Bangladeshi cricket fans celebrate with national flags

Bangladesh's entry into the Test club was marked by great festivity

© Getty Images

I Was There

'A Test match can change course in half an hour. That's what happened to us'

Twenty years on, Naimur Rahman, Aminul Islam, Shahriar Hossain, Habibul Bashar, Sunil Joshi and Saba Karim relive Bangladesh's inaugural Test, against India

Interviews by Mohammad Isam and Shamya Dasgupta  |  

November 10, 2000, was the first day of Bangladesh's maiden Test, against India at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka. It was a first also for Sourav Ganguly, who was leading India in a Test for the first time. In India, the mood was mixed as the team was emerging from the shadow of match-fixing and starting a new chapter, but in Bangladesh it was all rather festive.

Aminul Islam, Bangladesh batsman: It was an exciting time. We had very little idea about this world. We knew about ODI cricket, so a playing XI for us meant having two fast bowlers, three spinners, one wicketkeeper and five batsmen. We reached Dhaka just a few days before the Test match. We had just had a poor tour of Africa, where we were eliminated early from the ICC Knockout tournament in Nairobi.

The Indians were confident, bordering on complacent.

Sunil Joshi, India spinner: I wouldn't say we were very serious about the Test match, but we had a few days of practice - two days, if I remember correctly - in Calcutta [now Kolkata] before leaving for Dhaka. So we trained, the usual plans and preparations. At one stage, Sachin [Tendulkar] told us that we need to prepare harder. He said, "Yeah, it is their first Test match, but we have to play well to win it." We had a new captain, and Sourav was quite serious. He kept asking us to focus. He wanted to start his captaincy career with a win.

Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh's prime minister, was present at the stadium before the toss, adding to the atmosphere.

Naimur Rahman, Bangladesh's captain then: It was a celebration. There was a formal opening ceremony, which was attended by our prime minister and cricketing greats from the past. Representatives from boards that supported us - and even some who didn't - also attended. I was leading the Test side, taking Bangladesh to the next level. It was a great feeling. I wasn't too nervous, but we were new to the culture of Test cricket. We used to play a few ODIs every year in those days, so we were about to take a big step forward.

Bangladesh won the toss and elected to bat.

"We got a lot of advice at that time: leave the ball, play defensive, bat for six hours. I think I could have scored a century if [former coach] Eddie Barlow was in my ear instead" Habibul Bashar

Rahman: Our plan was to try to bat well twice. Although we were playing against an experienced batting line-up, we had a bit of confidence in our bowling. We were playing in a familiar environment. Eddie Barlow [the former Bangladesh coach, who had taken ill earlier in the year] had shared a lot of his experience. He was still influential, though Sarwar Imran was now the coach.

India handed debuts to opening batsman Shiv Sunder Das, wicketkeeper Saba Karim, and left-arm quick Zaheer Khan. That made 14 debutants across the two teams. Shahriar Hossain faced the first ball in Test cricket for Bangladesh, bowled by Javagal Srinath.

Shahriar Hossain, Bangladesh opener: It is hard to describe the feeling of facing your country's first ball in Tests, and nobody can take it away from me. I have framed the whites and my Test cap so my children see it and, even after I am gone, they will know what their father had done.

I took strike when opening with Mehrab [Hossain] - that was usually what I'd do in one-day matches. He didn't mind and it freed me up quickly.

Mehrab was the first wicket to fall, dismissed by the newbies Khan and Karim. Karim had just recovered from a serious eye injury at the Asia Cup, also against Bangladesh at the same venue earlier in the year.

Saba Karim, India wicketkeeper-batsman After my injury, I took a break, went into rehab for my eye. I was in Calcutta, trying to get back into cricket and get my eye sorted. In October we had the Tata Sports Club matches in Mumbai. It was a good opportunity to test my eye. I managed to play an inter-company match. Before the game started, I had heard my name was on the list for Bangladesh. In terms of preparation, it was limited because of my injury. I went to Bangladesh full of hope, full of excitement. It was the dream. We spent a couple of days training in Dhaka before the Test.

