Shakib and Shahadat dominate 'ordinary' India
Bangladesh, all pumped up and incisive, roared back "extraordinarily", taking eight Indian wickets for 130 runs and forcing Sachin Tendulkar to dig deep to try and take India towards a respectable total. Shakib Al Hasan, who bowled 25 overs unchanged for 48 runs, and Shahadat Hossain, who bowled in hostile spurts, were at the centre of the comeback, taking four wickets apiece for 103 runs between them, and proving the Indians "still are human beings". Every wicket pumped Bangladesh up more, every wicket was met with wild celebrations, special one among those being Shahadat's after Dinesh Karthik's wicket - a finger on his lips, telling his opponents in no unsubtle terms to watch their mouth.
Virender Sehwag, who had called Bangladesh an "ordinary" side in the lead-up to the Test, got off to an aggressive start in a curtailed first session after fog and murky light delayed the start of the match. When he went into lunch, despite the balls stopping and coming and the turn available for the spinners, Shakib would have wondered if he had made the right decision by putting India in. India had raced to 63 for 0 in 13 overs, and immediately after the break Sehwag hit Shahadat for three boundaries in one over, reaching his fifty at more than a run a ball.
Yet, Sehwag wasn't totally in control. He had hit Shakib for a first-ball four, but the turn had had Sehwag in an edgy frame of mind. Off 12 balls of spin, Sehwag was forced to abort attacking shots because he was beaten in flight, rapped on the pads by arm balls, and had one bat-pad fly wide of forward short leg. He eventually lost patience and hit a shortish delivery straight to short cover. Shakib 1, Sehwag 0.
Sehwag's dismissal kick-started a period of aggressive and smart bowling and captaincy, which eventually resulted in soft dismissals. Gautam Gambhir, who had been circumspect in playing outside off, went to cut a wide delivery from Shahadat and the extra bounce caught the edge. Rahul Dravid came to bat in a situation tailor-made for him, but played all around a swinging yorker, and 79 for 0 became 85 for 3 in a matter of 17 deliveries.
Shakib then kept his fast bowlers fresh by rotating them from one end, and keeping the pressure up bowling unchanged until stumps. With Rubel Hossain getting reverse-swing from the other end, there were no free hits, boundaries were plugged away, and Laxman, especially, struggled to get off strike. For 13.4 overs not a single boundary came.
Shakib mixed the offbreaks and the arm balls well, also varied the degree of the flight. After a series of near dismissals - leaving alone an arm ball that almost shaved the off stump, hitting uppishly one bounce to short cover, and scoring 7 off 29 balls, Laxman finally over-balanced when looking to drive Shakib. The ball went straight on, took the inside edge onto the pad, and then rolled along to an alert Mushfiqur Rahim, who found Laxman short of his crease.
There was no counterattack forthcoming from Yuvraj, who prodded and nudged Shakib dangerously for 30 deliveries, before the lack of clarity of thought consumed him. Caught completely in the defensive frame of mind, Yuvraj could have done many things with a gentle leg-side fulltoss, but lobbing it down mid-on's throat wouldn't have been high on the agenda. Immediately Shakib got Shahadat back, and as if on cue, Karthik drove at a wide delivery and edged low to gully.
All the batsmen who got out had a lesson to learn from the man they passed when they walked back. Tendulkar, dropped on 16 by Imrul Kayes at wide slip, respected that the pitch was not flat, Shakib and Shahadat were bowling really well, and cut out undue risks. He didn't play away from the body, worked the singles, found the gaps for twos, and even the edge that flew to the left of slip came against the run of play. Tendulkar capitalised on that, and without taking risks, maintained a strike-rate of 50-plus in reaching his 98th score of 50 and above.
The other end, though, remained vulnerable. The tea break came just at the right time, and Shakib and Shahadat came back fresh. Tendulkar and Amit Mishra added 32 for the seventh wicket, but Shahadat came back to produce a reversing low full-toss to Mishra. Unlike Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan couldn't make the most of a dropped catch, and the 27-run eight wicket ended when an arm ball got him.
Before bad light kept India's first innings fighting for another day, two statements were made that suggested that Bangladesh were not as ordinary as India had thought. Tendulkar was forced to try and farm strike, and more often than not Shakib bowled smartly enough to keep him at the other end and expose the tailender for a complete over to Shahadat. And just before stumps, Shakib, not lacking in a sense of drama, bowled with three slips, a silly point, a forward short leg, and a leg gully to Ishant Sharma.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo