Bowling puts India in another jam
There couldn't have been too many better ways to have spent the Friday in Dhaka than watching the cracker of an Asia Cup match between Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh fans at the Shere Bangla National Stadium had the best of both worlds - getting to see the star batsman of the opposition make a century, a historic one at that, and then watching their side pull off an astonishing victory.
In the evening Sachin Tendulkar's seemingly interminable wait for the 100th hundred finally ended, and a torrent of tributes began to pour in from India's president and prime minister to the who's who of cricket. His fans were euphoric as their idol had achieved a landmark unlikely to ever be challenged, the new gold standard for longevity and success.
Mere hours later, though, the pacing of Tendulkar's innings was being questioned. Was it too slow, not only leading to India's third one-day defeat to Bangladesh but also endangering India's chances of reaching the final of the Asia Cup, and raising the stakes in Sunday's high-profile encounter with Pakistan.
There was a visible tentativeness from Tendulkar as the century neared, he struggled to pick the gaps as he seemed weighed down by the approaching milestone. His 147-ball 114 resulted in the second lowest strike-rate in 100-plus scores for him, so yes, it wasn't the most fluent of his innings. But then, his partner for much of the effort and one of the form batsmen in world cricket, Virat Kohli, was also having trouble picking up the pace. Besides, the final flourish from Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni boosted India to 289, a solid score on a track where the ball was stopping a touch and when the opposition had sent you in.
More of the blame for the defeat has to be apportioned to India's bowlers, and more credit to the pluckiness of Bangladesh's batsmen. Mushfiqur Rahim had boldly said on Thursday that India's bowling unit was among the weaker ones in the tournament, and he backed up those words with an ice-cool unbeaten 25-ball 46 to steal the game from India and at least some of the headlines from Tendulkar.
It is a familiar problem for India, who even during their World Cup-winning run relied more on their batting clout than on their bowling resources to pull through in tight situations. A consistent and credible option for the death is yet to be found, and now with the batting Powerplay being usually taken from the 36th over and the two new balls reducing the amount of reverse swing, it makes matters worse. Teams around the world are finding it hard to block the runs in the final third of the innings.
All three of India's fast bowlers are not express quick, and there wasn't much movement on offer either, making it paramount for them to be accurate. Instead, they bungled their lengths to routinely provide Bangladesh with boundary balls. Irfan Pathan and Praveen Kumar, hearteningly for India, tested the batsmen with some pinpoint yorkers, but they also served up too many length deliveries and several high full tosses that were duly dispatched. With the game heading for a tense finish, Irfan and Praveen offered two waist-high full tosses to Mushfiqur in the space of five deliveries. A six and a four resulted, and the match was gone.
After the match, Tendulkar praised Bangladesh's batsmen, and didn't think the target was too small. "Two-ninety was a decent total. Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition," he said. "They played good cricket, approached it really well. Our bowlers tried their best, this is just one of those things. If Australia can lose after scoring 434, whom do you blame then?"
Tendulkar also said that it wasn't the easiest of tracks to bat on. "We wanted to get to a good total. I was batting with Virat and we decided that 275 to 280 is a good total," he said. "He mentioned this wicket was different to the one we played on earlier [against Sri Lanka, where India made 304]. They needed 33 off the last three overs, I thought we were in control but there were a few very good shots."
Tendulkar could conceivably have scored a little quicker and helped India to 20 extra runs, but would the listless bowling have been able to defend even that? The delirious Bangladesh fans couldn't care less, as they trooped out of the stadium shouting slogans of victory after a thoroughly well-spent day.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo