Bangladesh’s nightmarish 335-run defeat to Zimbabwe under four days at Harare might just be their worst ever during their 13-year struggle in Test cricket. I was among the many who expected the Tigers to win the series in Zimbabwe, following recent improved performances. However after just four days, I am forced to eat my words, as lack of preparation, a superior opposition and possibly a hint of overconfidence all combined together to deliver a massive blow to the visitors. All the hard work done in Sri Lanka has come undone because of this extremely inept display.
It is true that the Galle pitch on which Bangladesh amassed their highest Test score a few weeks ago was akin to a highway, and that very different conditions awaited them when they landed in Zimbabwe. But that does not justify their shambolic performance at Harare, as they were outplayed in all possible departments. Indeed it was that same old feeling for their vast legion of patient fans as they saw Bangladesh collapse meekly not once but twice, having no answer to the home team’s impressive pace trio of Kyle Jarvis, Shingirai Masakadza and Keegan Meth.
I have always maintained that Bangladesh simply did not deserve Test status back in 2000, as the criteria for their elevation to the top level was supposedly just a solitary ODI victory over Pakistan in an inconsequential World Cup game in 1999. Their next ODI win over a full member was in 2003-04, when they beat Zimbabwe by 8 runs. By contrast, Kenya had already notched up six ODI wins over Test nations by the time the 2003 World Cup ended – the ICC’s failure to further encourage cricket in Kenya is possibly their second biggest mistake after their very premature decision to give Test status to Bangladesh. Even Ireland, which is universally seen as the next Test nation, has already scored ODI wins over four Test teams in a little over six years. Further, proper first class cricket began to be played in Bangladesh only a few months before they were accorded Test status. The truth is bitter, but it remains that the primary motive behind giving Test status to Bangladesh was to strengthen the Asian bloc in the ICC, rather than improve the standard of Test cricket.
After the Harare debacle, the voices questioning Bangladesh’s standing as a Test nation have got even louder. Bangladeshi supporters might argue that teams like New Zealand and India took more than 20 years to register their first Test win. But in those days there were very few Test matches played, with the newer teams sometimes going without playing a single Test in some of the years. On the other hand, Bangladesh have been playing regularly against full-strength teams for the last 13 years, and have registered a whopping 67 defeats in 78 Tests, and the fact that their only series wins have come against seriously weakened teams from Zimbabwe and the West Indies. Comparing them with the other two relatively newer Test nations, one finds that Zimbabwe had actually won a Test series in Pakistan within six years of being elevated to full membership, while Sri Lanka notched up Test match wins over full-strength India, Pakistan, England and New Zealand within a period of eleven years.
For all their competitiveness in the ODI format, as proved by a series win against the West Indies and a draw against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh are yet to prove themselves worthy of full membership. It can be said that a team like Ireland will prove to be much tougher challenge to the top teams in a few years, as shown by their consistent and spirited performances. I just hope that the ICC does not let the Irish go the Kenya way, for if that happens it would be a huge loss to world cricket.
As for Bangladesh, they refused to play a tour match before the Harare Test, and their batsmen were found wanting by the slightest movement that the pitch offered. Some of the shots played in their first innings were abysmal, and they lacked the much-needed patience that their opponents so aptly showed on the first two days. The Bangladesh Premier League may have improved their ODI showing since the 2012 Asia Cup, but T20 will not in any way help their dwindling Test fortunes. It is all the more disappointing to see them falter in such a clueless manner, given that they had given a tough fight both to the West Indies and Sri Lanka in the 2012-13 season, in the process twice breaking the record for their highest Test total. While the batting continues to be a headache even after 13 years, the bowling is as much a problem area. Their spin attack is at the most effective only in home conditions, and save for the highly talented Robiul Islam, the pace attack has done nothing of note in recent times.
Having said that, the way Zimbabwe approached this game was highly admirable. Jolted by politics, contract issues and financial crunches, Brendan Taylor’s outfit came out all guns blazing to notch up a win so handsome that even their most optimistic supporters would not have expected. It would not be wrong to say that Taylor himself was the difference between the two teams, as he put back his recent lean patch, producing a stellar performance in scoring twin hundreds on a difficult pitch, further establishing himself as Zimbabwe’s best batsman in the period since the 2004 crisis. Their former bowling coach Heath Streak too needs to be credited for molding the impressive pace trio, with Jarvis specifically looking quite a top-class prospect. More fixtures against higher-ranked teams is the need of the hour for this spirited team.
As the second Test beckons in three days, Zimbabwe will be bubbling with confidence, while Bangladesh will need to play out of their skins to avoid yet another tame series defeat.