India seize advantage despite Mahmudullah heroics
A brain freeze from the Bangladesh lower order squandered the initiative that a 108-run seventh-wicket stand had secured them. With Bangladesh throwing away their last four wickets and falling behind by one run, India didn't look the gift horse in the mouth and went on to extend that lead to 123 with nine wickets in hand.
From 98 for 6, Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim had carried Bangladesh past 200 when common sense deserted them. Mushfiqur, who had survived an edgy period early on, threw it away by slog-sweeping an innocuous-looking Amit Mishra from wide outside off. No. 9 Shahadat Hossain came out swinging like the climax of a Western, as opposed to giving the strike to Mahmudullah, who was already past his maiden Test fifty by then.
In the last over before tea, Shahadat chipped Mishra straight to cover. Back after the break, Mahmudullah smote the first ball for four, but when he lofted the fifth ball of the over over mid-on, he came back for two - any other settled batsman would have taken a single and seen out the whole of the next over. Under pressure to take a single next ball, he opened the face and edged Sreesanth to Dinesh Karthik. In the next over, Shafiul Islam got off the mark in Tests with a mowed six, but sliced the next ball to point. Just like that, a golden opportunity of keeping India in the field till about stumps had passed Bangladesh by.
They lost wickets in clusters: the last four for 36 runs, and the first six for 45. Of those six, three came early on the third morning. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma continued from their impressive spells from the second day and the batsmen kept obliging. There was slight seam movement and bounce in the pitch, enough to make the batsmen regularly play down the wrong line.
Mohammad Ashraful was all at sea, playing Zaheer away from the body, and getting squared up by Ishant. The ever so slight holding of the line from Ishant, and a shade of extra bounce, was enough to awkwardly square up Ashraful and take the shoulder of the bat. Shakib Al Hasan looked to counterattack, hitting four boundaries in the next four overs. Again, all it took was a slight straightening of the ball, and a slash at a wide delivery was flying over gully when Virender Sehwag intercepted it perfectly.
When Zaheer and Ishant were taken off simultaneously, their partnership had resulted in five wickets for 59 runs, during the 23 overs they bowled on the trot. Sreesanth came back to end Raqibul Hasan's resistance, who too played inside the line of a straight delivery, and edged.
The seventh-wicket partnership stopped the procession of dismissals to outside edges and made India go wicketless for almost a full session, leading Bangladesh to a first-innings lead at the same time. Zaheer, the pick of the bowlers, struggled for support, with Sreesanth warned once for running on the pitch and over-stepping almost every second delivery. Mishra was not looking effective at all and Mahmudullah got stuck into him. Between them, Sreesanth and Mishra bowled 12 no-balls.
The duo didn't entirely abort the shots that had proved to be fatal for the earlier batsmen, but were slightly more sensible. They did get away with plays and misses to begin with, but when they chased the wide ones, soft hands meant the ball didn't fly towards slips. In fact, the third man area leaked eight boundaries.
The other big difference the two made was the running between the wickets. They ran hard, and they ran more often, which meant neither of the batsmen got stuck at one end for too long. Nineteen boundaries had been hit before the two came together and 14 came during their stand.
As the stand grew bigger, the batsmen grew surer. Mahmudullah started targeting Mishra, driving him through the covers, lofting him over mid-on, and paddling him to alternate the strike. But then, Bangladesh chose to display their lack of experience.
Coming into bat one run ahead, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were more circumspect than in the first innings. They saw off the aggressive Shahadat without much adventure, and punished the other fast bowers, Shafiul and Rubel Hossain. With eight of their overs going for 55, Shakib had to bring himself on early again. By then, almost nonchalantly Sehwag and Gambhir had added 56 in 10 overs.
Sehwag stayed quiet against his first-innings nemesis for a bit, and had taken only five off 16 Shakib deliveries when he stepped out and launched him over long-on. Four balls later the slog-sweep against the turn consumed Sehwag. Sent in originally as nightwatchman, Mishra reversed roles, and got his own back at Mahmudullah, dancing down the track and lofting him over mid-on twice on the way to an unbeaten 24 off 21 deliveries. He subjected the other spinners to three other boundaries, taking his tally to one more than Gambhir's, who had seemed inconspicuous and yet scored 47 off 56.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo