Last-wicket pair frustrate dominant Sri Lanka
A last-wicket stand of 63 between Mashrafe Mortaza and Shahadat Hossain revived a crumbling innings and helped Bangladesh avert the follow-on on the second day in Chittagong. Ajantha Mendis held sway over Bangladesh's batsmen as they replied to Sri Lanka's 384 on a two-paced pitch but the last pair thwarted Sri Lanka's hopes of a quick finish to the series and, when the shadows lengthened, it was the visiting openers, not Bangladesh's, who walked out to bat.
Mortaza and Shahadat are by no means the world's worst tailenders: the same pair had come together to script a ninth-wicket stand of 77 at the same venue against India in 2007. Mortaza scored 79 in that game and he displayed the same temperament today against two of the most challenging spinners in world cricket.
The batsmen before him failed to set a solid example and, perhaps mindful of his potential as a handy bowling allrounder, he played like one. Shahadat joined him with the score at 145 for 9, still 40 adrift of the follow-on mark. Mortaza took responsibility as the senior partner and farmed the strike. With Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan bowling in tandem and fielders were stationed in the deep Mortaza was judicious in refusing singles and allowing his partner at least one, if not two balls, to face in an over.
Shahadat too put a price on his wicket and Mortaza, when on strike, tried not to go in to his shell and looked for opportunities to find the boundaries. A fierce cut past backward point off Mendis set the tone for the stand and when Murali's round-the-wicket line got too predictable, he regularly got down on one knee and employed the sweep. He picked the doosra and bisected the gap between short fine leg and deep-backward square leg with precision and his confidence peaked when he scooped Mendis over long-off for six.
The frustration began to show on Jayawardene as he rotated between Murali, Mendis and Dilhara Fernando to break the stand. As Bangladesh inched towards the follow-on target, the crowd got more vocal with every successful block by Shahadat, who blunted Mendis' yorker-length balls from round the wicket. A sloppy misfield by Fernando at deep square-leg and a clubbed four by Mortaza in a Murali over took Bangladesh closer. When Shahadat punched Mendis down the ground the following over, Bangladesh heaved a huge sigh of relief.
It took a long while for Bangladesh to claim some sort of initiative after running through the Sri Lankan tail in the morning. Shakib Al Hasan claimed three lbw victims in identical fashion, trapping the right-handers on the forward prod and hitting the base of the pad. He ended with 4 for 109, with Sri Lanka losing four wickets for 13 runs, including the overnight batsman Chamara Kapugedera for 96.
It wasn't a rosy beginning for their batsmen though. Chaminda Vaas, assisted by movement both ways off the pitch, claimed the openers. Tamim Iqbal flirted with a delivery which moved away from him while Imrul Kayes was squared up after offering no shot.
Mendis was introduced as early as the 10th over and though the pitch didn't take turn straightaway, he found a way to strike, trapping Raqibul Hasan with a straighter delivery in his second over. Mohammad Ashraful and Junaid Siddique, needing to consolidate, managed to negotiate him fairly easily, though in slightly different ways. Junaid was prepared to get forward to smother the spin while Ashraful chose to stay back and play him off the pitch.
Junaid however succumbed to Fernando, who came back well after a poor over after lunch. Fernando got the ball to swing and one such delivery was angled across Junaid, who lost sight of the ball and lost his off stump to a full toss. Ashraful too had to play out a testing spell from Fernando and even copped a blow on the visor off a delivery which kicked up.
Ashraful was patient against the spinners, before opening up against Murali, slamming him for a six over midwicket. However, he had several moments of indiscretion against Murali. Three botched reverse-sweeps didn't deter him from attempting the shot again when on 45, and it only resulted in a simple catch for wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene. Mendis further dented Bangladesh's resistance with two wickets in successive balls - both lbw. Mushfiqur Rahim one of their better players of spin, lost patience after making a start and was out stumped for 21.
Mortaza and Shahadat took control for 18.3 overs before Murali claimed Mortaza for 63, slogging to deep square-leg. Sri Lanka's openers were unchallenged for five overs before stumps and ended the day with an overall lead of 189, which could expand out of Bangladesh's reach if the hosts fail to strike in the morning.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo