In their first Test away from the comfy confines of their home in nearly two and a half years, at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, Bangladesh set many records. By the end of the Test, first of two against New Zealand, Bangladesh, much to their chagrin, added one more that took 122 years in the making. They became the team to surpass England in 1894 in Sydney, in a timeless Test no less, to be the team that made the most runs in Test innings (595) to lose it eventually.
At the toss, scores of any great magnitude or a fifth-day finish would all have been the furthest from the minds of both the teams. The pitch was verdant and both teams were looking to win the toss and insert the opposition. And when Mushfiqur Rahim called wrong, and his side was asked to bat first on a wicket that looked to be tailor-made for the Blackcaps' pacers, a short three-day Test seemed most likely.
But everybody had read the pitch wrong. There was no seam movement available nor was there any alarming pace and bounce. The first player to sum it up quickly, Tamim Iqbal, spanked a rapid half century to put everyone in the Bangladeshi dressing room at ease about the conditions. And so would begin an effort that stretched in to the third day of the Test that saw Bangladesh players pass many milestones.
Bangladesh have been on the Test scene since 2000 but have won just eight of their 95 Tests and the lack of any great depth in batsmen experienced in the long form reflected in them drawing only 15 of those. As they batted on to the third day, the visions of a draw only for the second time this decade away from home were raised, and if the scoreboard pressure told on the hosts, a historic win even!
Shakib Al Hasan, easily the best cricketer in Bangladesh's history, and Mushfiqur batted together for 359 runs and more than 82 overs, establishing the highest partnership for any wicket for their country. Shakib recorded his first double hundred in Tests, and in the process became the highest scorer for Bangladesh (217) passing Tamim's 206 achieved in Khulna 2015 in a marathon opening partnership with Imrul Kayes. Mushfiqur's 159, even as his fingers were pummeled that did not allow him to keep wickets (Imrul standing in for Mushfiqur set a record for most catches taken in an innings by a substitute keeper), in the course of this innings was the sixth highest individual score for Bangladesh. And to think all this was accomplished against Trent Boutl, Tim Southee and Co. in Wellington? One would have thought Bangladesh had indeed turned a new leaf in their Test history.
New Zealand responded in kind to the massive first innings score. Tom Latham, who surely has bedded in the opening slot for many years to come, led the way with a big hundred, and valuable contributions up and down the order, on a placid wicket that did not help the pacers or the spinners, saw the hosts close in within 56 runs. The scoring rates of both teams ensured that, even with time lost to rain on the first day, there were still 3+ sessions for something to happen. Bangladesh needed to bat responsibly for about two sessions, and they had their first drawn Test in New Zealand on a platter.
Think back to the 2016 World T20 match between Bangladesh and India. In the last over of the 146 runs chase, Mushfiqur had led the side to the threshold of victory, smacking two consecutive boundaries. He even roared and celebrated after the second one with just two runs needed off three deliveries. But then, all fell apart. Two irresponsible shots and a run out ensued and Bangladesh were left to rue what could have been.
Cricket is hard. If you, for even just a moment, take your eyes off the ball, it will upend you. Bangladesh have had many experiences with it, and yet, seemed to repeat the mistakes here again. As the openers safely negotiated the early passage of the second innings, and the close of play on Day Four beckoning, Bangladesh opened the door to New Zealand. Three quick wickets fell, and with Imrul straining his thigh and retiring hurt, and doubts about Mushfiqur's ability to bat with bruised fingers, New Zealand saw a glimmer of possibility as Day five began. It still needed a brain fade from first innings record setter Shakib for the Kiwis to really put the foot in. Facing only his fifth delivery, Shakib tried to launch Mitchell Santner out of the hemisphere and only managed to reach as far as mid on. Not the first time for Shakib either. With Bangladesh putting together a good total to match England's in Chittagong in October 2016, Shakib lost his head and rushed Moeen Ali only to be stumped, which triggered a collapse. Bangladesh would eventually lose the Test by 22 runs. Even as they rebounded to win the second Test, a golden opportunity to win a Test series versus England was lost. Games of cricket, as expansive as they seem, could turn on the seemingly tiniest of errors.
Mushfiqur braved the pain in his hands as to set an example for his team mates in the value of gutsing it out. Imrul would follow his lead later, as he hobbled back to the wicket to aid Bangladesh avoid defeat; defeat that was inconceivable even as day four wound to a close.
The tiny man with large heart stuck it out for more than over when he was felled by a short delivery from Southee that did not rise as much as he expected. He was struck on the back of the helmet and slowly fell to the ground, and lay spreadeagled for a while. He was wheeled off in an ambulance minutes later to the hospital, and it seemed, with him left any hopes of Bangladesh resisting New Zealand march towards an improbable victory.
Bangladesh lost their last 8 wickets for 97 runs and collapsed to 160. New Zealand knocked off the required 217 in under 40 overs, with arguably the best batsman in the world, Williamson, notching up another Test hundred.
It felt like Bangladesh could not believe what was happening to them. It wasn't supposed to be this way. They had put on nearly 600 runs in the first innings. No team has ever lost a Test after scoring excess of 590 runs before. The bowlers and fielder wandered the field like ghosts as Williamson and Ross Taylor pasted them all around the ground, and the patrons enjoying free entry to the Basin under bright sunshine gobbled it up.
Mushfiqur returned to the ground for the post-match presentations and it seemed the defeat made him look more stunned than the 135kph delivery that rammed to the back of his head. One poor session had undone all the good Bangladesh had done for nearly four days.
Nearly a decade ago in Fatullah, Bangladesh had the top ranked side in the world on the mat. They had secured a sizable first innings lead but collapsed in their second dig allowing Australia to escape with a win. A whole new generation of players are now representing Bangladesh and they have just been handed their Fatullah. The character of this side will be revealed if they can get up for the contest beginning next Friday at Christchurch, or like the 2006 side get rolled up in an innings in the following Test. For cricket's sake, let's hope it's different this time around.