It’s the week Test cricket needed

Date: August 31, 2017 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

The past week has breathed life into Test cricket, the sport’s venerable old lady.

In the space of 15 hours, West Indies ran down 322 to beat England at Leeds, while Bangladesh recorded a 20-run win over Australia at Mirpur.

Just as one swallow doesn’t make a drunk, these results in isolation are not guaranteed to bring about extended periods of success for either team.

But, there is no doubting the importance of the two matches played thousands of kilometres apart.

The West Indies, a one-time all conquering juggernaut, has been in a seemingly perennial malaise slipping to the ignominy of number eight in the world.

Bangladesh’s victory was a historic result – its first win over Australia.

The crowd swelled at Mirpur as the seminal moment approached. Even the Prime Minister, a cricket fan herself, arrived to see the last rites.

The triumph continued an upward trend for a country that has carried the moniker of “minnow” since it was granted Test status in 2000.

Its first 34 Tests – before its maiden win against Zimbabwe at Chittagong in 2005 – resulted in 31 losses and three draws.

That first up win over Zimbabwe was followed by another drought – 24 matches for 21 losses and three draws.

In those first 58 Tests, 33 were lost by more than an innings. It was a baptism of fire.

Finally, in recent times, the positives have outweighed the negatives.

At home in July last year, Bangladesh played out two rain affected draws against South Africa.

In the first Test it took a 78-run lead on the first innings before the match was washed out soon after.

In October, it completed a one-all draw against England. The tourists win at Chittagong was by a mere 22 runs, leaving the hosts just shy of a series sweep.

In Sri Lanka in March, Bangladesh again played out a one-all draw. Given Australia’s visit to Sri Lanka last year resulted in a three-nil loss it showed how much Bangladesh has improved.

And yesterday, it took Australia down.

The current team boasts some handy players, headed up by Shakib Al Hasan who made 84 and captured ten wickets with his left-arm spin.

That performance solidified his number one all-rounder ranking ahead of the likes of Ben Stokes, Ravi Ashwin and Moeen Ali.

Off-spinner Mehidy Hasan has 40 wickets at 31.4 from his first eight Tests and 21-year-old paceman, Mustafizur Rahman has taken 12 wickets at 24.9 in his first five appearances.

Tamim Iqbal’s knocks of 71 and 78 have elevated his 50-match Test average to 40.3, while wicket-keeping skipper Mushfiqur averages 35.4.

Bangladesh now faces two challenges – one immediate and the other longer term.

Firstly, it has the opportunity to sweep the current series. It will take a large measure of confidence into Chittagong, where Australia will be under the pump and nervous.

From there, it is a matter of Bangladesh showing it can match it with the better teams overseas, especially beyond the sub-continent. That will be the real acid test.

For West Indies, the Leeds result was a triumph of epic proportions.

England had just downed South Africa 3-1 and beaten the Windies in the first Test at Birmingham by an innings and 209 runs.

The prospect of a Caribbean victory at Headingley appeared a nigh impossibility.

Clearly, Jason Holder’s men had not read the script.

A fit and rejuvenated Kemar Roach along with Shannon Gabriel combined for eight wickets as England was dismissed well inside stumps on the opening day for 258.

Centuries to Kraigg Braithwaite (134) and Shai Hope (147) helped secure a 169-run first innings lead.

When England declared, however, at 8/490 and with a lead of 321 runs it seemed inevitable the hosts would take an assailable 2-nil series lead.

Again, it was Braithwaite (95) and Hope (118no) who dominated the England bowling, guiding the tourists to a five-wicket win.

Their match-winning performances came against a seasoned and experienced attack – James Anderson (497 wickets), Stuart Broad (386), Stokes (89) and Ali (128).

Hopefully, for the likes of Braithwaite and Hope their efforts will prove to be a seminal moment in their careers.

Holder is a young captain who, by all reports, is a popular leader. This win will infinitely boost his confidence.

His team will head to Lord’s for the decider with genuine belief, a commodity not in abundance in recent years.

For too long the West Indies have been searching for a potential catalyst. Leeds may have provided it.

Contract and selection dramas have often captured more headlines in recent times than on field performances. The current side’s showing at Leeds has given both Caribbean fans and the media something positive to talk about.

By dint of its history as an English sport that was transported to the colonies, cricket has a finite and small constituency of any note.

The recent anointing of Afghanistan and Ireland with Test status has expanded the number of nations at the very top to a dozen.

Test cricket has been fighting a battle for relevance in many people’s eyes in recent years.

The proliferation of Twenty20 leagues with their glitz, glamour and increasingly appealing salaries allied to dwindling Test crowds and frequent one-sided series has brought pressure to bear on the longest form of the game.

For it to prosper in this modern era, serious competition between the select group of Test playing teams is crucial.

Hopefully, performances like those we have seen in the past week will be a precursor to a more competitive Test arena.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 31 August 2017, soliciting 30 comments