Thrashed and Whatmore
Both India and Bangladesh went into the second test at Dhaka with some degree of confidence. India outplayed their hosts in both the ODI's and first test and only the rain denied them a deserved victory in Chittagong. Bangladesh on the other hand escaped defeat in the first test with more than a little help from the weather, and went into the deciding match with an outside chance of snatching their first series win against an established team.
The Indian team made one change from the first test as they gave uncapped Delhi paceman Ishnat Sharma his debut. He took the place of the impressive but erratic VRV Singh, in a team where they stuck to the tactic of using five specialist bowlers. More importantly Anil Kumble who missed almost the entire match in Chittagong with a fever was back to full fitness as the Indians looked to close out an important away series victory against their World Cup foes Bangladesh.
The hosts on the other hand had more than a few worries over their team for the second test. The ever-aggressive Shahadat Hossain had to miss the match with a fever and the ODI specialist Syed Rasel took his place. Another major decision was to change the tried and tested combination of two spinners and two pacers. Enamul Haque bowled his heart out in the first test but was woefully out of form and he was replaced by Mohammad Sharif, who has been on the fringe of the national team for a few months now after 4 years out in the wilderness. Having made his debut back in 2001 as a 17 year-old he has gone through his fair share of problems, loss of form and niggling injuries that required multiple surgery just to name a few. The last two years have been his most productive domestically as he picked up bucket loads of wickets and forced his way back to the team through the sheer weight of his performances. His inclusion must also have had something to do with what looked like a non-spinning Mirpur wicket, along with his extra ability with the bat.
After the rain of Chittagong, the sultry heat of Dhaka was positively oppressive. The scheduling of this series in May has come under severe criticism and rightly so as the weather played havoc with the players and the matches. The Mirpur wicket was baked rock solid under the extreme heat and proved to be the quintessential batting strip and made Bangladesh's decision to put India in first look thoroughly daft. While Bashar was lambasted, Whatmore came out and publicly and explained the decision to bowl first was made by the captain, selectors and the coach together, thus leaving the cricketing public questioning their acumen.
In the most oppressive weather imaginable, Bangladesh bowled first to two openers under pressure for their places in the team. Jaffer came into the match straight off a pair while Karthik was still trying to cement his place in the team as a specialist opener. The Bangladeshi bowling was average bordering bad as only Mashrafee caused the batsmen any trouble. The both put their nerves behind them as they dominated the insipid Bangladeshi bowling. They strolled past their fifties with ease and soon were troubled more by the weather than the bowling. With the score on an unchallenged 175 India lost their first wicket, not to the Bangladeshi bowlers but to the heat as Karthik retired ill on 84. Dravid joined Jaffer in the middle and they both scored easily as the bowling faltered yet again. Rafique bowled tirelessly as usual but without any penetration, to add to his woes he dropped a simple return catch and was duly made to pay for it as Jaffer went on to post the first hundred of the game. Soon after his century he too fell to the weather as the severe heat and humidity finally got to him. With both the openers retired ill Dravid and Tendulkar took India to the close of play with the score on 326, with Dravid not too far off a century of his own.
The next morning he duly reached his century as Tendulkar sedately moved to 50, without the Bangladeshi bowling posing much of a problem. By a strange quirk when Dravid finally fell with the score on 408 India were within five runs of the all time highest test opening partnership set by Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad against New Zealand in 1955-56, albeit with the help of 4 batsmen. After Dravid, Karthik walked in and almost on the stroke of lunch brought up his maiden test century. With the first three getting centuries Tendulkar did not disappoint as he added to the Bangladeshi misery by scoring his second century in two matches against the hosts. With a quick fire 50 from Dhoni, India finally mercifully declared on 610 having lost only three wickets. The top four scored centuries for the first time in test cricket.
An utterly dejected and physically unwell Bangladesh team took to the field to play out the last 20 odd overs of the day, with the hope of not losing too many wickets. Then came a storm called Zaheer Khan. On what looked a lifeless pitch he got bounce, pace and bite as he took a wicket with the first ball of the innings. The following over Bashar continued his pathetic form when he wafted at a length ball outside off stump only to be caught behind. Out of form Shahriar Nafees fell in the third over bowled by a beauty from Khan who followed it up by nailing Mohammad Ashraful for a golden duck The rut was on with the score at 7/4. Rajin Saleh followed soon after, as a calm Saqibul Hassan took Bangladesh to 58/5 by the end of play. Only the close of play stopped Bangladesh from humiliating themselves.
The following day Khan cleaned up the tail and by lunch Bangladesh was following on and had already found time to lose a wicket. Rajin Saleh blazed and innings of 42 of 46 balls with 8 fours after the top three failed yet again. But even that was nothing compared to Ashraful's flamboyant 64 of 41 as he thumped the bowling around with careless abandon. He was severe on everything he faced in a cameo studded with 12 fours and two impressive sixes. Even if it was fleeting, finally the crowds were dancing in the isles. He fell for one shot too many to the viley Kumble and then it was just a matter of time till India wrapped up the game. Mashrafee had other thoughts though as he played yet another classy innings which only added to his ambitions of becoming an allrounder. He played good cricketing shots without many slogs and then went berserk when it came down to the last wicket. It was pure magic as he scored a heart-warming 70 of 68 balls, a fine end to fine series for him personally. With that the innings folded at 253 and Bangladesh were thrased by an innings and 239 runs.
The game was extremely disappointing for one person in particular, Dav Whatmore who stepped down from his coaching duties after the series. For a man who turned the team around it must have quite disheartening to see them lose in such a manner, surely he deserved more. Time will tell but this series could also signal the end of Habibul Bashar's career. Whatmores's influence on Bangladeshi cricket will never be forgotten and it is testament to the man and his ambitions that four years after he took over his last game in charge was the first test to be played at the “Home of Bangladesh Cricket”, the purpose built Mirpur Stadium. The series was quite close at the beginning but by the end the real gulf in class was visible. Whatmore will be missed, but the promise of consistency is still yet to be fulfilled. For India a face saving victory against a relatively weak opposition will not fill them with confidence, but at least it's a start. With the Whatmore era over, even Bangladesh is looking for its next fresh start.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007