Youthful zest and experience
An Indian declaration was just around the bend and Sachin Tendulkar was looking to attack. Mohammad Rafique was thrown the ball by his captain. He immediately started to strangle Tendulkar with nagging line and length. All the balls were on and around the off stump and 11 balls later, an exasperated Tendulkar tried to break free with a slog sweep - a shot with which he rendered Shane Warne toothless and ineffectual. To his dismay, this delivery drifted in quick with the arm, landed and hastened straight on. The bat came around the line, the ball collided with the inside edge and went on to disturb the furniture.
Rafique considers that dismissal, in the second innings of the first Test in the recently concluded series, his favourite wicket. There was nothing dramatic about the delivery. Just like Rafique's bowling. You're not going to see him bowling the ball of the millennium nor is he going to get young boys to fall in love with the game. However, he has the admiration of his team-mates and the respect of the opponents.
Rafique's eyes lit up when you mention his duel, albeit lost, against Rahul Dravid in that series. Time and again, he would slip in an arm-ball from round the wicket, hoping to get an lbw. Dravid, however, had a plan. He took care not to press his front foot fatally across and stayed adjacent to the line. This went on through the ODIs and the Test series. "He is a very good batsman," deadpanned Rafique. "It's different bowling against patient batsmen. You play on each other's patience." Does that mean he would rather bowl against attacking batsman?
"I enjoy bowling against the aggressive batsman. My bowling is all about control. The attacking types get the runs but also give you more chances." Bingo. Irritate the batsmen with tight line and length, and then slip in a sucker ball or trap them with the quicker one.
|"Lara doesn't allow one to settle. The way he switches from defence to attack, even as the ball has been delivered, is something to watch. And Jayasuriya can simply take you apart."|
He rates Brian Lara and Jayasuriya as his favourite batsmen. Not surprisingly, both are aggressive. "Lara doesn't allow one to settle," he says. "The way he switches from defence to attack, even as the ball has been delivered, is something to watch. And Jayasuriya can simply take you apart."
Rafique doesn't spin the ball alarmingly. He uses the crease well, creates angles by going wide of the crease, has no problems in going round the wicket and in the recent times, his bowling arm has gone rounder as he made the occasional ball skid on. Rafique explained his art. "I try to vary the amount of spin and the bounce. Sometimes I bowl with a high-arm action and when I don't want the ball to bounce much, I slip in one off a round-arm action. It is all about trying to keep the batsman guessing." But for an umpiring error, he would have had the wicket of Tendulkar with a delivery that skidded in from round the stumps in the second Test. Rafique laughs in agreement when you remind him.
Meanwhile, as the veteran continues to add new tricks to his trade, Bangladesh cricket is feeling the winds of change. The young Mohammad Ashraful has been made captain and they are also looking for a new coach. What does Rafique think about the move? " It's great. Ashraful is young and it's better to hand over the reigns to a talented youngster who can take the country forward.
"He is keen and we seniors are always around for guidance and help. I like to enjoy my game and it doesn't matter who is the captain, young or old." Nudged about whether Habibul Bashar, who retired from ODI captaincy and was not allowed to continue as Test captain, would share that sentiment, he said without pausing, "I am sure Bashar also won't have any problem."
Rafique has one gripe though - the low number of Tests that Bangladesh plays in a year, and how that has affecting his bowling. "I play lots of ODIs," he tells you. "We keep practicing for them. The bowling automatically becomes pretty restrictive in nature. And suddenly when the Tests come, it gets tough, especially for the youngsters. They can't develop variations or flight the ball suddenly. We need to play more. Only then our bowling and cricket will improve." One can't argue with that.
Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo