Bangladesh pull off quiet triumph at a time of major upheaval

Taijul Islam took two wickets on the final day AFP/Getty Images

Najmul Hossain Shanto and Taijul Islam walked down the stairs from the picturesque Bangladesh dressing room, towards the post-match presentation area. There was no real rush. The usually crowded hangers-on zone, somewhere near the dressing room and the presentation area in Bangladeshi stadiums, was nearly empty. It was only 11am in Sylhet and Bangladesh's resounding win over New Zealand in Sylhet was slowly sinking in.

The Bangladesh players had done the usual end-of-match protocols before walking into the dressing room. Only Shanto and Taijul walked out. Mushfiqur Rahim watched briefly from the window. There was very little obvious celebration from the team. The 18,000-capacity stadium was all but empty too.

Selector Habibul Bashar and media manager Rabeed Imam were standing in front of the Bangladesh dugout. Bashar, the former Bangladesh captain, wondered who would get the Player-of-the-Match award. He was mostly convinced Taijul should get it for his 10-wicket match haul. "You can't really forget Shanto's innings too," he said. "He scored that century on the third day, getting us on the victory path."

The jovial Bashar is however never far from a punchline, even if it is at his own expense. "Shanto is the first Bangladeshi to get a Test century on captaincy debut, right? I am the only captain to get a pair on captaincy debut."

The only sound of victory at this stage was the roll of laughter that followed Bashar's tale, and the text messages congratulating him.

It may seem like the quietest of wins for Bangladesh, but its magnitude is palpable to those within and outside the dressing room. If you put Sylhet against what went on in the World Cup, the picture becomes clearer. Bangladesh lost seven out of nine games in India, and the fans turned their backs on the team to the extent that they even called off the protests they had planned at the Dhaka airport. Nobody cared, and it showed.

There are interesting parallels with Bangladesh's famous victory in the Mount Maunganui Test last year. Then, Bangladesh had had a woeful T20 World Cup campaign followed by a disastrous home series against Pakistan. Key players were injured. Nobody paid much attention, until they conjured up a miracle in New Zealand.

This one in Sylhet didn't look like a miracle but turning around from such a World Cup campaign wasn't going to be easy. The regular captain and vice-captain were out. Two of the main pacers were missing. The senior opener remained injured.

It didn't matter. The stand-in captain scored a crucial century. One of the young openers made a fifty, and an unheralded and hugely underrated left-arm spinner took 10 wickets.

Shanto hailed the team's effort against one of the top Test sides in world cricket, reminding them not to forget what had worked for them in this game.

"I am happy to win my first Test as captain," Shanto said. "Everything went to plan. We played a good game. Winning a Test, against any team, anywhere, is a great feeling. They are a very good team definitely. They won the first WTC [World Test Championship] so to beat such a team, it brings a lot of confidence to the players. Our belief is slowly growing that we can do better in Tests. If we don't forget these wins, what worked for us, we will raise our level in Tests."

Shanto insisted that Bangladesh's dressing-room environment didn't change after the World Cup, as the players understood that the reactions they would get depended highly on results.

"Nothing has changed [since the World Cup]," he said. "There will be talk outside. Now that we won, they will say nice things. When we will lose, they will criticise us. It is beyond our control. We don't even think about it.

"We think about the process, and try to stick to it regularly. We won today but it wasn't a perfect game. We have to talk about our mistakes, and then take it forward."

Bangladesh's on-field chatter was audible throughout the game, reflecting both their own enjoyment of their performance and the lack of a crowd to drown them out.

"I think we were a little more excited as we were playing well," Shanto said. "Everyone enjoyed these four-and-a-half days. Maybe it was seen more today but the batters and bowlers took up the challenge. I think it is important how we handle and enjoy pressure and difficult moments.

"I think it is disappointing that our fans don't really like watching Test matches. Motivation comes from different places, but I don't think we had this [criticism] in mind. We wanted to win this game. We wanted to do our work rather than focusing on who came and who didn't."

Shanto also paid tribute to Taijul for his accuracy over long spells. Taijul took four wickets in the first innings and followed it up with a six-for in the second innings. He struck decisive blows including removing Kane Williamson twice in the game.

"He is one of the best Test bowlers in recent years." Shanto said. "His strength is to bowl in one spot for a long time. I tried to use him for long from one end with this belief. We didn't plan anything different. He just wanted to bowl for a long time from one end."

Taijul said after the game that it was satisfying to beat New Zealand twice in two years, in different conditions. "We beat NZ in their conditions not too long ago," he said. "When they came to our conditions, we beat them. We are successful. We believed in our process throughout this game, and thought that we would attack as soon as we get into a winning position."

While Bangladesh will celebrate this win in Sylhet, they know how important it is for them to repeat their processes in Dhaka to clinch the Test series.

"There has to be some form of celebrations after such a big win," Taijul said. "We celebrated on the field and in the dressing room. But yes, it is not the end of the series. We have to do well in Dhaka, and then we will see what happens."

Ultimately, it was a team effort that brought Bangladesh this memorable victory. Partnerships were key to their progress with both bat and ball. Bangladesh had the three highest batting partnerships in the match, including the 98-run stand between Mushfiqur Rahim and Shanto that played a pivotal role on the third day. On the fourth morning, the tail wagged with Mehidy Hasan Miraz. There were small but important contributions when it was much required.

It was the same in the bowling department. Taijul, Mehidy and Nayeem Hasan tag-teamed New Zealand. Shanto said he had found it difficult to take the ball out of their hands. Taijul often played the attacker's role, while Mehidy and Nayeem gave him perfect support from the other end. Mominul Haque's three wickets in the first innings were crucial too.

These partnerships were the major element missing in the World Cup. Bangladesh had the big stars at that tournament but they needed a team effort to get them across the line. It didn't happen. They were vilified on social media. Fans turned their backs on them. Nobody really seemed to know or care that New Zealand had arrived in Bangladesh less than a week after the World Cup had ended. Everyone has had enough.

Now, after Sylhet, they can't get enough of Bangladesh 2.0.