100th Test: The three pillars of an era of promise

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They are the barrier-breakers of Bangladesh cricket, three players who have, by the weight of their performances, taken the side forward, at times dragging it behind them.

It is unimaginable to think of the Test side now without Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan ensuring a good start, providing middle-order runs and taking wickets.

Shakib has shown that a Bangladesh cricketer can perform consistently with bat and ball and stand alongside legends like Ian Botham and Imran Khan. Tamim has the ability to dismantle the fastest bowlers with his attacking game, and yet be solid in defence when needed. Mushfiqur Rahim has been an example of how quickly a cricketer can grow to become the team’s leading batsman. They are the top three-run getters for Bangladesh, engineering many of the team’s success in the longest format.

Marked for their potential from an early age, they managed the difficult leap from age-group cricket to the international arena as well as anyone. The first time Mushfiqur strode into the Bangladesh Under-19s nets, the coaches knew they had someone special in their charge. Shakib had attracted the “future Bangladesh team” tag from his days at the Krira Shikkha Protisthan, the country’s premier sports institute. Whenever people spoke about Nafees Iqbal’s talent as an opening batsman, uncle Akram Khan would often point to Tamim, Nafees’ younger brother, as a far better prospect.

This was in the mid-2000s, when questions were raised over Bangladesh’s Test status, regularly. The team lost by big margins, sometimes with days to spare, and coaches like Richard McInnes, Ali de Winter and Nazmul Abedeen were tasked with getting their golden boys quickly up to international standard. Tamim, Shakib and Mushfiqur established themselves in the ODI team during the 2007 World Cup and made their long-form debuts in the space of two-and-a-half years. Mushfiqur’s first Test was in May 2005 at Lord’s, Shakib’s in 2007 and Tamim’s in 2008. Together, they have played 48 matches together and have been a part of seven wins.

It wasn’t that Bangladesh did not have star players before them. Habibul Bashar, Mohammad Rafique and Mashrafe Mortaza represented the country with pride, but in the unknown territory of Test cricket, they couldn’t perform consistently. Even Mohammad Ashraful was up and down.

Shakib grew into a middle-order mainstay for Bangladesh, giving them runs or wickets and sometimes both. Additionally, he was the one who had to ensure a faulty start did not descend into disaster. Khaled Mashud had this role earlier but he had limitations as a batsman at No 7 or 8. With 170 wickets, Shakib is, by far, Bangladesh’s most successful Test bowler.

Mushfiqur also emerged as a consistent performer alongside Shakib. He eventually took over the captaincy in 2011 and had a few good years juggling the responsibility of the team’s best batsman, wicketkeeper and leader.

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As recently as January this year, Mushfiqur and Shakib put on Bangladesh’s highest Test partnership. And they did it all away from home. The 359 they made against New Zealand in Wellington was also the fourth highest stand for the fifth wicket in the history of the game and once again it highlighted their importance to the middle order.

Tamim took on one of the toughest jobs – opening the batting for a team that has long been susceptible to seam bowling – and grew into the role with help from Jamie Siddons in his early days. There was a time when he wasn’t too comfortable facing the short ball. Now his one-legged pulls are a treat to watch.

Tamim’s aggression has also given the team a voice on the field. For a team considered timid for so long, his approach on the field, which includes sledging, has been a bit similar to former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga: not being over-awed by the opposition and giving back as much as he got.

Days before of the side’s 100th Test, Tamim acknowledged the efforts of the previous generation of Bangladesh Test cricketers and acknowledged that he, Shakib and Mushfiqur are reaping the rewards of the patience shown by selectors and coaches.

“The guys who started playing for Bangladesh, they did the hardest job,” Tamim said. “They didn’t get the best facilities but with their talent, they did what they could have done to the best of their abilities. The younger lot came, which was myself, Shakib and Mushy. We got a lot of opportunities from the coaches and selectors. Now we have all played international cricket for the last 10 years. Now we have started to perform.

“This is the time for all the senior players to regroup and take the Bangladesh team forward, especially in Test cricket. We have taken the step in ODIs, we are doing fine in T20s but this is the format where we all have to chip in, take all the youngsters together and take it forward.”

After years of trying to learn how to “walk”, Tamim felt it was time to push on. “I always wanted to represent Bangladesh when I started playing cricket. I was very lucky enough to do so. I have a lot of dreams for myself and the team. We are at a very important stage. We crawled, we walked and now is the time to run.”

Source: The Daily Ittefaq

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