Dhoni and Karthik steer India home
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, promoted to bat at No. 3, hamstrung and limping on one good leg for the best part of an innings of 91, helped India to an unconvincing win against Bangladesh in the first one-dayer at Dhaka. A mediocre bowling and fielding effort left India chasing 251 from 47 overs - after morning showers had shortened the match - and a lacklustre batting performance, where the best partnership of the innings was the final one, took the match to the penultimate over.
A critical 107-run partnership for the sixth wicket, where Dinesh Karthik played his part admirably, ensured a result that will be welcomed in India but this performance will not do much to calm the nerves of fans still smarting from India's first-round exit in the World Cup.
The tone for India's performance was set very early on when Habibul Bashar won the toss and asked India to take the field. Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth bowled thoughtlessly and without application, allowing Javed Omar to buckle down and dig in for a long innings, and, in contrast, Tamim Iqbal to race away, if streakily.
The boundaries came far too easily for Tamim as Rahul Dravid, India's captain, enjoyed little control over the proceedings and the Bangladesh half-century came up with barely a close appeal from India's bowlers. Tamim was particularly severe, driving on the up through the off side with both timing and placement.
When India did manage to break through it was with a dollop of luck as a Tamim strike off the part-time spin of Dinesh Mongia sailed into the hands of Virender Sehwag on the long-on fence. Tamim made 45 in an opening stand of 78. Things soon became worse for Bangladesh as Bashar, coming down the track to Ramesh Powar, was comprehensively beaten by a ball that dipped late and only managed to lift the ball to mid-on for a duck.
India had an opportunity at 78 for 2 but they squandered it. Omar, who was content just keeping the threatening balls out against the mediumpacers, was set well enough to come down the track to Powar and loft him over long-on for a six. Saqibul Hasan continued Tamim's work, pulling off some audacious shots. Again it was Zaheer who suffered, and it was a measure of the ease with which he was batting that Saqibul had enough time to walk across his stumps and scoop the ball over short fine-leg for a boundary.
A 107-run third-wicket partnership put Bangladesh well on course, and it was only a run-out that brought India respite. Omar miscued one towards long-off, easily picked up one and turned around slowly, thinking about a second run when a throw from Zaheer found him well short. Omar made 80 from 117 balls with seven fours and two sixes. Saqibul had barely celebrated his fifth ODI half-century when he came down the pitch to Mongia, attempted to hit the ball out of the park, missed and was stumped.
Mohammad Ashraful (29), playing in his 100th ODI, hit nicely inside out and over midwicket, and Aftab Ahmed (16) added his ten taka worth, as Bangladesh capped off an impressive batting performance, reaching an even 250 for 7 from their allotted 47 overs.
India needed their batsmen to cover for the deficiencies on the field - and even given the debilitating conditions of heat and humidity there was no explaining the number of fielding lapses - and they just about managed to do so. A good start to the second innings would have helped, but only Bangladesh got one.
Gautam Gambhir, opening the innings in place of Robin Uthappa who had a disappointing World Cup campaign, once again fell in what is becoming de rigeur for him. He planted his front foot perfectly in line with a ball from Syed Rasel that was destined for middle stump, and could not get his bat around pad in time and was palpably lbw.
Virender Sehwag eased the pain by carting Rasel for four boundaries in the first five balls of the seventh over, but it was Rasel who had the last laugh. A cleverly floated slower ball drew Sehwag into an ambitious slice towards a diving Saqibul at cover. Yuvraj Singh then played a soft drive to a ball that stopped on him, finding the man at short cover, and made a bad situation worse, leaving India at 63 for 3.
Dravid and Dhoni, sent out to bat at No. 3, steadied the ship for a while, adding 49 before a tired shot from Dravid put Bangladesh back on target. Dravid (22) reached for a ball well outside the off stump but only managed to slice the ball to point.
Mongia pottered about the crease for 25 balls, scoring 17, before another soft dismissal - a gentle chip to midwicket - put India in trouble at 144 for 5. Finally it was down to the two wicketkeepers, Dhoni and Karthik, to steer India home. Dhoni was lucky to be around as long as he was, trapped plumb in front by Abdur Razzak early in his innings only to see Asoka de Silva, the umpire, deny a perfectly legitimate shout. It was not the kind of innings Dhoni is famous for, and he had to work hard for each of his runs, and a cramped right hamstring made it all the more challenging. There was another scare when he survived a close run-out call on 73. Eventually, though, he kept his cool and battled till the end, remaining unbeaten on 91 (106 balls, 7 fours) to see India home with six balls to spare. Karthik, not out on 58, had played his part well in the chase.
Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo