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December 17, 2004
To say that taking runs off Bangladesh is as facile as misappropriating a toddler's sweets is seriously to underestimate a little one's resolve. That much-abused cliché involving babies and candy is also an erroneous one. Most tots, once they grow teeth, tend to be as tenacious around candy as your friendly neighbourhood Rottweiler is about a juicy bone. But for the moment, Bangladesh are struggling in the denture department.
Dav Whatmore gave an impassioned defence of his side after the debacle at Dhaka, but no amount of fiery rhetoric can conceal the fact that the team he coaches lacks the quality even to be competitive at Test level. With the exception of Mashrafe Mortaza - who toiled manfully again with wretched back-up - Mohammad Ashraful and Habibul Bashar, when not in Happy Hooker mode, no-one in this Bangladesh team would be invited to carry drinks for a Pura Cup side, or even a top-notch Ranji Trophy outfit.
Whatmore can talk all he likes about India and New Zealand and Sri Lanka, and how long it took them to gain a foothold in international cricket. But by doing so, he makes the same mistake he accuses his detractors of - focussing on results rather than performances. India took 20 years for that elusive first Test victory, but of their fruitless first 24 Tests, 12 were drawn.
More importantly, they unearthed players of genuine quality throughout that fallow period, right from Amar Singh - whose bowling came off the pitch like "the crack of doom", according to Walter Hammond - to Vijay Hazare and Vinoo Mankad, whose allround feats had Lord's in thrall back in the summer of 1952.
Around the same time, some three decades before Test status would eventually be granted, Mahadevan Sathasivam was captivating those who visited Sri Lanka with his magnificent batsmanship. Others like Michael Tissera, Anura Tennekoon and Duleep Mendis would follow in his footsteps. Even Zimbabwe, Bangladesh's predecessors as Test cricket's new boys, could boast of world-class talents like Andy Flower and Dave Houghton when they joined the party.
By comparison, the larder in Bangladesh has been depressingly bare. When they gained Test status, Aminul Islam and Akram Khan were the stalwarts, but even their most devout backers wouldn't have labelled them world-class. And the news on the bowling front, until Mohammad Rafique matured into a quality performer, was no better.
For all of Whatmore's pleas on behalf of his wards, the skill levels are still woefully short of the required standards. After a testing early passage this morning, Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid picked off runs with a nonchalance and fluency that must have been a stake through the heart for those still seeking a golden sky for Bangladesh cricket.
Gambhir had fallen four short of a century against South Africa at Kanpur, but this time there was no Shaun Pollock or Makhaya Ntini blocking his path. Instead, he had to deal with the wayward offerings of Nazmul Hossain and Talha Jubair on a benign pitch, and like any good lad with experience of Ranji Trophy cowpats, he cashed in heavily.
For Dravid, the battle was more in the mind than against the bowling. He had managed the odd painstaking fifties here and there since the start of the season, without exhibiting the composure and class that set him apart from every other batsman last year. Even today, there was a nervous edge to his strokeplay early on, but once he realised that the greatest threat to his wicket would come from diffidence or over-confidence, Bangladesh faced a leather-hunt from both ends of the pitch.
Sachin Tendulkar then raced to 34 before stumps to ensure that much of the talk before play resumes tomorrow centres around the possibility of a 35th Test century. He would much rather have done it at Mumbai against his old mates Warne and McGrath, but with those ambitions thwarted, it could be Bangladesh who are on the receiving end yet again.
Records have tended to fall like weary ninepins whenever Bangladesh have played, and if today's misadventure was any indicator, that unwelcome trend shows no sign of abating. Commitment and effort are all very well, and patience is certainly required, but more than anything else, they need a Sathasivam or a Mendis.
The fact that few in India have protested a widespread cable operators' boycott of the channel showing the game tells you all you need to know about how attractive a proposition Bangladesh cricket is right now. Whatmore may feel that he has a Sleeping Beauty on his hands, but in the eyes of the rest of the world, she's more of an Ugly Sister.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Cricinfo.
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