The Bangladesh team is stumped, in more ways than one.
Bangladesh has made a habit out of consistent inconsistency; the pattern to their cricket is as abstract as Picasso's cubism and equally tough to understand. The series against Sri Lanka was supposed to be yet another one of those turning points in Bangladesh cricket, yet if the first test was anything to go by, then we have a long straight road ahead of us, with no turnings in sight, one might even be tempted to say that we are heading towards the light.
But hopefully things are not that desperate just as yet, having been a test-playing nation for seven years now, we have more or less moved past the stage where people question our credentials and ask for us to be stripped of our test status, more or less. Making Mohammad Ashraful the captain of a young team was a bold move but it was also the only move that could have been made. It was not a move that the board had decided upon, they did not actively seek a new direction, they were pushed to make a move and they did all that they could. Habibul Bashar had stagnated as a captain and the home series against India was the final straw that broke the camel's back. His imagination had run dry and at the end of the day he was too conservative a captain, for the underdogs to do well they need to take risks and seemingly he was never up for it. That is not to say he was a bad captain, but mentally with his lack of form he was a spent force, Ashraful was the way to go. Full of bravado one hoped captaincy would steady his misguided genius. The first test at the Sinhalese Sports Club would be his litmus test. It was to be a mixed week for new captains as Chris Gayle and Paul Collingwood both led their teams with relative success and Ashraful did little to lead his team at all.
On a cloudy day in Colombo, Sri Lanka won the toss and had no hesitation in sending Bangladesh to bat first. They went into the test without ex-captain Marvin Atapattu who opted out of the series to get over his world cup trauma (caused by the fact that Sri Lanka made it to the final without him playing in even one match) and “rested” Sanath Jayasuria, a move which has been seen as the end of his test career as he concentrates on ODI cricket from here on end. The out of form Shahriar Nafees and Javed Omar opened the batting against some hostile and high quality fast bowling. Chaminda Vaas swung the ball at will and kept the batsmen guessing while Lasith Malinga bowled only two lengths short and into the ribs along with his trademark searing yorkers. Nafees was first to go as he nibbled at one outside the off stump and soon the rut was on as Omar and Bashar fell in quick succession. In Ashraful's first test as captain he needed to buckle down and hold the innings together. That was decidedly not the case as he fell into the trap of having a go at the short ball. He was caught at deep midwicket in yet another schoolboy dismissal. Just when one thought things could not have been worse, a man named Murali came on to bowl. He mesmerised the tail with his variation and in a mere seven overs increased his mind boggling tally of five wicket hauls to 58. In the end the visitors were bowled out for 89 in 32 overs. Embarrassingly Bangladesh showed just how brittle their cricket is by collapsing for the umpteenth time, in their pre-game plan the operative word for them should be “application”.
Sri Lanka replied regally as the batsmen helped themselves to the average Bangladeshi bowling. But there was quite a start from the visitors as Shahadat Hossain bowled with real aggression and pried out the wickets of the debutant Warnapura and the sublime Sangakkara. Sri Lanka were in a bit of trouble but then came caption fantastic, who flayed the Bangladeshi bowling with an elegance not seen since Mark Waugh retired. He hooked, pulled, drove and caressed the ball around the empty stadium as the Bangladeshi bowlers and fielders were left in awe. It was only cramps right at the close of play that took away his chance of a century as he retired on 93. At the other end the unfortunately named Vandort played second fiddle to the conductor of the orchestra Jayawardene, but also moved closed in on a century.
The second day was yet another horribly depressing day for Ashraful and his charges as Sri Lanka took the game away from them. Vandort duly brought up his century as the bowling was anything but incisive, soon Jayawardene was back at the crease and he too stroked his way to a century before finally falling to Mashrafee Mortaza. But that was just the beginning as yet another Jayawardene, the keeper got in on the fun and helped himself to his maiden test century. But the most remarkable aspect of the day was Chaminda Vaas's batting as he played an chanceless innings. He drove with power and was adept at the cut shots as he eased his way to his first test century, in his 98th test! To see a number 8 get a test century against Bangladesh was depressing to say the least, along the way the hosts put up a lead of 488.
It was only on the third day that Bangladesh actually fought as they battled their way to a good score by tea, only to lose a few wickets and hand the advantage back to Sri Lanka. There was never a doubt as to who would win the match, but Bangladesh had to put on a good show, or else be humiliated. At the end of the day no one could fault the team, they tried their best, dug in and stayed in, it showed real character. Everyone, that is, except the captain Ashraful and in the middle of the innings he lost his head and went for two bizarre reverse sweeps and 32 balls later fell to Murali, going for a big shot. It was schoolboy stuff again as he let his nation and his team down, he has to grow up. Bangladesh closed the day at 233 for five, and in the process delayed the inevitable. The standout knocks came from the stodgy Omar and the gritty Rajin Saleh as they both notched up combative half centuries.
The fourth day was one too much for Sri Lanka as they mopped up the tail in 20 minutes to win the match and head in for an early breakfast. Malinga and Murali pulled the rug from beneath the batsmen as they were virtually unplayable on what must called a rather flat wicket. yet another innings loss for Bangladesh, worryingly after 7 years they still have not learned from their mistakes. Focussing seems to be all the rage, but focus without application is worth nothing. This could turn out to be a long and arduous series, the team needs to turn its self around, one day cricket is just a bit of fun, test cricket is the real game. We seem to enjoy the fun better than the real game. The batsmen need to keep their heads down and value their wicket, our captain needs to grow up and we need to turn the theory of practise sessions into performances on the pitch. How much longer can we prophesise our great turnaround?
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