Invisible men: Bangladesh’s stars remain under the radar despite humbling of Australia

Australian cricket has always had a special place in the hearts and minds of Bangladeshis. As Bangladesh’s collective cricket consciousness was developing through the late 1980s and 1990s, the all-conquering Australian cricket team loomed large on TV sets across the country.

In the absence of home-grown heroes, it was the athletic and ruthless cricket from Australia that captured the imagination. The Waugh brothers, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, to name but a few, became revered figures. And yet the love was largely unrequited. In common with other members of the “big three”, bilateral fixtures between Bangladesh and Australia have been scarce, tours have been postponed without due reason and a sense of mutual suspicion developed, bred from unfamiliarity. The high regard for Australian cricket, is one of the main reasons why the 4-1 T20 series victory has been celebrated so passionately by the Bangladesh team.

Many of Bangladesh’s achievements on the cricket field have passed the casual cricket fan by a lack of visibility in terms of live broadcasts has meant that some of the most talented cricketers in the world remain anonymous. The invisibility of Bangladesh cricket has been brought to the fore by this T20I series, with the lack of any TV deal with Australian broadcasters has resulted in current Australian cricketers taking to social media to lament the situation.

It’s a predicament familiar to Bangladesh fans who happen to live outside of Bangladesh, as many millions do. The reliance on illegal streams and last-minute links posted in WhatsApp groups, is something that they are all too used to. Unfortunately, when it comes to negotiating TV rights, it’s as if Bangladeshi diaspora communities don’t exist. Whether it’s because of incompetence or oversight, the BCB continue to ignore a huge opportunity to expand its reach.

This English summer has seen accusations of propaganda being bandied about in cricket media, as the Hundred continues to polarise opinion. The BBC has at times been caught in the crossfire, as so often happens. It’s used to being bashed from all sides for not being woke enough, too woke or for being a fence sitter. The breadth of the BBC’s coverage is amazing, considering the range of sports and news it covers. It’s far from being a specialist cricket outlet but the fact that every English domestic game, regardless of format, has full commentary is nothing short of heroic. However, even the keenest advocate of the venerable institution will find it difficult to justify the headlines on the BBC sports website, which accompanied Australia’s third T20I loss, which sealed the series defeat. Rather than mention the historic nature of the series win for Bangladesh, the first time they’ve beaten Australia in a series, the headlines focused on a hat-trick taken by Australian debutant Nathan Ellis.

An international hat-trick from a debutant is of course a big deal but in years to come I’m convinced it’ll be regarded as a quirky footnote or an obscure pub quiz question. Without wanting detract from Ellis’s skill, the hat trick was taken off the last three balls of the innings and included the Bangladesh Nos 9 and 10 caught in the deep after swinging wildly in search of quick runs.

Although the three wickets might have reduced Bangladesh’s total by a few runs, the hat-trick had little bearing on the outcome of the game. And besides, there were so many other interesting angles and sub-plots to report.

Apart from Bangladesh achieving what they had never managed to before, the headline might have reflected on the brilliance of Mustafizur’s penultimate over, when he only conceded a single. Or the way Mahedi held his nerve to close out the game even after conceding a six from his first ball of the last over, followed by a free hit.

Even more interesting was the earlier confrontation between Australian lynchpin Mitch March and Shoriful, the young tearaway pacer. When Marsh spooned a top edge to mid-on, the game was all but over for Australia, the eye bugling send off from Shoriful confirming how important the wicket was. But the fact that all of this was overlooked only demonstrates that whenever Bangladesh win, the story is seldom about them.

The entire series was played on the same Dhaka ground, which isn’t renowned for high-scoring cricket at the best of times. The intermittent rainfall as the monsoon approaches, appeared to make the pitches stickier and harder to get set on than usual. A highest score of 131 when batting first and only two half-centuries attest to the bowling friendly conditions.

It was actually refreshing to see such low-scoring white ball matches being played out, an antidote to the frenzied high scores demanded by the Hundred. Inevitably, they were almost alien conditions for the Australians, but the fact that they were not allowed to adapt them was due to the brilliance of Bangladesh’s bowling attack.

The blueprint for success was laid in the first game by Bangladesh: bat first, reach a total in the 130 region and then pile on the pressure with the ball. At different times, Nasum Ahmed (who was unfortunate not to win the player-of-the-series award), Mahedi, Shoriful and Shakib all made telling contributions with the ball in hand, marshalled shrewdly by captain Mahmudullah. That all culminated in the dismissal of the Australians for an embarrassing 62 in the last match.

Bangladesh will undoubtedly face stiffer challenges during the T20 World Cup and there might be a case for saying that playing on Dhaka pitches will be counter-productive in the long run. It’s possible to argue that the 2016 and 2017 Test wins against England and Australia at home created a false reality, when Bangladesh’s spinners became expertly accustomed to the low-spinning surfaces at home.

But the series win will imbue Bangladesh with a sense of optimism and confidence in T20 cricket for the next weeks and months, as it’s not a format they’ve traditionally excelled at. Whatever the future holds, it’s unlikely that Australia’s blink-and-you-miss-it tour will be forgotten by Bangladesh cricket fans, wherever they might be.