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     Volume 6 Issue 19 | May 18, 2007 |

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India Vs BangladeshH
The Disappointed Vs The Inconsistent

Nader Rahman

Aftab Ahmed plays a cheeky shot during his innings of 41 in the second ODI. Photo: AFP

An interesting incident took place during the World Cup, in the lobby of the team hotel in the Port of Spain. The Indian captain Rahul Dravid complained to Mashrafee Mortaza that there was not enough time between the end of the World Cup and their tour of Bangladesh that was to follow. The implication was that India would be in the tournament till the latter stages, and to do so they would walk over Bangladesh. More than two months have passed since that incident and in between a billion hearts have been broken. With that in mind, India's tour of Bangladesh was rightly dubbed the revenge series. While Bangladesh were seeking to lose their tag of occasional epileptic brilliance India came to set the record straight, big brother had come to put little brother in his place.

From the outset Dravid unequivocally stated that this would not be a revenge series, but that was obviously not what the Indian public had in mind. For them nothing short of a hiding would do, while the message from the team may have been of caution it merely hid a very real sense of frustration that emanated from being dumped out of the World Cup.

M.S Dhoni played a stellar innings of 91* to guide India to victory in the first ODI. Photo: Star File

After their shocking World Cup, wholesale changes were expected and promised by the selectors, a promise which they eventually did not deliver. They made room for some of the younger players by tactically "resting" Sachin and Sourav. But essentially it was a team of almost there's, all with international experience with the exception of the Bengal batsman Manoj Tiwsry. The promise of change was masked in relative youth; after all they still had to pick a side that could win a series against little brother Bangladesh. India had much more to lose than just pride, their faltering cricketers would have to deliver if there was to be any way out of the hole their collective performances had dug for themselves.

Even after the euphoria of the Word Cup Bangladesh did not enter the series with much confidence behind them. They lost their last three matches in the World Cup quite comprehensively and that included a jaw dropping defeat to Ireland. They came back from a gruelling tournament barely ten days before India arrived, my how the tables had turned. The first order of the day was to sort out Habibul Bashar's future, his dismal One Day record had finally caught up with him, and this was to be his final ODI series at home. With the captain making his One Day farewell the selectors next had to sort out the matter of picking his successor.

In a remarkably young team there were not many players to pick from. Shahriar Nafees was appointed Vice-Captain before the Champions Trophy with one eye on his long-term leadership skills, but with his dramatic loss of form he could even make the starting eleven let alone lead the team. Eventually it was handed to Mohammad Ashraful, with the hope that his captaincy would be slightly more sedate and consistent than his blitzkrieging batting. He was made Vice-Captain for the series and it would serve as his apprenticeship before the real thing.

The third ODI was abandoned due to persistent rain as a result of cyclone Akash. Photo: AFP

The Indian team arrived after their training camp in Calcutta to the extreme heat of the delta. Temperatures were well over 35º thus making the toss an important factor. The first two ODI's were to be played in Mirpur, the new home of Bangladesh cricket and due to the unbearable heat in the capital ticket sales were slow. A full house was not expected, but come match day that is exactly what they got.

Bangladesh won the toss and chose to bat first, leaving India to field under the harshest possible weather. To say it was hot would be a supreme understatement, and with the vociferous crowd backing the home team, India must have though they were playing the devil in his back yard. Bangladesh suffered a setback even before the game started when their spearhead Mashrafee Mortaza was ruled out due to injury, the firebrand Shahadat Hossain took his place in the team as Javed Omar kept his place ahead of Shahriar Nafees.

Bangladesh got off to a fine start as Tamim Iqbal mixed his big shots with a few singles and applied more than his usual dose of clam to the innings. At the other end the stodgy Javed Omar kept his wicket intact without scoring much and wasting more than his fare share of deliveries. Iqbal fell for 45 as the imp within could not resist taking on the part time spin of Dinesh Mongia. One down Bashar celebrated his last home series with a ridiculous second ball duck as Bangladesh was put in a spot of bother.

In walked Saquibul Hasan mature beyond his years to partner Omar at an early but crucial juncture in the game. In just over 20 overs Omar and Hasan put on 107 runts at more than five an over. Hassan scored an even fifty of just 68 balls; the remarkable aspect of the innings was that he hit only two boundaries. He ticked the score over with singles and two's and still managed to score at a healthy rate. It was what one could call a captain's innings from a cricketer who seems destined to lead the side one day. Javed Omar on the other hand increased his scoring rate but without many singles a score of 80 off 117 balls was dour to say the least. None the less it was runs on the board.