Before my injury, I had kind of settled into the slot in the ODI team and fared decently well behind the stumps and with the bat. So I was expecting a place in the Test team despite the injury. Stray negative thoughts did creep in, but I managed to get rid of them quickly enough.

Shahriar Hossain faced Bangladesh's first ever ball in Tests, but though he stuck around for nearly an hour and a half, he only managed 12 runs in the first innings

Shahriar Hossain faced Bangladesh's first ever ball in Tests, but though he stuck around for nearly an hour and a half, he only managed 12 runs in the first innings Jewel Samad / © AFP

Shahriar followed Mehrab back to the pavilion at the hour mark. At this point, Islam, short on confidence after the tour of Africa, joined a nervous Habibul Bashar in the middle.

Habibul Bashar, Bangladesh batsman: There was smoke coming out of my ears! I had a lot of butterflies in my belly and confusion in my mind. Test cricket is a different ball game, isn't it? They had a good bowling attack too.

Islam, Bangladesh batsman: Shumon [Bashar] was batting like he was playing in the Dhaka Premier League. He was slashing Srinath over the slips. He was playing [Ajit] Agarkar comfortably, driving Murali Kartik. I got confidence from him, but I was also a little afraid that he might get out playing so many shots. His fluent innings ultimately made it easy for us to reach 400 in the first innings.

Bangladesh went to lunch on 71 for 2, with Bashar on 44. After the break, he continued to attack, hitting a total of ten fours in his 71.

Bashar I played an instinctive knock. I didn't want to listen to all the advice that was coming from every angle. We got a lot of advice at that time: leave the ball, play defensive, bat for six hours. I thought I should play my way. I think I could have scored my century if Eddie Barlow was in my ear instead. I don't regret getting out on 71. I'd have loved to score a century on debut, but I regret missing other centuries later in my career [more]. I was quite happy with this knock. It gave me the belief that I can play at this level. It gave me a foundation for my next 49 Tests.

After Bashar's fall, Islam held India at bay, closing on 70. Bangladesh got to 239 for 6 on their first day of Test cricket.

Islam At the end of the first day, I remember getting into the lift with [Mohammad] Rafique and Ganguly at the team hotel. Ganguly was teasing me, saying that I should make all my runs before they take the new ball on the second morning. He knew we would be bowled out soon.

"We knew about ODI cricket, so a playing XI for us meant having two fast bowlers, three spinners, one wicketkeeper and five batsmen" Aminul Islam

Only when I reached the 90s [the next morning] did I think about a chance to get a century. I was reminded of my close friend Pravin Amre and my all-time favourite cricketer, Javed Miandad, who had made centuries on debut. From 92 to 98, I took a bit of time. I was getting so close that I didn't want to miss this chance. I wasn't nervous. Pilot [Khaled Mashud] kept encouraging me throughout our partnership, telling me that I could do it.

Shortly before lunch on the second day, Islam joined Charles Bannerman of Australia and David Houghton of Zimbabwe in becoming a centurion in their country's inaugural Test.

Islam I used my signature shot, the paddle sweep, to reach my century. That single was a winning run for my career. I was often told not to play that shot, but it was one of my favourite shots and, when I could pull it off, I felt I could bat all day. When I went to lunch on 106 not out, our board president [Saber Hossain Chowdhury] told me that I had just emulated Bannerman and Houghton. He told me that I must go past Bannerman's 169.

Islam made 145 after batting close to nine hours. Bangladesh finished on 400, with Joshi picking up five wickets.

Karim The score they put up in the first innings was quite unexpected. Zaheer made an impact immediately. No [Anil] Kumble [who was sitting out with a shoulder injury]. But we had Joshi and Murali Kartik, so it was a strong attack. That they put up 400 was a big effort. But we had a lot of depth in our squad, and a lot of experience, so we knew we would be able to come back if we focused.

Rahman We became confident after reaching 400. It exceeded our expectations. We knew the Bangabandhu intimately and had a fairly good idea about how the wicket was going to behave.

