The Rain Game
Before the first test at Chittagong started the media spotlight was firmly on India. They went into the test series without Verinder Sehwag and as such were only left with one specialist opener Wasim Jaffer. This left them in an interesting position, they had to find an opener to partner Jaffer and then if they were to play an extra bowler (as they had earlier planned) they would somehow have to make room for Yuvraj Singh and VVS Laxman.
Surprise, surprise on the morning of the Test they announced their final 11 without either Yuvraj or Laxman. They picked young Dinesh Karthik to open the innings and left out two far more experienced players. At least one of them would have been in with a shout but with five first choice bowlers picked there was no way Dravid, Tendulkar or Ganguly were going to be dropped. Ramesh Pawar was set to make his test debut as the spin option complementing Anil Kumble. The Indian team looked well balanced on paper with 5 bowlers and a solid middle order but there was a feeling that one off day coupled with their long tail could lead to an embarrassingly small total.
Bangladesh on the other hand never really needs an off day to collapse; in test matches it seems to be their forte. They went into the test match with a highly questionable team, the selectors kept their faith in an out of form Shahriar Nafees along with Rajin “out of the wilderness” Saleh, who took the place of the highly talented and experienced Aftab Ahmed. They also included Khaled Mashud in place of Mushfiqur Rahim. After signalling Rahim was the new number one keeper' by selecting him for the World Cup, they backtracked and picked Mashud because they felt his batting was more suited to the longer version of the game. This was after Rahim made his test debut as a specialist batsman back in 2005. Along with the usual suspects, Enamul Haque Jnr was selected as he has become something of a test specialist. After not having played international cricket for over a year Abdur Razzak should have got a look in, especially with his outstanding performances over the past year. The only decent new selection they made was by giving the all-rounder Saqibul Hassan his test debut. The selectors stuck to their tried and tested players, thereby picking a most unimaginative team. Without even knowing it Bangladesh had their back to the wall.
After the last ODI in Chittagong was washed out, there was never a doubt that rain would pay a part in the test as the five day forecast predicted scattered rain for at least four days. India won the toss and decided to bat first on a pitch as flat as Holland. The game started with a bang as Mashrafee bowled Jaffer with the first ball of the match as he shouldered arms to a gentle in swinger that took the top of off stump. India's first choice opener left for a golden duck, in walked Dravid who is no stranger to batting under pressure with a few early wickets down. He and Karthik batted with consummate ease, at one point scoring at 6 runs an over as Shahadat and Mashrafee sprayed the ball around. They were hardly under any pressure and with Rafique and Enamul Haque Jnr bowling very early on without any spin at all they both cruised to easy half centuries.
The pitch played beautifully for the batsmen played the rather average Bangladeshi with consummate ease. The first wicket fell after lunch when Karthik mistimed a pull of Mashrafee, and was soon followed by Dravid who was done in for pace by Shahadat. A good spell of bowling specially from Mashrafee brought Bangladesh right back into the game after being put to the sword by the second wicket partnership. With India wobbling Bangladesh should have taken the game away from them, but they let the pressure go with some erratic bowling from Enamul and Rafique. The momentum had been lost as Tendulkar and Ganguly started cautiously but then milked the bowling till the end of play. The next day aside from some inspired bowling by Mashrafee the Bangladeshi attack looked toothless, as Ganguly and Tendulkar brought up impressive yet casual centuries. They both fell soon after their centuries on a day when only 20 overs were bowled due to inclement weather. In that time 89 runs were added as the rain continued.
The entire third day was lost to rain as it poured down in port city, cyclone Akash was still round the corner as incessant rain coupled with poor drainage facilities led to a washout of the days play. The fourth day was a day of twists and turns as what looked to be a dull draw changed dramatically as the Bangladeshi batting collapsed (as usual). The day started with Mashrafee taking the wicket of Dhoni and India declared with 387 on the board. Mashrafee was the standout bowler with 4 wickets for 99 runs.
Bangladesh got off to a bad start as Javed Omar fell quickly and was followed by his captain for a second ball duck. Nafees soon fell and was followed by Ashraful as Bangladesh lost wickets at regular intervals. Saleh played a sedate innings and added a fifty run partnership with the debutant Saquib. Then with the score still below 125 they both fell in succession and were followed into the pavilion by the Mashud. In walked Mashrafee Mortaza who played an innings, which put the rest of the batsmen to shame. He milked the inconsistent Indian bowling, which was without Kumble who was out with a fever. His innings was a mixture of power, placement and timing as he took the Indian bowling on by the horns. With 38 runs needed to avoid the follow on he was joined in the middle by this fast bowling partner Shahadat and they played sensibly but with purpose to take Bangladesh past the follow on total. While Shahadat was cautious there were no half measure for Mashrafee as he delighted the crowd with an innings of 79 which included seven fours and three sixes. It was an innings under pressure and of the highest quality. With it he took the total to a respectable 238.
India's second innings was rocked early on as Shahadat took Jaffer in the first over for his second duck and followed that up with the wicket of Dravid. Tendulkar and Karthik steadied the ship and them to 44 for 2 by the end of play. The fifth day was continuously interrupted by rain as Rafique picked up three cheap wickets. India gave a sporting declaration leaving Bangladesh to score exactly 250 in just over 40 overs. While the chase was never on it gave the Bangladesh batsmen some batting practise as Bashar played a fluent knock of 37 to ease the pressure on spot in the team. Along with the captain Omar scored a fluent fifty as the game petered out into a draw.
While it would be unfair to say it was dull draw there were parts of this match that were anything but interesting. The Indian batting against the toothless Bangladesh attack was a pathetic site only invigorated by the sight of Mashrafee steaming in bowling with real heart and effort. His knock was the highlight of the test and that's some achievement in a match where Tendulkar scores a hundred. For his tireless energy and Bothamesque performance he was rightly named the man of the match. That was about the only good thing Bangladesh could take out of the match. They will need to improve or else be crushed by India in the second test at Dhaka. Mashrafee can only do so much…
(R) thedailystar.net 2007