The General Election 2001
November 2001. Bangladesh had still not recovered from the hangover of the General Election which was held on October 1, 2001. The emergence of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the downfall of the Awami League remained the most important topic from tea stalls to corporate houses. The Bangladeshis were all set to experience a change but were not sure how well they could cope with it.
Amid the political hullabaloo, cricket could hardly find a place in the hearts of the Bangladeshis.
Bangladesh’s first year in Test cricket had been listless. Their inaugural Test match against India gave a lot of hope, but since that one-off Test, the high hopes started to wane and a string of pathetic results became a norm and thus cricket could hardly find space amid the political intricacies. But, the Tigers and their ardent followers didn’t give up, realizing greater things in life don’t come in a haste.
The political debate and analysis of the General Election on the local television channels made my life quite monotonous. It’s always tough to digest politics for a teenager who is a diehard cricket fan and after Bangladesh’s Test status in 2000; my madness for cricket just grew seamlessly.
Yes, there were international matches going around, but nothing can quench the thirst of a cricket lover without the matches of his own country.
I was dying to see the Tigers in action and thankfully, Zimbabwe broke my monotony.
Zimbabwe set foot on Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s first overseas tour had been to Zimbabwe in April 2001. The tour was not very successful and seven months later, Zimbabwe paid a return visit to Bangladesh to play a Test series of more than one Test for the first time. Zimbabwe were in the middle of a busy season and had their own problems with the board officials. Senior players like Alastair Campbell and Guy Whittall were dropped, citing the reason for a lean patch even though some Zimbabweans thought their exclusion was more for non-cricketing reasons. An inexperienced Brian Murphy was the captain.
Zimbabwe, like the hosts, were going through a tough period, having suffered a 16-match losing streak in one-day cricket, and saw the encounter with the newest member of Test cricket as an opportunity to buck the trend and regaining winning ways.
A dismal batting display by the Tigers
The first Test started on November 8, 2001, at the Dhaka National Stadium in Motijheel, after a rain delay of 90 minutes. Murphy won the toss and elected to bowl first due to the overcast conditions.
The decision paid dividends as the pace and swing of Heath Streak and Travis Friend jolted the Bangladeshi batting line-up and at one stage they were reeling at 56 for 8. Number 10. Enamul Haque Moni guided the Tigers to three figures as they were shot out for 107 in just 48.2 overs.
Yet another shambolic display by the home batsmen and shattered their confidence further.
A young Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, nicknamed Koushik, was making his Test debut. His inclusion was not welcomed by many local critics as he hardly had any experience of playing first-class cricket and it was said, he was fast-tracked into the Test team on the basis of the assessment of Andy Roberts, who was impressed by the skill and temperament.
But at that time, many critics forgot that he had come to the tour of India with Bangladesh A team.
The Bangladesh team, which was scheduled to play the Mumbai Cricket XI, the Maharashtra Cricket XI, and the Cricket Club of India (CCI) President s XI on the tour, were rookies, but full of determination.
Khaled Mahmud said in an interview, “We were having dinner on the balcony of the CCI in Mumbai when the club’s president, Raj Singh Dungarpur, walked up to us and asked who the captain of the team was. I stood up and shook his hand. He said, “Please play well tomorrow. Don’t lose too badly.”
“Mashrafe was just a kid back then. He asked me what was being said, and I told him. I think Mr. Dungarpur’s words did us a huge favour that day. Mashrafe bowled really fast in that game and took three wickets. I have seen Taskin [Ahmed] bowl, but in those days, Mashrafe was really quick. That day, Mashrafe showed us how good he would be for Bangladesh.”
The match took place in the historic Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai on October 17, 2001.
Batting first, the CCI were bowled out for just 124 in the 50-over match.
Mortaza, who was fired up by Dungarpur’s words, had the figures of 7-2-15-3.
All the three wickets he took were clean bowled.
Bangladesh A chased down the total quite comfortably to register a six-wicket win.