Joshi Sourav told me that I had to bowl a lot of overs in both innings, keep bowling from one end. That's how a captain-player relationship also started. He trusted me a lot after that. He also told some reporter that he hadn't expected me to take on so much of a load. Very heartening to have that confidence of the captain.

The Bangladesh players applaud Aminul Islam's century from the pavilion

The Bangladesh players applaud Aminul Islam's century from the pavilion © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

For India, Das and S Ramesh batted for 19 overs before captain Rahman struck with a beautiful offbreak.

Rahman An offspinner can have his expectations about how much flight and turn he wants to impart on the ball and where he wants it to land. I always tried to bowl with an attacking mindset. On this occasion, he [Das] left the ball, and I don't think he expected it would spin that much.

Bangladesh began the third day without their wicketkeeper, Mashud, who was injured, but they had taken two more wickets by lunch, and shortly after, they landed the big fish, Tendulkar, caught at short leg off Rahman.

Rahman Tendulkar's wicket was priceless. We had the opportunity to put a bit of pressure on them after taking a few wickets. We could bring in the close-in fielders as a result.

India slipped to 190 for 5, with only Ganguly their last recognised batsman. His 46-run sixth-wicket stand with Karim gave India some respite before Karim was stumped by Shahriar, who was keeping wicket.

Karim I remember my dismissal clearly, and it could only have been because of my poor eyesight. The offspinner was bowling and it was an innocuous full toss. I wanted to play a cover drive. I missed the line completely. I couldn't connect and my right foot dragged out of the popping crease. The ball hit the pads of the wicketkeeper, rebounded and hit the stumps. Sourav and I had a good stand; we took the team to a safe ground, and then Joe [Joshi] came in.

Hossain I managed to effect a stumping, although I was just there to stop the ball. Somehow, Saba Karim was stumped. I often think that Pilot should have got Bangladesh's first stumping, but by some miracle I ended up doing it.

Then came a momentum-shifting 121-run partnership between Ganguly and Joshi. Ganguly was out for 84, becoming Rahman's fifth victim.

Joshi When Sourav got out, he said, "Joey, whatever happens, you have to stay till the end of the day. We'll pick it up from there."

"I had two victims, but I conceded a lot of byes [20 overall], and that was a worrying sign. I figured that I couldn't judge the speed of the deliveries" Saba Karim

Joshi and Ajit Agarkar took India past Bangladesh's total, but Joshi missed out on a maiden Test century when Al Sahariar caught him superbly at mid-off for 92 off Rafique.

Joshi Unfortunately for me, he took a brilliant catch. When I was coaching in Bangladesh later, I met him and abused him for taking that catch - I could have scored a hundred otherwise! Five wickets and a hundred. It would have been… He just put out his hand and it stuck. I was stranded for quite some time in the 90s, and I also didn't get the strike. I told Ajit, "Come on, give me the strike." But the ball was turning a lot, so he said, "No, Joey, it's not easy. But let's see, you don't worry."

Karim Sunil is a very capable allrounder, and he has shown that on many occasions. We had Ajit too, so we knew we had batting. Thankfully Sourav and Sunil did the job, but I don't remember much about it because I was so gutted at my dismissal.

Joshi I think I got a sense of belief that I can play Test cricket and take the responsibility in the absence of big stars, especially Anil. Also, the captain believed that I could do it. People started calling me an allrounder, but I knew I was a bowler who could contribute with the bat.

Rahman finished with 6 for 132, becoming the seventh bowler to take a five-for in their country's inaugural Test, after Billy Midwinter and Tom Kendall (Australia), Alfred Shaw (England), Albert Rose-Innes (South Africa), Mohammad Nissar (India) and John Traicos (Zimbabwe).

Rahman It was my best performance, without a doubt. I was leading the side too, so it was definitely my best day in cricket. I sometimes see video clips from that Test match when people send it to me. My elder son sometimes shows it to me.

But though they bowled out India, Bangladesh were kept on the ground for 141.3 overs, enough to tire an inexperienced side.

Joshi After we got the first-innings lead, the whole team was charged when we came back to bowl in their second innings. We didn't expect them to score 400, and then we lost so many wickets, we didn't expect to take the lead. The plan was to get them out quickly, make them field for two days, and then get them again, but talking is one thing, it was very different when we went out. But there was clarity from Sachin, Anil and Sourav.

The Bangladesh team pick up souvenirs at the end of the Test

The Bangladesh team pick up souvenirs at the end of the Test © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

In his first Test as captain, Ganguly's attitude stood out, particularly when India were not on top. When Bangladesh did grab the momentum, Ganguly came down hard on them.

Karim Sourav was extremely calm. There was no panic from him or the other senior players. We tried things. Some things worked, some things didn't. But taking the lead was important, because we didn't want the game to drag. We wanted to get a hold of it as soon as possible. Also, the wicket had started to deteriorate and spinners were going to come into the game. We wanted to finish it as quickly as possible.

In their reply, Bangladesh collapsed in a heap, with a Srinath bouncer putting Shahriar Hossain out of action for a while. Only Bashar and Mashud reached double figures in a total of 91.

Shahriar I got hit on my head, and I think Rokon [Al Sahariar], too, was injured in that innings. We were taken to a medical centre and then we headed back to bat in the second innings.

Islam It was neither a mental block nor fatigue. We were overconfident. We were enjoying the atmosphere leading into the Test, but we were unprepared to face a serious situation in the second innings. We thought that we could automatically repeat what we did in the first innings. But a Test match can change course in half an hour. That's what happened to us.

Joshi We expected it to be a spin-friendly pitch, but it wasn't. It was the old Bangabandhu National Stadium. If it had been Mirpur, it would have ended in two or three days. It was a slow turner. That's the reason I had to bowl a marathon spell [45.3 overs in the first innings]. In the second innings it turned a lot more. I bowled a ball and it pitched outside the leg stump and spun outside off and went for four byes. Rahul [Dravid, in the slips] and Saba were both confused.

India finished it off after tea on the fourth day, winning by nine wickets, and showing the home side how to dominate a Test match.

Karim We had played a number of one-dayers against Bangladesh. We knew they were a capable side. It wasn't a new side completely. We were confident they would put up a good fight. Plus, we were playing in Bangladesh. And that's what happened - they were neck and neck with us for the first innings and then we won quite easily.

"After we got the first-innings lead, the whole team was charged when we came back to bowl in their second innings" Sunil Joshi

Islam After the Test, both teams were on the same bus to the Indian high commissioner's house for a reception. There, Sachin Tendulkar told me that I have to improve in terms of getting behind the line of the ball. He told me that I was a little bit away. We thought they were such experienced cricketers that they wouldn't notice us, but they really were helpful. I still cherish those words.

Of Bangladesh's 11 debutants, only Ranjan Das [later known as Mahmudur Rahman] remained a one-Test wonder. This was also the last international match for Karim after he realised his eye injury wouldn't allow him to carry on.

Karim I conceded a lot of byes [20 overall], and that was a worrying sign. I figured that I couldn't judge the speed of the deliveries. It became difficult to keep to pacers. I missed a couple [from] spinners too. Keeping to pacers was comparatively tougher than against the spinners. I got a couple of balls on my chest off the spinners. It was surreal, because that's where I had my accident too.

Bangladesh took a long time to find their feet in Test cricket and their first win would only come against a weakened Zimbabwe side in 2005. They took another four years to reach a 400-plus total again. They would be bowled out for under 100 seven more times in the decade. Islam's 145 was Bangladesh's highest individual score until Mohammad Ashraful's 158 not out, against India in 2004.

Islam We hadn't reached that level of professionalism to build on that first Test. We lacked the plan to prepare for the next tour, to Zimbabwe. We couldn't quite make use of our experience against India. We were focused on our one-day team, particularly the 2003 World Cup, even though we had just become a Test team.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. Shamya Dasgupta is senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

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