It was a long time coming. 16 years and 95 Tests. And finally, Bangladesh have a Test victory that can be truly celebrated. Yes, they have won seven matches before their 108-run victory over England in Dhaka this week. But all of those came with something of a caveat. Five of the seven victories came against Zimbabwe, and not even Zimbabwe at their strongest; rather it was an underfunded, undervalued and disheartened Zimbabwe that dipped in and out of Test cricket, struggling to stay competitive.
The only other Test wins for Bangladesh came in West Indies in 2009, but that team was scraped together after the hosts' first choice team, and then second choice team, went on strike. Nine of the West Indies players who featured in that two-match series never played Test cricket ever again. For more than half of them, those two matches were the only Tests they ever played.
A win is a win, but sometimes you have to admit that it's not a seismic event that confirms a team becoming competitive. This victory over England could be that.
This long lead-in period to a team winning Tests is one of the reasons that's given for the reluctance to expand the sport. Every team that has entered the rarified air of Test cricket has struggled, taking decades to become a force. Of those that have got Test status, only Sri Lanka enjoyed early success, but even they won just three of their first 50 Tests.
Part of the problem is that when a side does get a chance to play Test cricket, they don't get many games. Since Bangladesh played their first Test in November 2000, they have played 95 matches. In the same period, England played 205 matches and Australia played 185. In fact, since Bangladesh first played a Test, there have been 45 matches between England and Australia. In that same period, Australia played four matches against Bangladesh, the last of those was a decade ago.
If you don't play, you can't improve.
Bangladesh have improved, although results are more visible in ODI cricket than in Tests. Over the last two years, the Asian team has the best win/loss ratio of any country, winning 21 matches and losing just eight. They made a World Cup quarter-final ahead of England and have qualified for next year's Champions Trophy.
While they haven't played much Test cricket in that period (nine matches), they have done well enough. They came back from a big first innings deficit against a very good Pakistan side to secure a draw, thanks to a Tamim Iqbal double century.
There was a rain-affected draw against India and two more against South Africa. They were in trouble in the India game when rain arrived, but in the first match against South Africa, they secured themselves a first innings lead.
They then didn't get to play Test cricket for nearly 18 months before the start of this series. They should have played Australia in October last year, but concerns over the security situation back home saw that tour cancelled. If Australia had gone, they could have well struggled. the Aussies have lost nine consecutive Tests in Asia, and the evidence of this England series suggests something similar could well have happened to the Australians as well.
Despite these positive results, it's difficult to read too much into them, Bangladesh just haven't played enough to be able to say they have made similar strides as the ones we have seen in ODI cricket. But this win against England is not a fluke. It has not come as a result of England under-performing. The better team won.
While England were quite abject, and the 10 wickets that they lost for 64 runs in 23.3 overs was embarrassing, those wickets fell because Bangladesh bowled well on a turning pitch. Mehedi Hasan, barely 19-years-old, showed the older and more experienced England spinners how it is done. Across the two Tests in this series, he claimed 19 wickets with three six-wicket hauls. The difference between the quality of the spin bowlers was ultimately what separated these sides.
While Mehedi's wickets were hugely valuable, he wasn't the only one who contributed to Bangladesh's win. They have a pretty settled top six. Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Mominul Haque, Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim pick themselves and have become a solid line-up.
While Shakib has been the star of this team for a long time, Tamim is the rock on which this Test match victory was built. In the last two years, the left-handed opener has scored 909 runs in nine matches with four hundreds at an average of 60.6. His runs set up this win, with 104 in the first and 40 in the second. He was the leading run-getter of the two-Test series, and his batting just keeps getting better. If defeating England is going to be the spark that sets their Test form alight, Tamim will be the key component.
Cricket needs more than a handful of strong teams. Tests are played by a pitiful 10 teams and we have never had a time when all of those have been competitive. Seeing Bangladesh win a match against a "Big 3" side, one with all the financial and infrastructure advantages that go with it, is a credit to all those involved, not least captain Mushfiqur and coach Chandika Hathurusingha.
Watching Bangladesh's fans at the ground enjoy this win was fantastic to see. They can thank the players for doing it now, but they need to have more matches to do it more often. Unfortunately, it would require the largesse of other boards to make that happen. And if they start winning, it would mean teams would be even less likely to tour, but is cynicism misplaced, as we revel in this Bangladesh win.
First Published On : Nov 1, 2016 10:02 IST