April 16, 2003

India record facile win over Bangladesh

This match was as predictable as the Dhaka weather during the monsoon. And as surely as the rain then falls in torrents, so India - piloted by the assured batting of Gautam Gambhir - eased to a four-wicket victory over the hosts at the Bangabandhu Stadium. Khaled Mahmud had guessed right at the toss but the inability of his leading batsmen to convert starts into something substantial meant that the innings ground to a halt at 207. On a pitch as benign as this, that was never going to be remotely enough.

Virender Sehwag led an Indian team of the future into this game, with the Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh sitting out. Abhijit Kale made his debut, while Avishkar Salvi, Sanjay Bangar and Sarandeep Singh got a rare opportunity to impress.

Bangladesh started with steam-engine puff - Mehrab Hossain and Mohammad Ashraful taking fours off Salvi's opening over - and when Dinesh Mongia put Mehrab down at slip off Ajit Agarkar, the force seemed to be with the hosts. That good fortune didn't last, as Agarkar finished the over with a superb indipper that broke the off stump via the inside-edge of Ashraful's bat (15 for 1).

Mehrab strode purposefully to 30 from 35 balls before Bangar struck with his first delivery of the tournament - a buffet ball that was inexplicably flicked straight to Agarkar at backward square leg. India duly turned the screws and Javed Omar gifted Sarandeep a lobbed return catch off the leading edge (52 for 3).

Sarandeep struggled with his run-up, but got another wicket with an innocuous delivery. Alok Kapali's attempt at a dink-sweep over the leg side went straight to Mongia at square leg and this time, there were no butter-fingers. Kapali made just 9 (78 for 4).

Habibul Bashar and Akram Khan provided stout resistance but proceedings were drearily slow in the middle overs. Akram played the slow bowlers adeptly enough but was also fortunate in the extreme to survive a stumping after Parthiv Patel had made a hash of gathering the ball behind the stumps.

Bashar's innings ticked over smoothly until the reintroduction of Agarkar. Having just got to 50, his pathetic attempt to loft over the infield only found Mohammad Kaif at cover (124 for 5). Khaled Masud, the former captain, made just 12 when Amit Mishra got one to turn prodigiously past the outside-edge, bamboozling even Billy Bowden, who lifted his finger when the Indians appealed (139 for 6).

Akram combined a deft touch with some powerful hitting over the infield en route to 35, but he had no answers to a quicker one from Sehwag that speared onto his pads (161 for 7). Mahmud and Tapash Baisya flayed some fours but ultimately, India were left to chase just over four an over.

Gambhir started the riposte with a sublime cover-drive off Aziz, but was thereafter content to give most of the strike to Sehwag, whose innings gathered momentum at the same time that the wind picked up.

Both Tariq Aziz and Tapash didn't help their cause by spraying the ball both sides of the wicket. Sehwag took full toll with some punishing strokes square of the wicket - including four fours through the off side in one Aziz over.

But just when the hiding was becoming especially painful, Rafique struck. Sehwag, who had made 43 from 44 balls, charged down the track but his attempt to clear the sightscreen only found Aziz in the deep. Bangladesh had another opportunity to make further inroads but Masud, behind the stumps, couldn't get his gloves to a sharp chance offered by his opposite number, Patel, batting at the unaccustomedly high number three slot.

Patel's 27 was a mixed bag, comprising edges, fluent shots and some gritty defence but it ended when he was rapped on the pad by one that Kapali got to straighten after pitching (117 for 2).

Gambhir played some gorgeous strokes through, including a superb cut off Kapali to bring up his first fifty in ODIs. He made 71 before edging a wrong `un from Kapali behind the stumps, soon after Kaif (20) had been needlessly run-out and Bangar had been trapped leg before by Rafique.

Kale too departed with the finish line in sight, but Mongia and Agarkar performed the last rites. Joe Dimaggio's legendary hitting streak lasted 56 games. Bangladesh's abysmal losing run now stretches to 35 matches, a record their passionate support could well do without.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden.com in India.