composed, wise and sagacious way beyond his years, a thorough professional.
As Shakib and Mosaddek added 131 for the seventh wicket, the match turned. And with it arrived the confirmation that the old brigade had managed to turn the page and there were brilliant young hands to script a new chapter of the Bangladesh story.
Yes, there are new hands. Even as Shakib continued his batting feats with the crucial 36 overs in the second innings, it was the post-lunch burst of young Mustafizur Rahman on the fourth day that unsettled the Sri Lankan recovery and put Bangladesh firmly on top. Experience had paved the way, and the brave youth had marched ahead.
Even then, chasing down 191 in the fourth innings at P Sara was never going to be easy. There were early jitters before Tamim Iqbal and Sabbir Rahman got together. There were further stutters, stumbles, and stressful phases before Mushfiqur guided them past the momentous finishing line.
That was yet another defining feature of the match. Yes, Shakib did tower like the giant he is with his all-round performance, Mushfiqur delivered the steadiness we have come to expect from him, Mosaddek was brilliant in his first innings in Test cricket, Mustafiz was superb in his telling spell. But, it was a win that had almost every part of the machinery doing its bit to ensure the final product. Tamim played his two hands with assurance and purposefulness of the seasoned pro that he has become, the bowling in the first innings was a combined effort where everyone chipped in, every man in the top order contributed as the Bangladeshis responded in the first knock.
It is this facet of individual sparkle manifesting itself on a plinth of uniformly solid contributions that indicate a strong side.
And with this sterling win, Bangladesh has indeed taken a giant stride towards becoming one. One can say with a fair degree of certainty that they will not be regarded with patronising contempt any longer.