Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bangladesh - ten years on

It was back in 2000 when Bangladesh first took the field in Test cricket, playing India in Dhaka. At the start, things went well: captain Aminul Islam won the toss and proceeded to score a nine-hour 145 helping his team to a total of 400. After three days of play India were 366-7 in response, but by the end of the following day it was all over, with the home team capitulating to just 91 all out in its second innings.

A great deal has changed since then: the Bangabandhu National Stadium has given way to the new Shere Bangla National Stadium up the road in Mirpur, and the old guard of that first foray into international cricket has been swept away in favour of a youthful team which hardly ever takes the field with an average age greater than 23. By contrast, the Australian team who won the Ashes in the 2006/07 series had an average age of over 33 when they took the field at Brisbane and Adelaide.

Despite those initial few positive days in the longer format of the game, Bangladesh has flattered to deceive for most of its Test career so far with only three victories in its 63 Tests to date, and two of those were against an under-strength West Indies team last July. But if the team has so far failed to deliver on the biggest stage, how have its players performed individually in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings?

There is no denying the batsmen have flair, as Tamim Iqbal's memorable 151 in the recent Test in Mirpur will testify. All through the past decade there have been flashes in the pan - more often than not by Mohammad Ashraful, but who are the players who have sustained their form long enough to have had the greatest impact on the batting and bowling tables?

Only one Bangladeshi has made it into the top 25 of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test batsmen and that man is Habibul Bashar. After impressing with an innings of 71 in Bangladesh's first-ever Test, he passed fifty on ten occasions in his first 11 Tests. This superb start, when he was often the lone thorn in the side of opposition bowlers enabled him to reach the giddy heights of 24th place and 656 points towards the end of 2003. However, his form fell away and after averaging nearly forty for the first half of his career, he only averaged 25 for the second half and his rating actually fell after each of his last nine Tests before he was dropped in early 2008.

However, there is a glimmer of hope for the current crop of batsmen. Both Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal are currently at their highest-ever points totals at 534 and 532 respectively and are both just outside the world's top forty. With age on their side - Mushfiqur is 21 and Tamim 20 - they both have bright futures ahead of them and could threaten Habibul's best. Current captain Shakib al Hasan has topped the ODI all-rounder table for the past year and has also shown good form with the bat in recent Test matches.

It is unsurprising that it is two spinners who have achieved the greatest heights for the Tigers with the ball. Mohammad Rafiq is currently the only Bangladeshi bowler to break the 100 Test wicket barrier and it was he who managed to first break into the world's top twenty back in 2004 after taking 6-122 against New Zealand at Chittagong. His peak Rating of 587 was achieved after his 5-65 against Zimbabwe at the same venue early the following year.

However, it is the current captain Shakib al Hasan who has achieved the greatest peak for the team in terms of both points and position. His five-wicket haul in India's first innings in the recent Test at Chittagong enabled him to rise to 633 points and 14th in the world, a position he maintained after the second Test at Mirpur. At just 22, age is definitely on his side, as historically spinners reach their peak rating at an age of about 30.

Pace bowling has been where the Bangladeshis have struggled. Their highest pace bowling points total was the 459 achieved by Mashrafe bin Mortaza in 2007, but his recent injuries have slowed his progress and he missed the recent series with India. Shahadat Hossain took five wickets in India's first innings at Chittagong to rise to 453 and he currently sits 35th in the world.

So, whereas it has been a disappointing first decade in Test cricket for the ICC's newest Full Member, there are definite signs to be positive. It is a young team, but there is every prospect that in the decade to come, more of its players will be making a significant impact in the higher reaches of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings. Shakib al Hasan has already proven his ability in the shorter format of the game having led both the bowling and all-rounder tables. Its population of 162 million will be hoping that its current crop of players will continue to progress in the coming years and more of his team-mates will enjoy looking down on the rest of the cricketing world.