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December 11, 2004
Just two days into the match, and it's a depressingly familiar story for Bangladesh: India have already built a sizeable lead, to which they'll add a few more runs tomorrow, and then unleash Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Co. on Bangladesh's hapless batsmen. One more innings defeat - their 19th in 33 matches - looms, and the scorecard will reveal another hugely unequal contest. What it won't show, though, is what could have been had Bangladesh's fielders supported the bowlers the way they deserved to be. With player of the class of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, often one chance is all it takes to swing the momentum of the game; Bangladesh generously offered three, and now can only pray that the defeat which will inevitably come their way is an honourable one.
Bangladesh have clearly struggled as a batting side, and the bowling have often lacked bite. While their lack of skill in these two areas can be forgiven, there is little excuse for sloppiness in the field - the first two are largely skill-driven, the third is all about hard work and diligence. A week ago, Jonty Rhodes was in India, and during a chat on television, he made a telling comment on South Africa's attitude towards fielding when they were readmitted into the international arena. Since the players had no international exposure at the time, none of them if they would measure up as batsmen or bowlers, he said. What they did know, though, was that they were excellent fielders, and Kepler Wessels, the captain at the time, urged that regardless of what happened with bat or ball, the team should stand tall as a fielding unit.
Dav Whatmore, Bangladesh's coach, needs to instil that mindset into Habibul Bashar and his men. Before this Test Bangladesh had dropped 53 catches in their last 29 Tests, and worryingly, they are no signs of improvement - in the last 15 matches, 37 chances have gone abegging, that's two-and-a-half per match. They exceeded that quota in less than a couple of hours today, though, and instead of having India on the mat at 128 for 5, had them dominate large parts of the last two sessions.
It was especially disheartening for Mashrafe Mortaza, who later showed his team-mates a thing or two about fielding with a sharp effort to dismiss Dinesh Karthik. Mortaza made his debut against Zimbabwe in 2001-02, which was also the first time Bangladesh drew a Test, but injuries have meant that he has played only 12 matches in three years, and never more than four Tests in a row. Today, it took him only one over to show what Bangladesh were missing out on - he had Virender Sehwag edge twice, and then beat Gautam Gambhir with a beauty that pitched on off and seamed away.
The pace - around 135 kmph - was impressive, but what was outstanding was his control and the swing and seam movement he obtained. From just outside off, he made the ball move both ways consistently in an effort that was McGrath-esque in sustained accuracy. Rahul Dravid was completely clueless, while Tendulkar was forced to play out 20 dot balls against him. Unfortunately, there was no Mark Taylor or Mark Waugh to support him in the slips, and Mortaza ended the day with hugely undeserving figures of 1 for 80.
While the fielding had a large hand to play in the way the game shaped up today, India still needed a batsman to stand up and wrest the initiative away from Bangladesh's bowlers, and Tendulkar did that en route to his 34th Test hundred. Despite the two chances he offered, this was one of his more fluent efforts in recent times - the footwork was decisive and the mindset aggressive from the moment he came out to bat. It showed early in the piece too, when he launched into a pull off Mortaza when his score was still in single digits.
Too often in the recent past, Tendulkar has come out to bat in an inexplicably defensive frame of mind, allowing bowlers to shackle him up and dictate terms. Today, he drove confidently through the off side whenever offered the width, and punched the ball down the ground off either foot with exquisite timing and fluency. What should have been a fluent cameo, though, will probably end up being a matchwinning hundred, thanks to Bangladesh's largesse in the field.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo.
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