India may have won the third One Day International in Dhaka on Thursday, thereby wiping a bit of Bangladeshi egg off its mortified face, but the truth is that MS Dhoni’s men were laid low by a sprightly, patriotic and talented team, undoubtedly the best set of players that our eastern neighbours have ever fielded.
There can be no true cricket fan who was not delighted by the performance of Bangladesh. Here was a full-strength Indian team, captained by a man who’d make an all-time One-Day World XI, bamboozled by a wisp of a lad with an army recruit’s bad haircut. Mustafizur Rahman cut the ball at will, but mostly he knocked us over with his diabolical changes of pace. There is a sharp brain in his
19-year-old head, and an even sharper competitor’s edge. It wasn’t entirely halal, but he didn’t shy away from veering into the paths of Rohit Sharma and Dhoni himself as they ran singles to the bowler’s end.
This streak of gamesmanship is new to Bangladesh, perverse proof of a new self-confidence. The burly Dhoni barged right into Mustafiz, and was properly fined for his act, but this was the sort of needle one sees when India plays Pakistan, not Bangladesh. Needle equals respect. Bangladesh asked for, and got, that respect.
Geoffrey Boycott, the sagest of observers, has said that he reserves judgment on this Bangladesh team. Speaking to Cricinfo.com, he stressed that the Tigers need to win away from home before they can be taken entirely seriously. I don’t disagree with the Yorkshire Yogi, but an irrefutable series win against India (after a 3-0 thrashing of Pakistan) is proof that Bangladesh cricket is in brave new territory. It’s not a coincidence that their transformation has occurred under coach Chandika Hathurusingha, a member of the marauding Sri Lankan sides of the 1990s, players who re-engineered one-day cricket with their swashbuckle.
The Bangladesh win was particularly bracing because it was delivered by their fast bowlers. Over three games, it became plain to all who were watching that Bangladesh has a better pace attack than India. Taskin Ahmed, just a year older than Mustafiz, is a strapping man who — his gentle, pleasant Bengali face notwithstanding — would fit right into a Pakistani pace attack. And though he’s far from express, Mashrafe Mortaza is canny and experienced, the perfect third seamer to come in after two young tearaways.
I have respect for Mortaza, who is a fine and civilised man, an inspired leader of a young and brittle team. I foresee a political career for him after his creaking knees force him off the field — a cabinet post in due course. Minister for Sports, anyone?
Add to this mix Shakib Al Hasan, the one world-class player in the side, whose posters adorn vast billboards in Dhaka; Mushfiqur Rahim, a stroke-filled dynamo with a touch of Aravinda de Silva about him; and Tamim Iqbal, the well-fed dasher at the top of the order, and you have a very useful side indeed. Incisive quicks, niggardly left-arm spin, eye-catching batting. (India has only the third of those ingredients.)
I’ve left to the last my favourite new Bangla Tiger: Soumya Sarkar, a bhadralok boy from Satkhira, on the border with West Bengal.
Writers have already beaten me to the comparison of Sarkar with David Gower, but I prefer to see him as a taller, more physically impressive version of Sourav Ganguly. There is the same Bengali sweetness to his offside strokeplay, and the same ability to switch gears and hoist the ball out of the ground. It was particularly lovely to watch two Bangladeshi Hindus together at the crease — Sarkar and Litton Kumar Das — putting India’s bowling to the sword. Bangladesh is a complex place, and we Indians would do well to understand it better.
A word about the Bangla crowds. They come in numbers, and how very much like Indian crowds they are: raucous when their team does well, eerily mute when it doesn’t. In this series, however, they were in full throat. Their boys had India flat on its back. Joy Bangla!
Tunku Varadarajan is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution