Friday night's 38-run ODI win against South Africa in Centurion was another memorable day for Bangladesh cricket. The year has been good for the Bangladesh national cricket team that symptomatically runs hot and cold due to both cricketing and administrative reasons. But this is the time to celebrate the brand of cricket the Bangla Tigers are playing, overseas.
Coming as it did, the Centurion win against a full-strength South African team was the perfect way to celebrate the birth anniversary of Bangladesh's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. March 16 was the 102nd birth anniversary of Mujibur Rahman, more lovingly known as Bangabandhu. Dhaka's main stadium is named after him.
Famous wins in Bangladesh are almost always linked to some political event in the country's history. Cricket fans saw Bangladesh women's cricket team's maiden World Cup win against Pakistan in the light of the 1971 Liberation War, when India helped the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Forces) win a bloody but short war with Pakistan and transform 'East Pakistan' to what we now know as Bangladesh.
ALWAYS A THREAT
But emotions and political links aside, Bangladesh have always been a team to beat, more so in the limited overs format.
South Africa found that out on Friday's day-nighter as Bangladesh won their first international match in 20 years in South Africa. This was a complete team effort with their most controversial and pampered star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan playing a big role for his national team.
For any Test-playing nation, winning overseas is the ultimate test. From Sourav Ganguly to Virat Kohli, the Indian cricket team had just one ambition -- to win overseas. Winning in Australia, South Africa, England and New Zealand is the ultimate challenge for top teams and Bangladesh did tick one of those boxes earlier this year.
At Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui on January 5, Bangladesh defeated World Test champions New Zealand for their finest overseas Test win ever. The eight-wicket win not helped the Bangla Tigers take a 1-0 lead in the two-Test series but it gave Mominul Haque's team great belief that victory can be achieved minus top players like Shakib, Tamim Iqbal and Mahmudullah.
It was only Bangladesh’s sixth Test win away from home and their first Test win over a team ranked in the top 5: New Zealand are ranked No. 2 and Bangladesh No. 9. The result also brought to an end New Zealand’s unbeaten streak in their last 17 Tests at home.
THE POWER TO BELIEVE
Interestingly, the architect of the famous Test win in New Zealand was a soldier of the Bangladesh Air Force, Ebadot Hossain, who took a career-best six for 46 at the Bay Oval. Bangladesh had not previously won any of their 43 matches in New Zealand across all three formats, while the result also ended the Kiwis' eight-series home win streak that stretched back to 2017.
"I’m a soldier of the Bangladesh Air Force and I know how to salute. On New Zealand soil over the last 11 years our brothers and our teams didn’t get any wins. But when we came to New Zealand we set a goal.
"We raised our hands and said ‘Yes, we have to do it and we can do it on New Zealand soil.’ New Zealand are Test champions so if we raise our hands and beat New Zealand on New Zealand soil our next generation will be able to beat them too,” said Ebadot Hossain, who started his life as a volleyball player.
Bangladesh are slowly finding their next generation of players while veterans like Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Tamim Iqbal and Mahmudullah continue to hold the core of the national team together across formats.
For a major cricket-playing nation like Bangladesh, any momentous win is inevitably linked with progress and hope. So when the Bangladesh women's team defeated Pakistan in a Women's World Cup match by nine runs in Hamilton on March 14, there was talk of self belief and rising confidence among women cricketers.
"I cannot describe this in words," Bangladesh captain Nigar Sultana said. "This is our first ever win in World Cups. We have made history today. We are looking forward to carrying this momentum throughout the tournament."
But success at the international level is not easy to get. It needs years of formal training, exposure and support from the ecosystem and that includes the cricket Boards. Even the Indian women's cricket team, in better position than a Bangladesh team in terms of support from BCCI, can't guarantee good performance every day.
At the time of writing this report, the win against Pakistan has been the only victory for Bangladesh in the Women's World Cup.
A FINE TEAM SHOW
But in Centurion on Friday night, a Bangladesh triumph was certainly not unexpected. The current team is a great mix of experience and talent and when Shakib (77), Litton Das (50) and Yasir Ali (50) powered Bangladesh to a highest-ever 314 for seven wickets against a South African pace attack boasting of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen, there was great hope in the tourists' camp.
Early wickets pegged South Africa's chase back, Under-19 World Cupper Shoriful Islam and speedster Taskin Ahmed making the early inroads. Impressive half-centuries from Rassie van der Dussen (86) and David Miller (79) gave the hosts some hope. But Mehidy Hasan Miraz rattled through the tail with a four-for, picking up the crucial wicket of Miller.
Good batting, incisive bowling and good fielding, it was a complete team performance and one that Bangladesh can be proud of because they have now won ODIs in every country they have played in.
It was double delight for Bangladesh's current coach Russell Domingo, a South African and a former Proteas coach. But most importantly, Bangladesh have found new match-winners in Litton Das, Yasir Ali, Taskin Ahmed and Miraz.
Gone are the days when Bangladesh had to depend on a Shakib or a Tamim or a Mushfiqur to fire. The new generation is equally gifted, hungry to perform and grab the headlines. Yasir Ali has been a great find. Since his debut in November, he has so far struck a fifty each in Tests and ODIs.
"It was certainly a win that we had expected," Yasir Ali said. "When we beat New Zealand in Mount Maunganui, the Bangladesh team started believing that we can beat any team in overseas conditions too. There was no difference here.
"When we were in New Zealand, we were talking about having the belief to win in South Africa. We have to follow the same game plan in the next match, but we also have to ensure that we keep having a positive frame of mind."
The real test starts now. To hold on to the lead in the three-match ODIs will be crucial and with Bangladesh armed to the teeth for the Test series and several South African players away on IPL duty after the ODI series, the probability to create more history have only got higher for the Bangladesh men's cricket team.