India ease to eight-wicket win
India 178 for 2 (Tendulkar 82*, Ganguly 60) beat Bangladesh 177 (Ashraful 35, Pathan 3-32, Tendulkar 3-35) by 8 wickets
When India began their response to Bangladesh's modest 177, a helter-skelter 23 runs came off the first over. It appeared that, on the flat pitch at the Sinhalese Sports Club, they would take the glitzy approach. But they lost Sehwag after an eight-ball 16, and then Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly knuckled down, regained the fluency that their batting had been missing recently, and guided India to an eight-wicket win, with a bonus point to boot.
Tendulkar, that man for every occasion, had a hand in Bangladesh's batting downfall as well. He confused the lower order with his mixed bowling bag, and claimed three wickets after Irfan Pathan had scythed through the top with an intoxicating spell that put Bangladesh on the defensive right at the start.
Inswinger after inswinger homed in on the batsmen's stumps, but Pathan broke through only in the third over, and then immediately after, to claim two wickets in two deliveries. He later returned to wrap up the innings as well. In the middle of all this, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh returned to cricket and claimed a wicket apiece. If this match was preparation for the challenges ahead, India are more or less ready.
Ganguly and Tendulkar began hesitantly after Sehwag's cameo had ended with a slash to point. That was as good as it got for Tariq Aziz, who had bowled that bizarre first over. Then, Bangladesh made their most daring move of the day. Abdur Razzaq, a left-arm slow bowler playing only his third international game, bowled the second over to two men who have given Warne, Murali and MacGill plenty to ponder.
Bowling line and length, Razzaq gave them no room to cut loose, and Tendulkar and Ganguly were content to get their bearings. Both had struggled in earlier matches, and they concentrated on middling the ball. Ganguly visibly restrained himself from launching into Razzaq at least three times, thrusting out his pad at the last minute. It wasn't pretty, but gradually their timing returned and the rustiness disappeared.
By mid-innings, with spinners at both ends keeping things tight, and both batsmen now comfortable with the bowling and conditions, something snapped. Ganguly clobbered three sixes to midwicket. Tendulkar slog-swept another to the same region. The clamp that had been applied was torn away.
Tendulkar shuffled inside his crease and swept balls on off stump. He charged the bowler, changed his shot as the ball headed towards him, and still sent it to the boundary. Ganguly barely moved as he swung his bat in an expansive arc, connecting with fury, if not always timing the ball. He finally fell attempting another six to end the game (173 for 2). But the big two were back in form, and weren't shy of letting the opposition know it.
Bangladesh had only two batsmen who looked unhurried and in control during the course of their innings. Mohammad Ashraful and Alok Kapali scored 35 and 10 respectively, but their 46-run partnership came at a time of crisis. Pathan had bowled Habibul Bashar and rapped Rajin Saleh's pads with successive balls, and after 11 minutes of the start of Bangladesh's innings, the situation was dire.
As Ashraful and Kapali pinched runs and struck the odd boundary, things became less grim. Ashraful produced strokes of absolute beauty: one crashed through the covers, and another ended at long-off in the blink of an eye. It was defiant - and it was short-lived. After Kapali chased a wide one from Nehra (56 for 3), and Faisal Hossain departed after a promising start, Ashraful took off for an unnecessary single and was run out (92 for 5).
But Bangladesh weren't done yet, because the lower order rolled up their sleeves and came out fighting. Manjural Islam Rana, Khaled Mahmud and Razzaq all reached 20. Their efforts were somewhat tempered by Tendulkar's wickets (two bowled and one caught behind), but Bangladesh still managed 177.
For the Indians this was, more or less, a game to experiment with their line-up. Nehra and Harbhajan bowled well, as did Tendulkar and Pathan. Tendulkar and Ganguly then regained their touch with the bat. But how good is this form? How reliable is their fluency? They'll know when they play Pakistan on Sunday.
Rahul Bhatia is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo in India.