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The Blues conquer the Reds

By Osama Rahman

The protest must have already begun and ended, but four days later and the debate surely rages on. From a spectator's point of view, it seemed like it was United's day, however any expert will tell you that they were in actuality evenly matched by a solid Chelsea side.

Alex Ferguson once more showed he was a shrewd tactician, flooding the Chelsea midfield with arguably defensive-minded players such as Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson. Anderson stood out, proving to be a thorn in Essien's side throughout the game and this clever ploy almost paid dividends. However, in the fast paced world of the Premier League, seconds decide destiny and 'almost' stands for nothing. This was just the case on Sunday at Stamford Bridge.

Wayne Rooney stood out, exposing Chelsea's defensive frailties with a vengeance and on numerous occasions. However, an exceptional performance by John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho managed to tame the rampaging striker, albeit with a lot of struggle. What to say of his sudden turn and strike which just went wide of the left hand post? Or of his sweet pass to Valencia, who later barged into Terry and thus failed to make the most of the chance? It is no surprise that Barcelona are supposedly planning a ridiculously high bid for the star striker.

United stifled the now common free-flowing nature of Chelsea's play really well. Every man was perfectly marked and Chelsea hardly had enough space to build up, whereas United broke off at every chance, dictating the terms for the better part of the game. The Blue Stars Lampard, Deco and Drogba all failed to shine. Ivanovic did manage to make some space but to no avail.

As the game wore on, controversies arose. Was there really a penalty for United? Was the referee wrong to award the free kick that decided the game? These are questions which people will continue asking as Chelsea march towards the title. As the game remained 0-0, the fateful free-kick was awarded in Chelsea's favour and Lampard's sumptious cross was met by a delightful flick by Captain John Terry and the board read 1-0. Stamford Bridge suddenly came to life and amidst the uproar, the Blues celebrated. Ancelotti may just have conquered the defining moment of his Chelsea Career. With the final whistle, the dust settled, and one could decipher something strange in the atmosphere. It was as if the last remnants of Jose Mourinho were disappearing in the air. 5 points clear at the top of the table, the Russian Powerhouse were now clear favourites.

Ancelotti had done it. All doubts have now been erased and Stamford is now finally ready, for life after the Special One. Special praise to the Reds' for one of their best performances so far, however there was always something special about this night. Seven years back, United had been lucky. On their lucky seventh year, they failed to make their dominance count. Better luck next time.

Tigers still roaring

By Kazim Ibn Sadique

Another series won comprehensively by the Bangladesh cricket team. The nightmare five years of continuous losses from 1999 to 2004 seems such a long time ago. For those who remember the frustration of those years, the current winning form is a draught of cold water after travelling through the Sahara, with no prospect of travelling back through the desert again.

But you know how things are when you hit the good times: you want better times. Despite the loss in the first match by five wickets, Bangladesh came back to win the series like the favourites that they were. Or did they really?

The first match can be excused in a way. There was a certain rustiness coming into ODI cricket from the local T20s. They put up a measly 186 on the board, that too, courtesy of Mushfiq's 56 and a surprise cameo from Dolar Mahmud at the tail [41 off 32 deliveries].

Bangladesh did put up a decent fight, thanks largely to Abdur Razzak's comeback magic. But even after his three wickets in his first over, Bangladesh were defeated by Chigumbura's all-round performance: 3/27 followed by an unbeaten 60 of 62 deliveries. What cannot be excused, of course, is the crowd's reaction to the loss.

Sensing the end, the once praised Bangladeshi crowd at Mirpur lost their tempers and started throwing in debris from the stands. It was an ugly spectacle, reminiscent of the Eden Garden crowd at the 1996 World Cup, and it was certainly unwanted.

The second ODI was definitely the best one for Bangladeshi supporters. Turned rabid by the loss and the crowd reaction, the team ripped apart Zimbabwe.

Razzak lead the slaughter in the bowling department, snagging 5/29. Tamim and Zunaid started setting off early fireworks with 43 from just three overs. And then, there was a slight collapse. 3 wickets fell in quick succession, which included the two openers and Ashraful. But Shakib and Raqibul steadied the ship, with Raqibul playing the anchor and Shakib keeping up the pace.

Shakib eventually dropped the weights and started hitting the Zimbabweans all over the park. His blitzing 105 of 69 resulted in a comfortable victory for Bangladesh.

Throughout the series, the Bangladeshi bowlers have performed very well. This third match was no exception. But the run chase left much to be desired. Chasing 197, Bangladesh were 175 for 2, with Tamim batting well at 80 with Ashraful for company. But then, there was that collapse again. Bad shot selections from both the set batsmen, lack of patience from the incoming batsmen saw Bangladesh losing wickets consistently.

What should have been at least a 6-wicket victory became a 4-wicket one. Shakib did not seem particularly pleased with the performance of the batsmen at the press conference.

The fourth match was…short, if nothing else. Bangladesh bowled beautifully, pitching the deliveries in the right areas. All the bowlers got wickets, even Nazmul Hossain, the lone seamer.

Zimbabwe was restricted to the almost insignificant total of 44. With the Bangladesh openers scoring 33 in six overs, the first 10-wicket victory looked within reach. But no prizes for guessing what happened next: another collapse. Four wickets fell for the next 12 runs that were required.

The fifth ODI was a lesson in cricketing bravery. In the morning, Brendan Taylor batted practically alone for his unbeaten 118 off 125 balls to steer his team to 221. Followers of Bangladesh cricket will remember Brendan Taylor from that nightmare last over bowled by Masrafe in Harare in 2006, where Taylor picked up 16 runs from the last over, including a six off the last ball when 5 runs were needed for a victory. He looked set to be the man of the match again, as the Bangladesh middle order, despite the starts, failed to make big scores.

After 105 for five, a 69 run partnership between Mahmudullah and Naeem started to give signs of hope, but a double wicket maiden by Chibhabha almost killed that hope. After the fall of two more wickets, with the last man at the crease and 35 runs still required, things looked bleak.

In the end, it was the tenacity of one man that stood against the two teams. Naeem Islam aka Chokka Naeem to his teammates came through for Bangladesh. When 24 was required of 18 balls, Naeem hit three consecutive sixes off hero-turned-zero Chibhabha's over, before finishing the match in the next over.

Recently, they were showing Masrafe at a test transmission for a new channel. He hoped there that the channel would cover cricket positively. This reviewer hates to be negative after such a series, but even though one or two people have clicked in every match, our top and middle orders still leave a lot to be desired.

We could have won some of those matches a lot less painlessly. What if it hadn't been the Zimbabwe side? Would we still win the series the way we played? There was a time when we looked for just a win, never caring how it came. But we are beyond that stage now. It is time to look for some quality in our victories.


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