What does a team take away from winning five consecutive ODI series? In Bangladesh's case, their biggest gain has been the collective mindset over the last 12 months. On Monday, as they crushed Zimbabwe for a second time in as many games to take an unassailable lead in the three-match series, another Bangladesh player provided an instance of mental strength triumphing.
Al-Amin Hossain took the wickets of Sikandar Raza and Elton Chigumbura in the 34th and 36th overs, just when Zimbabwe looked to be on track towards Bangladesh's modest total. At the start of the over in which Raza got out, the visitors needed less than a run-a-ball for 17 overs, with six wickets in hand and two set batsmen at the crease. Al-Amin planned well at that point, bowling shorter and keeping Raza on the backfoot before giving him one to loft towards mid-on. It was an easy catch for Imrul Kayes.
It was Kayes again who took the catch of Chigumbura, this time at third man after Al-Amin got another to lift past the Zimbabwe captain. Al-Amin didn't do anything extraordinary but he smartly tested the batsmen with lengths. Nothing special, but quite effective given the circumstances. Those wickets signalled the end of Zimbabwe's challenge.
He ended with 2 for 22 from eight overs, to follow his 1 for 15 from five overs in the first ODI. These are not eye-catching numbers but it is important to understand what Al-Amin has gone through in the last 14 months; if he had thought that his career was over, it wouldn't have been a surprise.
From being the only bowler worth noting in Bangladesh's disastrous 3-0 loss in the ODI series to West Indies last year, Al-Amin quickly found himself giving a bowling action test after being reported for a suspect action. He was cleared by the ICC two months later but it left a scar in his psyche that was amplified after he was sent home midway through the World Cup.
While the BCB never really said that he was banned, there seemed to be an unwritten embargo on picking him since the World Cup. It seemed he had become a pariah amid all the people he knew in Mirpur. He spent months going through training sessions and trying to find out if he would be picked again. He played first-class cricket but wasn't noticed. Whenever he saw someone who was willing to speak to him, Al-Amin took time to explain his situation. If the authorities were testing him, they had every right to. From the details that emerged from the incident in Brisbane, fault seemed to have been with him.
But in a country where pace bowling is a rarity, Al-Amin had to be recalled in some capacity, and soon. He had done well in his first spell of international cricket, earning the trust of the senior players. He was included for Bangladesh A last month and he bowled quite well during the short tour to South Africa. The big recall then came when Rubel Hossain and Taskin Ahmed were ruled out through injuries. So far, Mustafizur Rahman, Mashrafe Mortaza and Al-Amin have not let Bangladesh miss Taskin or Rubel, who had proven to be two very effective bowlers.
Mashrafe said that Al-Amin showed mental strength to come back and provide the crucial wickets. "Before his action was questioned, Al-Amin was the best pace bowler in the team," Mashrafe said. "Then he had to come back from the World Cup, which gave him a break in his life. It is always hard to come back from such a break. One has to take a lot of mental pressure during these times. He went through a tough time but he was mentally strong. I think he understood his mistakes and he will take it forward from here."
Mashrafe said that pace bowling has played a huge part in Bangladesh's success, particularly in good batting conditions against India and Pakistan earlier this year. "Our bowling unit has helped us win most of the games for the last 12 months. We have a lot of variety in the attack. If everyone can perform their respective roles, it becomes hard for the opposition. The pitches were critical against South Africa [in July] but against India and Pakistan, we played on good batting wickets. Our bowlers did well in those two series."
The improvement in pace bowling is going to be an advantage for Bangladesh when they play abroad. What they now need to work on is having more depth in the pace attack, and by restarting the pacer hunt programme, the BCB seems to be serious about this.