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The good, the bad, and the ugly

Rashad Banna

Jubilant Tigers are seen after their 3-0 ODI clean sweep over New Zealand in November.   
Jubilant Tigers are seen after their 3-0 ODI clean sweep over New Zealand in November.

Just about anywhere in the world, a country’s sporting landscape experiences many ups and downs throughout a year, and Bangladesh was no exception. The year 2013 brought with it many sporting achievements, some bittersweet moments and a revelation that shook the entire nation.
A look back at the sporting calendar of 2013 suggests that the country went on a rollercoaster ride, with expectations somewhat fulfilled. Some commendable team performances were displayed and many records created, yet there were also a few disappointments.

The good
The first notable achievement of the year came in the month of February, when Bangladesh battled bravely before narrowly missing out on a semi-final place in the World Hockey League.
Six teams competed in round two for the two semi-final berths on offer. Bangladesh made an agonising exit as they finished their campaign in third position, behind established orders India and Ireland. That their venture was labelled a relative success is down to Bangladesh’s three wins in the six-team group, with two of those wins coming against sides ranked much higher than Bangladesh.
The win against China was a watershed moment, as the Asian hockey giant is a regular presence at the Olympics. Bangladesh defeated China 3-2 in a thriller and, as a consequence, started dreaming of bigger things.
Bangladesh went on to outclass Oman 4-1, then ranked above Bangladesh, before sweeping past Fiji 8-4. A painful loss in the final game against India ended Bangladesh’s hopes. Even then, there were many positives in the tournament, including leading 2-0 at one stage against powerhouse Ireland, ranked 15th at the time, before eventually conceding defeat. Bangladesh hockey, it seemed, was destined for great things.
A month passed by and along came March, and that historic first Test match at Galle, Sri Lanka. The island nation, known for their prowess at home, were helpless against a spirited Bangladesh side as one record after another tumbled in favour of the away team.
The match ended in a draw; traditionally a good result for Bangladesh in five-day cricket. Bangladesh registered their highest ever Test score – 638. Mushfiqur Rahim became the first Bangladeshi cricketer to score a double century in international cricket, thus sealing a permanent place in the history books. Mohammad Ashraful struck a delightful 190, while Nasir Hossain’s hundred was the icing on the cake as all three tons came in the same innings, something that had never happened before in the country’s 13-year journey in Test match cricket.
Mushfiq and Ashraful’s stand of 267 runs became the new benchmark for
all-wicket partnerships among Bangladeshi batsmen. Many more records were created and broken as the drawn Test match at Galle transcended all expectations.
Fast-forward seven months to the home series against a visiting New Zealand side in October-November, when the Bangladesh cricket team exuded confidence in every department of the game. The Tigers played out a creditable 0-0 draw in the two-match Test series before topping it off with a series sweep in the one-dayers.
Much of the spotlight fell upon Sohag Gazi in the first Test in Chittagong, and rightly so. Gazi became the first cricketer in the history of five-day cricket to score a hundred – that too batting at number eight – and take a hat-trick in the same match.
The emergence of different performers in the 3-0 one-day sweep over the Kiwis signalled a new beginning in recent times, during which the Bangladesh cricket team placed more emphasis on team ethic above everything else. Standout performances included a six-wicket haul and a hat-trick from Rubel Hossain in the first game, Mushfiqur Rahim and Naeem Islam’s game-changing partnership of 154 runs in the same match and Shamsur Rahman’s adventurous 96 in the third and final game.
A few days after the Kiwis’ departure, ace Bangladeshi golfer Siddikur Rahman claimed his second Asian Tour title when he won the Indian Open on November 10 to give the country more reasons to cheer. The 29-year old Madaripur golfer hit an overall 14-under-par 274 to pick up his first Asian Tour trophy in three years, cementing his place as one of the best contemporary Asian golfers.

The bad
Expectations reached fever-pitch when the Bangladesh Football Federation appointed Dutchman Lodewijk de Kruif the head coach of the national team. De Kruif constructed a coaching staff that consisted of assistant coach Rene Koster, goalkeeping coach Cornelius Kees Kalk and fitness trainer Mohammet Yamali – all three also hailing from the Netherlands.
The country’s football fans were eagerly waiting for the ‘total football’ style to be implemented in Bangladesh, a brilliant idea of play engineered successfully by revolutionary Dutch coach Rinus Michels. However, all the anticipation that was slowly building up soon evaporated as Bangladesh received a stern reality check at the SAFF Championship in August-September.
Bangladesh bowed out in the group stages of the regional South Asian competition; a tournament they had set out to win before it got underway. A 2-0 defeat in the opening game against hosts Nepal meant Bangladesh had it all to do in their second game against India.
In the crucial encounter against India, defender Atiqur Rahman Meshu gave Bangladesh the advantage by breaking the deadlock to ignite hopes of progression from the group stage. However, the slender 1-0 lead proved to be short-lived, as Indian forward Sunil Chhetri equalised in the dying stages of the game.
In order to survive the group stage and go through to the semi-finals, Bangladesh required a victory over Pakistan and needed other results to go their way. The resurgence never came as Pakistan put Bangladesh out of their misery courtesy a morale-sapping 2-1 defeat.
The Asia Cup Hockey tournament in August was another sour note. Given Bangladesh’s impressive showing at the World Hockey League earlier in the year, they rightly entered the tournament in an optimistic mood, only to be brought back right down to earth. The national hockey team suffered losses in all of their three games against India, Oman and South Korea, with all defeats coming by big margins. After a promising beginning to the year, Bangladesh hockey plummeted to a new low. The aftermath of the debacle was not pretty as several players were suspended for their sub-par performances.

The ugly
Sports have their share of controversies, but no one ever expected to find out that the poster boy of Bangladesh cricket was involved in corrupt practices. That is exactly what happened when Mohammad Ashraful admitted his role in match-fixing on June 4 – a date that will go down in history as one of the darkest days in the country’s entire sports scene.
It was alleged that Ashraful deliberately under-performed for the Dhaka Gladiators against the Chittagong Kings on February 2 in the second edition of the Bangladesh Premier League. The match against the Barisal Burners 10 days later was also tinged with doubt and his subsequent admission of wrongdoing caused a severe dent in the country’s sports arena.
The whole country watched on in disbelief as the prodigious son of Bangladesh cricket wept like a child in front of the media. Enigmatic as he is, the country will try to forget the sad episode, if not forgive him for letting them down.
2013 was memorable, unique and bizarre in a lot of ways. The sports fans of the country will yearn for more of the same in 2014, which means that they will once again need to be geared up for another topsy-turvy, thrill-a-minute ride.

Jubilant Tigers are seen after their 3-0 ODI clean sweep over New Zealand in November.

Jubilant Tigers are seen after their 3-0 ODI clean sweep over New Zealand in November.

Bangladesh forward Zahid Hasan Ameli bursts into tears after their loss to India in the SAFF Championship.

Bangladesh forward Zahid Hasan Ameli bursts into tears after their loss to India in the SAFF Championship.

Mohammad Ashraful cannot hold back his tears after hearing his verdict on match-fixing.

Mohammad Ashraful cannot hold back his tears after hearing his verdict on match-fixing.

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