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Sriram Veera in Mirpur
January 27, 2010
It was a stunningly candid revelation by Shakib Al Hasan in the press conference. "When Shahadat [Hossain] and [Mohammad] Ashraful were batting we may have got slightly relaxed. They had made batting look easy. We were laughing and chatting in the dressing room and somewhere, at some point, we relaxed and we were not thinking about the game as much as we should have done." If only the perceptive awareness that this quick post-mortem analysis reveals, had kicked in earlier.
Even Zaheer Khan, the wrecker-in-chief, was surprised by the implosion. "It was surprising. Looking at the conditions, it felt they could have fought that phase and made things tough for us." But it was a strange day. In a Dhaka minute, everything changed.
When Shahadat and Ashraful were batting, one smelt fight in the air, felt their sense of purpose, thought about India missing two batsmen, and caught a brief glimpse of the possibility of a memorable fightback. There was not a single moment to relax. Bangladesh did and they lost the match. It wasn't a surprise that they lost but one was taken aback by how quickly it all happened. And yet, the pleasant sun-lit morning had promised so much.
Even India, it seemed, were on the back foot initially. The fielding was getting ragged, overthrows happened, a catch was dropped, the fielders were pushed back, MS Dhoni was forced to make a few bowling changes and the pitch, as it seemingly does in these times, appeared to get flatter. "The pitch got slower and lower", Zaheer Khan said later. "There was nothing major for spinners and it was the fast bowlers' responsibility to put their hands up."
Initially, even Zaheer was unable to make a breakthrough. Shahadat and Ashraful had added 50 runs in 13 overs and it wasn't just the quantity of runs but the manner in which it came that raised the hopes of a lead and a fascinating end-game. What caught the eye was of course Shahadat's brazen approach, but it was Ashraful's attitude that gave hope. He wasn't intent on self-destruction, he wasn't living on the edge and he wasn't struggling. In fact he looked almost calm and pushed the ball into gaps and lived off deflections. It was the closest he got to serenity in this series.
It's at this time the players in the dressing room must have relaxed. One can understand why it happened, but it is something that the captain Shakib and coach Jamie Siddons should sort out. The rest of us will shrug it off saying, "That's Bangladesh cricket for you".
Shahadat had to fall at some point; he had done his job and even Ashraful fell to a good ball - Pragyan Ojha got one to turn and jump to force a hurried prod. It is at this point that everything started to go wrong. Shakib walked in and clouted his first ball over long-on. There was nothing wrong in that as Shakib explained later, "It was there to be hit". Perhaps it was. However, he soon fell to a fatal shot, trying to create something out of nothing. It was the beginning of the end.
Shakib is a busy batsman and likes to play his shots but perhaps this time he got too ahead of himself. His critics will ask if the shot was on, given that there was a man at short-leg. Maybe, the ongoing controversy involving the alleged rebuke from the BCB president, got to him and he felt the urge to make a statement on the field. Perhaps, it was just a brain-freeze resulting from over confidence. Or perhaps it was simply a case of a wrong execution of a shot that he plays so often and has done so well in the past. Who can tell?
Shakib tried to answer: "When I got in to bat, my plan was to just bat. The first ball was there to be hit. The sweep shot that I got out to… I just mistimed it."
Was it just an answer for the press or the truth, we wouldn't know, but it doesn't reveal much about his state of mind at that juncture. His statement about how team had relaxed offers a better pointer, perhaps.
Zaheer sensed an opening when Shakib fell and hit them hard. It was too much for Bangladesh and they were knocked out.
Tomorrow's local papers are going to be filled with passionate anger over the collapse. Shakib must have been stunned by the reaction at the press meet. As soon as he finished his "relaxed" statement, he was staring at several pupils dilated in anger. And angry questions. He seemed to be taken aback by the intensity. It was a sad way to end the series for Shakib, who has been dignity personified through out. He did not react emotionally to Virender Sehwag's statements, he stood up for his team when he perceived that the BCB president was making unreasonable allegations, he did not wash dirty linen in public and supported his team-mates. In the end he must have felt very alone out there.
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