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     Volume 6 Issue 28| July 20 , 2007 |

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Death of a Magician

Nader Rahman

Ashraful, symbolic of the Bangladesh team plays one shot too many.

It would be apt to think of Bangladeshi cricket as a magician, one whose surprises bring both ecstasy and agony. At the end of the day, the tricks are just that, tricks and nothing more. Every great magician has his signature trick and for Bangladesh that is to deceive the world with a few magical performances only to consistently fail at simplest of tasks. Before one makes the Eiffel Tower disappear, one must learn to pull a rabbit out of the hat. In the recently finished test series against Bangladesh Muttiah Muralitharan had his fare share of bunnies, eventually pulling 26 out of three measly test matches. With that he is primed to take on bigger things such as the world record number of test wickets, he will soon make his Eiffel Tower disappear as Bangladesh struggles with the rabbits.

The first test match was yet another failure as the promised magic failed to materialise. It was a pathetic performance which merited questions over Bangladesh's continued presence in the test arena. Bowled out for under a hundred and then the fielders were sent on a leather hunt as Sri Lanka dominated by intimidation. Average bowling was carted around with consummate ease as even Chaminda Vaas took his opportunity with both hands and notched up his maiden test century. The second innings was far better as Bangladesh grinded through a day's play losing only five wickets. The game was taken into the fourth day but it only lasted 20 minutes as the magician was brought to his knees by the pace and spin of Murali and Malinga.

Murali's magic brought him a rich haul of wickets against a hapless Bangladesh.

Like a true entertainer the magician promised a better show next time, he claimed that lessons would be learned and mistakes would not be repeated. Now promising and delivering are two entirely different concepts and this is where the magician deceives his audience. The second test was to be another serious examination of Bangladesh's international credentials. Mahela Jayawardene won his second toss in a row and sent Bangladesh into bat on a lively pitch. It proved to be yet another pathetic performance as the magician lost the plot early on. His preparation was almost perfect, saying all the right things making all the right moves but the act itself left a lot to be desired. He poked and prodded at everything outside off stump and while it is said that the hand is quicker than the eye, this innings was obviously the exception to the rule. Wickets fell faster than the journalists could type as Bangladesh was bowled out for a paltry 62 just after lunch.

While Bangladesh may have been the opening act, the Sri Lankan innings on the other hand was a flawless performance. The tricks from their side were far less elaborate but were performed with breathtaking accuracy. Bangladesh did not have much to offer as they seemed to get a Jekyll and Hyde sort of pitch, full of pace and bite when they bat and seemingly tame and flat when they bowl. The bowling could not be called bad, but it was mediocre to say the least. Seemingly the Bangladeshi big talk was more deceiving than their bowling as its mundaneness was consistently interrupted by the magic wand of one Kumar Sangakkara. He treated the bowling with respect without bowing down to it and that eventually earned him and unbeaten double hundred. It was a fitting reward for a fine innings that lasted more than twice the number of balls Bangladesh played in their first knock, and more than three times the number of runs scored and minutes played in the entire Bangladesh fist innings! Who said no man is greater than "the" team?

The magician was quite unwell by the time the second innings came along and he needed to pull off something quite outstanding if he wished to cling to dear life. Seemingly the magician found two able subjects to resurrect his act. Just like he always does for ten failures he comes up with "one" epic trick, Mohammad Ashraful and Mushfiqur Rahim were only too happy to help him out. They put together a partnership of 191 against a versatile attack, which had earlier terrorised them into submission.

It was a partnership of real grit as Bangladesh finally showed some fight. Ashraful played a captain's hand as he took his time to settle down and then milked the bowling, good balls were defended and the very occasional bad balls were dispatched. It was an innings of genuine class as the magician came to life again, his had finally pulled the rabbit out of the hat, the real questions was if he could continue it on a regular basis. The 18 year-old Mushfiqur Rahim was unlucky not to follow his captain with a century but his innings of 80 was invaluable to the Bangladeshi cause. Aside from one big partnership sandwiched between two collapses it was the same old story. One trick only serves to distract, it does not fix the problem, the magician was slowly dying and the second innings was just one good day before the inevitable end.

The third and final test was to be the magician's last chance, if he failed it would signal the end of the act. If Bangladesh were to walk away with an iota of pride then this was their last chance. As it turned out the magician's illness was terminal and all he needed was to be read his last rites, that task was given to the ever reliable Muralitahran. In another one man show greater than a team, he brought the magician to his knees and all but tucked him into his deathbed. With six cheap first innings wickets he went even closer to his world record. Bangladesh's innings folded for a mere 131, just over double their previous first innings score.

The rain gods took pity on the magician, as the heavens opened up Bangladesh was given a glimmer of hope. Yet when Sri Lanka went into bat they took no half measures. Bt the end of the second day's play Bangladesh were already bundled out for 131 and Sri Lanka were only 30 without loss. It seemed rain would rule all. Then came the magic of the third day as Sri Lanka took Bangladesh to pieces. In an outstanding display of batting Sri Lanka added a mammoth 470 runs in 100 overs, Jayawardene and Sangakkara helped themselves to big hundreds and Sangakkara even doubled up with his second unbeaten double century in two matches. The magician was on life support, was this to be a mercy killing, if so who was to read them their last rites?

Bangladesh started a mere 369 runs behind Sri Lanka and initially it looked like they would at least go down with a fight. The first two wickets put on 98 runs as the out of form Shahriar Nafees came good with a composed 64. Then came the man with the bulging eyes, a master magician known by only one name, Murali. Not only did he read the magician his last rites but he pulled the plug on his life support. Murali took another six wickets in the second innings and with his final wicket, the last to fall in the match he took his epic 700th test wicket. The magician was dead, but like all true illusionists we wait for his resurrection. With the one dayers a few days away, it may come faster than we think.


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