Bangladesh v India, 2nd Test, Mirpur, 2nd day

Bouncers were part of a plan - Shahadat

Sriram Veera in Mirpur

January 25, 2010

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Rahul Dravid is in serious pain after being hit, as the bowler Shahadat Hossain and keeper Mushfiqur Rahim look on, Bangladesh v India, 2nd Test, Mirpur, 2nd day, January 25, 2010
Shahadat Hossain's bouncer that felled Rahul Dravid is a significant moment which reinforces that Bangladesh belongs to the big league © Associated Press
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The image of the day was of Rahul Dravid going down like he was shot. Dravid ducked under the Shahadat Hossain bouncer, perhaps anticipating that it would bounce more than it did, but he went straight into it and left the field soon after, clutching his jaw.

"It was very much part of the plan," Shahadat said. "Indian players, particularly Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag leave the bouncers well but are not very comfortable in playing it."

What stood out was the fact that the bouncer was not the result of an impulsive reaction from a fast bowler but part of a well-orchestrated plan. It could well have worked had the catches been taken and if Rubel Hossain's left foot hadn't landed a few inches beyond the crease. As it transpired, Sachin Tendulkar and Dravid battled through the tough times to put India in firm control of the game and barring a minor miracle, they should win this game. However, the day's play was fascinating to watch for the careful thought that went behind the attack.

Not every day does a bowler almost knock out Dravid with a bouncer and Shahadat was understandably thrilled with the feat, if not the effect. "Dravid is such a great batsman. To hit his helmet with a bouncer and make him fall on the wicket, I have to admit it felt good. I have hit batsmen before but this is the first time that a batsman has had to go back [after discontinuing batting]," Shahadat, who was unaware at that moment of Dravid's hospitalisation, said.

His reaction was understandable but what was really praiseworthy was that none of the bowlers overdid the bouncer attack. Not a single pull shot was played by an Indian batsman. Perhaps, it was because of the pitch. "It's a two-paced wicket, the bounce is unpredictable, one ball is taking off, and other is not," Sachin Tendulkar said. "It's not an easy track to bat on. They bowled well. They had a specific plan and stuck to it."

The plan was to make the batsmen play the bouncers. For that, they had to direct it well and try to bowl it at the body. It was Shahadat who started it all with a nagging bouncer that cramped Sehwag, forcing a hurried prod to the keeper. Then, Shafiul Islam went round the stumps and fired a short one at Gautam Gambhir's body to claim the second victim.

This is where it got interesting. Dravid was in with Tendulkar and one wondered whether their reputations will force Bangladesh to shelve the short ones, but they stuck to the plan. Dravid was stunned by a wonderfully accurate bouncer from Rubel and Junaid Siddique even took a sharp catch, diving low to his right at slip, but unfortunately it was a no-ball. It took a moment for the fielders and even for Dravid to realise that he had been let off.

And they nearly had Tendulkar. Twice. He was on 53 when he didn't connect properly with an intended uppercut against a lifter outside off, from who else but Shahadat, but Raqibul Hasan, who had already dropped Tendulkar on 27, couldn't hold on to a difficult chance despite a desperate dive to his left at gully.

It was that kind of a day. Bangladesh did everything that was possible to create chances but it just wasn't to be. When Tendulkar was later asked whether the bouncer attack surprised India, one could sense it hurt his pride as he retorted, "It [the bouncers] doesn't mean much. The scoreboard reads something different."

That may be so but it is a significant moment in Bangladesh's cricket history. It was the first time that a Bangladeshi fast bowler has made a batsman of Dravid's stature retire hurt. Both Mashrafe Mortaza and Shahadat have hit top batsmen before - Shahadat pinged Ponting in a Test in 2006 - but not forced them to discontinue the innings, leave alone putting them in hospital.

To understand the significance, you have to place it in the wider context. It was a coming-of-age moment for Indian cricket and its fans when Kapil Dev's first Test bouncer screamed past a helmet-less Sadiq Mohammad in Faisalabad in 1978. Sunil Gavaskar later wrote, "The normally unflappable and quiet Syed Kirmani clapped with his gloves and screamed 'Shabhash! Aur ek! (one more)'. To those of us in the Indian batting line-up who had only got used to facing a bombardment of short-pitched deliveries, with only a pea-shooter to return the fire, the sight of an opposing batsman asking for a protective helmet and then getting hit on it, was not only one for sore eyes, but also for cracked fingers and the badly bruised chests and thighs, that we had suffered over the years." Previously fast bowlers were used exclusively to take the shine of the ball, before the spinners could come into play; everything changed after Kapil's entry.

Shahadat's felling of Dravid isn't quite as seminal as that Kapil bouncer, as both Mortaza and Shahadat have hit batsmen before but it will become a part of folklore in coming years and "I was there" stories will be told by people recounting the instance.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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