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December 12, 2004
There's a macabre inevitability to the Bangladeshi batting that reminds you of the trashy tomato-ketchup-and-spray-paint Friday the 13th movies. Just as you knew that Jason's knife would strike soft tissue a couple of times every reel, so you know that Bangladesh's top order will manage convincing sitting-duck impersonations against the new ball.
In their 32 Tests before this one, Bangladesh had survived long enough to sight the second new ball only on 22 occasions, and six of those were against fellow strugglers Zimbabwe. Their utter ineptitude when confronted by Irfan Pathan this afternoon was yet another indication that Dav Whatmore's wards suffer from some sort of learning disability. For all his talent, Pathan is no Wasim Akram just yet, and most international batsmen cotton on to the fact that his most dangerous delivery is the one that swings back into the right-hander.
Having lost their wickets to those inswingers in the first innings, it defied belief that the same mistakes were made at the second time of asking, with three men taking the caught-on-the-crease-lemming route back to the pavilion. The fourth, Habibul Bashar, should have trudged back thanking the good Lord that he doesn't play for Ray Jennings, who would surely have made him crawl across the floor for a sip of water.
The way Bashar allowed himself to be suckered made you scratch your head and wonder whether it was he or Pathan that was the inexperienced 20-year-old. From a novice, such a shot could have been written off as youthful indiscretion, but from the team captain and veteran of 30 Tests, it was a stroke that deserved a spell in solitary. Not since Andrew Hilditch - the happy hooker who Ian Botham used to set up for fun - has international cricket seen such low resistance to pull-and-hook temptations.
The technical frailties that the Bangladeshi batsmen continue to exhibit are a symptom of a far greater malaise. On the eve of attaining Test status in 2000, this writer spoke to Minhajul Abedin, one of the stars of the pre-Test era. In that climate of euphoria, his was one of the few dissenting voices. He suggested that Bangladesh were not ready for the challenge because there was no culture of three-day cricket across the country. Almost all the players had been raised in the slap-happy climate of the Dhaka league, and while such a cavalier approach could pass muster in the one-day game, it would undoubtedly be found out in the longer version.
As in Pakistan - several of their top order were also clueless against Pathan in the Tests played last April - quality coaching has yet to permeate to the grass-roots level. If India and Sri Lanka continue to produce technically sound batsmen, part of the reason is the coaching at the maidans and schools, which goes hand-in-hand with a culture of playing and watching three and four-day cricket. Pakistan's batting titans - Inzamam-ul-Haq is a prime example - have thrived despite the system, and not because of it, helped by reservoirs of talent that no amount of coaching can instil.
The crowd's agony over the batsmen's meek capitulation was exacerbated by a marvellous display from Zaheer Khan, who rode his luck to belt the cover off the ball in the morning session. The record books will say that his 75 is the highest score by a number 11, but most observers know that he should be batting higher up the order, being well capable of a noteworthy contribution when in the mood. Today, he was clearly energised by the presence of Tendulkar, and that inspiration was given expression through some dazzling hits down the ground.
For all his mighty-oak status in Indian cricket, Tendulkar shares a wonderful rapport with the younger bunch. Besides being a senior whom they respect immensely, he's someone that they can share a laugh, and a chocolate éclair - don't tell the dietician - with. Greatness, when aloof, can inhibit others, but when it embraces, the ripple effect created can lead to unparalleled feats. For hapless Bangladesh, that morning ripple alone had the force of a tsunami.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Cricinfo.
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