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The Wisden Verdict by Anand Vasu in Chittagong
December 19, 2004
Dav Whatmore did not tear his hair out in disgust at the end of the third day's play. But, that was only because he has abundant reserves of that one thing he pleads with his team's supporters to display, and his batsmen seem to lack - patience. Few teams in the world could have gone from 239 for 4 to 333 all out in the first innings, and then to 118 for 9 in the second dig, in such violently erratic fashion, despite a masterly 158 not out from one of the batsmen. Mohammad Ashraful's rousing knock, easily the best of the series, beat back the ghosts that have haunted Bangladesh, but could not do anything to alter the result - a near-certain innings defeat after Irfan Pathan bagged his third five-for of the series.
That Bangladesh are not celebrating the day, and will spend the night awaiting yet another series whitewash can only be put down to three things. A lack of will from their top order, the Indian bowlers' hunger to soldier on despite heat and dust, and a slice of bad luck in terms of umpiring decisions. Umpiring mistakes don't often even out, but if any team deserved to get the better end of the deal, it was Bangladesh. On the day, both Mark Benson and Aleem Dar gave borderline decisions that, while maybe not impact on the result, certainly punctured the morale.
The main problem Bangladesh's batsmen have faced in recent times is their inability to pace an innings, to sustain an attack. But Ashraful showed that not everyone was inept. He is special to Bangladesh cricket in a way no-one else is for the simple reason that, of all the records that are have been registered when Bangladesh played, his is the only one to be proud of - he remains the youngest cricketer to score a Test century, when he did against Sri Lanka when only 16 years and 362 days old.
Then, as if to prove it was no fluke, he played an innings of unrestrained exuberance against a full-strength Indian bowling attack to rack up 158 not out, the highest Test score by a Bangladeshi. But, the statistics, as always, do not tell the true story. Ashraful's real success was the manner in which he blunted the Indian bowling, tired them out, and then mastered them. His innings was just the sort of thing needed for Bangladesh to throw in the face of those who claim there is no talent in Bangladesh. Whatmore, and others, have banged on about the fact that the talent in these parts is exactly the same as the type of talent in other parts of the subcontinent.
After a very minor spell early on, where he suffered the hangover that has caused the demise of Bangladeshi batsmen against Pathan - playing neither forward nor back - he sorted himself out and was decisive. Even in this period of early nerves, the runs came, a flicked boundary off Pathan and a streaky edge to the third-man fence, signalling that there was no question of simply hanging about.
From there on, he proved Whatmore's point about talent in the manner in which he handled the bowling. There was superb use of the wrists, to the extent that he was comfortable flicking medium-pacers over the infield; there were drives off the front foot, on the up, even when the ball was not fully pitched up; there were square-drives when the ball begged a straighter bat; there was even a latest of late cuts, that drove Sachin Tendulkar, the bowler, up the wall.
For Ashraful, the runs never dried up. He was in a zone, and carried the team with him. He walked out to bat first thing in the morning with the score on 54 for 3, and when he reached his century, Bangladesh were 208 for 4. He was so fluent that, despite Aftab Ahmad scoring almost as briskly, he scored 100 out of the 154 runs added in that period.
It's obvious that Ashraful is the sort of cricketer to whom confidence is everything. It's a well-worn cricket-writers' cliché that a batsman grew in confidence as an innings progressed, but today, that was exactly what happened. When Ashraful went in to lunch, he had 62 to his name, from then on, it took only 25 balls to reach 100. Remarkably, the last 24 runs to three figures came off just nine scoring shots.
Once past 100, there was virtually nothing the Indian bowlers could do. VVS Laxman was offered a sharp chance at midwicket when Ashraful flicked Zaheer Khan his way, but that was the only chance in a masterful innings. Sadly, Ashraful's innings turned out to be a lone blossom in a bed of weeds.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.
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