More than a mere series
Bangladesh has seen many exciting bilateral ODI series over the years, but each of those were either preceded or followed by a Test series where the home team struggled to keep their heads above water while the visitors surfed the waves with ease.
In that respect this just-concluded tour by England is special because it featured intense competition over the two formats. With the two-Test series ending in a 1-1 draw after Bangladesh's victory in the second Test, which itself followed a rollercoaster match in Chittagong after the ODI series had ended 2-1 in the visitors' favour, October 2016 can lay claim to featuring the best cricket played on these shores. But in another respect, this tour by England takes on even more special and resonant significance.
It came in the aftermath of one of the darkest events in Bangladesh's recent history. The July 1 terror attacks at the Holey Artisan Bakery took the lives of 20 civillians but the brutality and intent of the attack shook residents of this city and country to the very core. Personal freedoms were compromised in the fallout -- there was talk of not going out to eat even among the most outgoing of millennials. In this environment, the one thing that brings them together was under threat -- the joy of seeing their beloved Tigers take on the best from across the world. England's tour was in doubt because of security fears.
ODI skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza then issued a plea that reached across physical boundaries and cultures, saying that the Bangladeshi players too had lives and families to worry about, that they face the dangers every day but trust in the organisers and powers that be to keep their livelihoods safe. England players should do the same, he said. Those words, thankfully, were put into earnest action by England's cricketers and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). In the best of spirits, they undertook the tour not as an assignment to get over with as quickly as possible but as part of their responsibility as cricketers and ambassadors of the game.
Alastair Cook, the Test captain, led the way by visiting the country during the ODI series to be acclimatised even as his wife was approaching her due date. Andrew Strauss, ECB director of cricket, came to the country to show that he was not asking his cricketers to do something he would not.
What followed was an exciting ODI series during which Bangladesh perhaps overstepped the line of being gracious hosts by becoming willing saboteurs by losing the first ODI after being in pole position to win. A Mashrafe-inspired comeback in the second match was followed by a dew-induced loss in the third.
The Test series that followed will probably be talked about for years to come, and not just by Bangladeshis. It ended with Bangladesh registering their first win over the inventors of the game -- till date it's greatest cricketing moment. It saw a bright star emerge in the form of man-of-the-series Mehedi Hasan Miraz, who celebrated his 19th birthday a day after the first Test ended. Despite some on-field scuffles -- the bust-up between Sabbir Rahman and Jos Buttler in the second ODI, followed by one between Tamim and Stokes the same day -- the tour ended in good spirits, with Cook being generous in his appreciation of Bangladesh and urging the cricket world to keep touring the country. There have also been a twitter exchange of salutes between Stokes and Shakib Al Hasan, who in turn thanked the ECB for touring the country in such a pivotal moment.
This was one of those rare tours in a country's cricket existence when the ramifications reach beyond the boundary lines. More than an excellent cricket series, England's participation has told the world that Bangladesh is safe for cricket and the home team's performance has showed that a tour here is a test of cricketing excellence. It takes two to tango, and England should be thanked for playing their part.