As if this was not enough, the visitors trumped the CCI President s XI once again in two days time.
Bangladesh managed 228 batting first on that occasion and bundled out the hosts for 157 to complete a 71-run win.
Mortaza was once again the pick of the bowlers with 2 wickets to his name.
After teaching CCI and Dungarpur a lesson, the Bangladesh team returned back home with pride and Mashrafe would discover himself as the debutante in the first Test against Zimbabwe.
The joy of watching Mashrafe bowling for the first time
The likes of Star Sports, ESPN, and Ten Sports didn’t telecast the match, but thankfully, Bangladesh Television was there and because of them, I was able to relish the raw energy of the 18-year-old Mashrafe.
Mashrafe was given the new ball, a bold move by the team management who had enough faith in his abilities. It was the second over of Zimbabwe innings after the first by Manjural Islam had got rid of Trevor Gripper. With the shining ball in his right hand, Mashrafe went towards the top of his bowling run. I noticed that he was taking a longish run-up – more than thirty yards, which was quite unusual for a Bangladeshi pacer. The boy’s intention was to gather momentum and rhythm to generate enough pace to rattle the batsmen.
Mashrafe turned, accelerated, arms flying and the body bent forward. It seemed a Royal Bengal Tiger was running to hunt for the prey. He moved past the umpire, and with a rickety bowling action, he delivered his first ball in Test cricket. Dion Ebrahim’s bat failed to make a contact with the ball as it wheezed past to the wicket-keeper. The second ball was even faster, which took Ebrahim by surprise. But he managed to change ends with a single, allowing Stuart Carlisle to face the heat for the last three balls of the over. The boy from Narail had managed to create an impact in the first over in international cricket.
The departure of Dion Ebrahim brought Grant Flower at the crease. The presence of one of the best batsmen of the visitors, ignited Masrafe further, as, before the match, he had said that he would not only take a five-wicket haul but would also dismiss the Flower brothers. The pace and bounce had Flower on the hop and looked rather uncomfortable.
The following overs witnessed one of the fiercest spells of fast bowling by a Bangladeshi. Mashrafe’s aggression, pace generated by a thrusting whiplash action excited the commentators while I called up my father to watch how fast a Bangladeshi bowler was bowling. My father was delighted to witness such a raw pace dished out by a Bangladeshi pacer. It was a joy for me to watch a Bangladeshi pace bowler at full throttle.
Mashrafe’s match figures on his debut were 4 for 106. His wickets included the scalps of Grant Flower and Heath Streak. Heavy rain subsequently ensured Bangladesh tasted their first draw in Test cricket.
The importance of Mashrafe’s spell on Day 1
It was a frustrating end to the Test match, but for me and Bangladesh cricket, it was a significant one. It unleashed a legend named Mashrafe who would go on to create a huge impact on Bangladesh cricket for the next fourteen years. Those six overs by him on Day 1, conveyed a message to the world that a Bangladeshi bowler can bowl fast and test the batters.
Till then, Bangladesh was not a fertile land for producing fast bowlers.
There was once a bowler named Daulatzzaman who was known to be able to swing the ball late and after the Independence in 1971, the tall and well-built Golam Nawsher Prince was the only medium-fast bowler to create an impact at the highest level.
Bangladesh did have a Saiful Islam and Hasibul Hossain, but they lacked the cutting edge which was needed to stamp authority on the international circuit.
Whether Bangladesh would be able to produce a high profile pacer in the coming days remained a moot question at that time.
But on November 8, 2001, at six feet and three inches tall, the young man from Narail brought fresh hopes and inspiration from the banks of River Chitra and set up a platform for the next generation of Bangladesh pace unit.
Mashrafe is a cricketing legend in Bangladesh.
Had injuries not halted his Test career, he would have been one of the best pacers in the Test history of Bangladesh cricket.
His political ambitions might have hampered the sky-high popularity in this part of the world and his involvement in the controversial elections back in 2018 came under heavy criticisms, but one cannot deny his impact on Bangladesh cricket.