The Indian bowlers were tiring in the oppressive heat as they no longer chased down the ball, but merely escorted it to the boundary. The fielders were suffering in the heat as the batsmen made hay. Ashraful, Aftab and Rafique all played little cameos to take the total to 250 in a rain shortened 47 overs. The score seemed adequate if not great under the conditions but with the crowd and three potentially dangerous spin bowlers in their ranks Bangladesh seemed slight favourites to win the match.

After the break India started their innings off in no uncertain manner as Sehwag and Gambhir went for the bowling from ball one. Gambhir fell for 21 of 17 balls as Sehwag went on to punish the rather average Bangladeshi bowling. He was particularly severe on Syed Rasel as he was taken to the cleaners. When he finally fell to Rasel India was scoring at close to nine an over with the score on 56. One down for India was the imposing Dhoni, but he got off to sedate start as wickets started to fall around him. Yuvraj fell to Shahahdat as Dravid and Mongia well to the impressive spin of Hasan. India was precariously placed at 144 for 5 with over 100 runts left to win against the impressive spin trio of Bangladesh. It was up to two wicketkeepers Dhoni and Karthik to take India to safety.

While the required rate increased Habibul Bashar's captaincy fell apart, he spread the field out and gave the Indian batsmen easy singles and twos. Without much trouble they inched themselves closer to victory with Dhoni playing possibly his most mature international innings yet. Soon enough 50 overs of keeping wickets and batting got to him physically as he stated to cramp up. The latter part of his innings was completely played with the help of a runner and Bangladesh could make use of his obvious physical discomfort. The spinners lacked bite and leaked a steady flow of singles and two's with the occasional boundary. The Bangladeshi fielding was below average as the Indian batsmen milked the bowling to victory. In the end India won without much fuss, but they were pushed all the way by a Bangladesh side that lacked the hunger to close out what should have been a relatively easy victory. Dhoni remained unconquered on 91 as he took India to a tough but well deservd victory. Mashrafee was sorely missed but Bangladesh's consistency was yet again found wanting.

The second ODI was again to be played at Mirpur two days later. The heat was to play a major role again, but Bangladesh was buoyed with the inclusion of Mashrafee at the expense of Shahadat Hossain. In what could have been the deciding match of the series India won the all important toss and elected to bat first, keeping their team out of the heat in more ways than one. Sehwag fell cheaply after getting yet another start, but then Gambhir and Dhoni took a liking to the Bangladeshi bowling as they took the score to 130 quite easily and in good time. In their partnership Gambhir played the role of the aggressor as they played quite fluently without being troubled much. Yuvraj and Mongia scored a few as Dravid kept the innings in motion with a fluent 42 off 47 balls. In the process Gambhir scored his second ODI century a well paced and stylish knock of 101 to take the Indian total to 284.

For the Bangladeshi bowling there was not really much to write home about, as Mashrafee did not seem up to his best and the rest merely made up the numbers. While at times they look threatening they just could not get their teeth into the Indian batting line-up. The pitch and the conditions did not suit what proved to be less than incisive bowling.

If Bangladesh were to win the match then they would have to play out of skins against an good Indian attack. Tamim was unlucky to be run out early on as Javed Omar hesitated and ended his partners innings. Number three Aftab then stepped in and played a little gem of an innings, as he took the attack to the Indian bowlers with a quick fire 41. As he played with purpose and at times a little too much energy Javed fell. Soon after Saquib edged one to Dhoni as poked and prodded outside off stump. With Ashraful and Aftab at the crease there was still hope of an upset, but when Ashraful fell to the 18-year-old Piyush Chawla Bangladesh were on the back foot. In walked Bashar as he played caution to try and take the total somewhere near the required total. But he was left high and dry after Aftab fell for one big shot too many. He then put on a useful partnership with the diminutive Mushfiqur Rahim before finally teaming up with Mashrafee for a little fun at the end of the innings. Mashrfaee may have had an ordinary day with the ball but smashed a 22 ball 42 which included 4 consecutive sixes of Dinesh Mongia. In the end they lost by 46 runs but the difference was far greater than that.

The final game was to be played in Chittagong but persistent rain courtesy of cyclone Akash ended the game without a ball being bowled. The series which had promised so much did not deliver. In the end India proved too strong for a schizophrenic Bangladesh team. The series was far from one sided but from a Bangladeshi point of view it left a lot to be desired. The search for consistency continues...


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