Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Tony Becca | Stunning strike by a teenaged spinner

Published:Sunday | November 6, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Mehedi Hasan Miraz

Sports, including cricket, is a wonderful thing, especially whenever one is on the winning team, or the winning side, and particularly, whenever that victory is a big surprise to everyone, probably excepting you.

This past week produced two surprises, one really not so surprising, and one very much so. In fact, one was more than surprising: it was simply very surprising and stunning.

In Sharjah, the West Indies recovered to register a victory in the third and final Test, but although Kraigg Brathwaite batted impressively in his own inimitable style, while batting undefeated through both innings of the Test match, and Jason Holder, hinting of things to come, bowled magnificently in the second innings, it was one victory against eight losses.

And even though it prevented a whitewash, it probably was not so surprising.

And that victory was not surprising because even though it prevented the embarrassment of a clean-sweep defeat, the West Indies were once the number-one team in the world and Pakistan were never that good, despite producing some gifted players.

What happened, what ended in Mirpur last Sunday, however, was not only stunning: it was almost unbelievable.

It was Bangladesh's first victory over England. In fact, it was their first victory over anyone but for the West Indies and Zimbabwe.

 

HUMILIATING DEFEAT

 

England, right up there with the best of them, never dropping below number three or four in the world, were beaten, and soundly at that, by Bangladesh, one of the minnows of the Test cricket, the number-nine team in the world, once the number-10 team, and the second-to-last ranking team of the ICC's full members.

And it was a humiliating defeat for England.

The victory came one week after England had escaped with a 22-run victory in Chittagong in the first Test, and the man, or boy, who put the skids under them was 18-year-old Mehedi Hasan Miraz, who followed his six-wicket haul in the first innings of his debut Test match in Chittagong with match-winning returns of six for 72 and six for 82 for an amazing 12 wickets in the match.

In two matches, out of a possible 40 wickets available to the entire Bangladesh team, he alone snared an impressive 19 wickets.

What made the off-spinner's bowling magical, however, was that England, left to score 273 for victory, were going well, 100 without loss at tea, on the third day when Mehedi made his play.

With the first delivery after the interval, he got a wicket, and thereafter, with left-arm spinner, the experienced all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, as his comrade at arms, he stifled and suffocated all of England, the best of England's batsmen in one session.

In 22.3 fantastic overs, Bangladesh grabbed 10 English wickets for 64 runs to storm to a memorable and historic victory, one which, like the West Indies victory over England in England in 1950, may prove to be the beginning of things to come.

While that West Indies victory over England came after 32 matches, however, the West Indies first victory over England came in only their second series and in only their sixth match. This maiden victory for Bangladesh over any of cricket's big boys came after 94 matches of trying.

 

HEAVY UNDERDOGS

 

And it was a victory which left England's captain, Alistair Cooke, saying that because of the defeat, and the way it was administered, "We are now going to India as heavy underdogs."

Spin has been the hallmark of Asian attacks from the days of bowlers like not only of Gami Goonaseena, but like Subhash Gupte and Vinoo Mankad, Bhagwat Chandrasekar, Erapali Prassana, Srini Venkataragavan, Bishen Bedi, and Anil Kumble, Nasim-ul-Ghani, Intikhab Alam, Abdul Qadir, Shahidi Afridi, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq, others like Muttiah Muralitheran and Ajantha Mendis, and, these days, it seems to be getting more and more so.

After decades of pace bowling, spin bowling seems to be taking over as the likes of Ravichandra Ashwin, Amrit Mishra, and Hardil Pandya of India, Yashir Shah of Pakistan, Imran Tahir of South Africa and Jeehan Patel, Ish Sodhi, and Mitchell Santar of New Zealand, and Adam Zampa of Australia.

There are others like Rangana Herath of Sri Lanka, Taijul Islam (eight for 39 versus Zimbabwe in 2014), Shakib and Mehedi of Bangladesh, Moen Ali, Adil Rashid and Zafari Ansari of England, as well as Sunil Narine, Samuel Badree and Davendra Bishoo of the West Indies.

Spin bowlers are common in places like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. They produce them at the rate of a dime-a-dozen. Overseas batsmen, most times, find it difficult to play and, most times, if not all the time, pitches are prepared to help them.

Although nothing is basically wrong with it, it seems that this time, Bangladesh ensured that they prepared their pitches for their spinners, and although over the years, especially before the coming of the all-out pace attacks, and especially in Asia, more overs were bowled per innings by spinners than by pacers, this time it was ridiculously one-sided in favour of the spinners.

It almost seems a waste of time and money to have employed former West Indian fast bowler Courtney Walsh to find future Bangladeshi fast bowlers.

In the two Test matches, Bangladesh spinners bowled 282.1 overs and their pacers 31 overs, and on top of that, and even though England also opened their bowlers with spin on one or two occasions, their spinners opened the bowling in both innings of both Test matches.

 

NEW-FOUND SPIRIT

 

The West Indies, meanwhile, despite losing everything up to then, despite this victory not even being a consolation victory, apparently went into this final Test with some new-found spirit and played quite well.

They lost the toss, as usual, they picked up two wickets in the first over of the match in a wonderful start, Pakistan recovered, they hit back in the session after tea on the first day, and after struggling to 68 for four in the first innings, after Pakistan had struggled to 48 for four in the second innings, and after looking set to fall again at 67 for five, chasing a victory target of 153, the West Indies, based on what had gone on before, squeezed to a surprising victory by five wickets.

Brathwaite first stroked a well-played 142 not out to follow behind Frank Worrell, Conrad Hunte, Desmond Haynes (three times), and Christopher Gayle as West Indians to bat undefeated through a Test innings, and then returned to lead the West Indies fightback in the second innings with another solid and undefeated innings of 60 not out.

And captain Holder, with five wickets for 30 runs, Bishoo, with three for 46, and the reliable and consistent Shane Dowrich, who partnered Brathwaite with a fine innings of 60 not out during an unbroken six-wicket stand of 97 in the all-important second innings, all chipped in to save the blushes.

 

GRITTY PERFORMANCE

 

It was a good victory, it was a gritty performance, and it was a series of some lovely promises.

Brathwaite batted well, and so did Dorwich. Holder did quite well with both bat and ball, and Bishoo, Shannon Gabriel, and Alzarra Joseph also bowled well.

Probably the most impressive statistic for the West Indies, however, was batting for over a hundred overs on turning pitches in the second innings of the first and second Test matches and scoring 357 and 322 each time.

But as Holder said so beautifully afterwards: "One Test victory, by all means, is not enough. It's a situation where we have to stay hungry, and that's something I believe we have in this group."

Maybe, with the exception of one or two, that is the case, but we just have to wait and see.