November 11, 2000

Aminul and Bangladesh take honours for second day running

There is a huge portrait of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the founder of the nation atop the Bangabandhu stadium in Dhaka. It is my imagination of course, but I am sure I saw him smiling down benignly on the Bangladesh cricket team playing their inaugural Test against India. However there was no mistaking the real-life smile of his daughter and the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who was very much present at the stadium to watch her team in action before leaving midway through to lead her country's delegation to the Organisation of Islamic Conference in Doha. For the second successive day, the Test debutants performed admirably. First, they notched up a first innings total of 400 which was a bonus considering that they started the day at 239 for six. Then, when the Indians batted they broke an opening stand which was looking ominous and at close the visitors were 81 for one after 26 overs.

On Friday, Aminul Islam shared the spotlight with Habibul Bashar. Today the 32-year-old former Bangladesh captain had the spotlight turned fully on him. In scoring 145, Aminul not only went into the record books but also earned a new respect for his side. Bangladesh is a one day team and not fit for Test cricket, the critics said. The batsmen can bat for 30 overs but can they bat for six hours, they asked. They got the answer today. Aminul batted 535 minutes and compiled his runs off 379 balls. The fact that he hit 17 fours was almost incidental.

Aminul was the rock on which the Bangladesh innings was built. Playing the sheet anchor role to perfection, he was ninth out at 385 late on Saturday afternoon after having come in at 44 for two in the pre-lunch session on Friday. He displayed all the qualities of a top class Test batsman - dedication, determination, concentration, strokeplay and soundness of technique and temparament. The fall of his partners at regular intervals did not deter him from his main task - that of helping his team post a challenging total. True, the pitch remained batsman friendly and the Indian bowling looked pretty innocuous but this should not in any way detract anything from Aminul's performance. It must not be forgotten that this is Bangladesh's first taste of five day cricket and if the others had not yet adapted themselves fully to the intricacies of the longer version of the game, Aminul did so nobly.

When Bangladesh resumed this morning, 400 looked far away. But certain resilient qualities of the tail who supported Aminul admirably saw them get a total which was the second highest made by a debutant Test nation - next only to Zimbabwe's 456 against India at Harare in 1992. Aminul himself passed quite a few statistical landmarks. Getting to his hundred bracketed him with Charles Bannerman of Australia in 1877 and Dave Houghton of Zimbabwe in 1992 as the only batsmen to have achieved this feat in their country's first Test. After getting past Houghton's 121 he had Bannerman's 165 (retired hurt) in sight. But he was finally out to an uncharacteristic stroke, a mistimed heave on the leg side ending up in Srinath's hands at mid on. He returned to a standing ovation from the flag waving, cheering crowd and within minutes the rewards were announced. Sheikh Hasina announced three lakh taka for him and this was followed by a two lakh taka reward from the Sports Minister and chairman of the National Sports Council Obaidul Qader. In addition, there was an announcement of a gold medal to Aminul from the Bangabandhu Parishad, an association of cricket fans. Incidentally, Obaidul Qader also announced a reward of one lakh taka for Habibul Bashar for his 71 compiled on Friday.

Aminul would be the first to admit that his feat would not have been possible but for the staunch support he received from the latter half of the batting today. First, vice captain Khaled Masud (32) helped him in registering the highest partnership of the innings - 93 runs for the seventh wicket off 41.5 overs. In fact, no wicket fell during the pre lunch session. Then the left handed Md Rafique (22) used the long handle to good effect in adding 30 runs for the eighth wicket with Aminul. And finally, fast bowler Habibul Hussain (28 not out) and Aminul added 31 runs for the ninth wicket. All this prolonged the agony for the Indians who were in the field for almost eleven hours.

That the Indian bowling is over dependent on Anil Kumble was proved beyond doubt today. Srinath after a long lay off failed to impress and in fact looked pretty tame, bowling in tandem with Zaheer. Agarkar and Murali Kartik were just about passable. The tireless Sunil Joshi, suddenly elevated to the status of spin spearhead, shouldered his responsibility well enough and was rewarded with career best Test figures of five for 142 from 45.3 overs. It was just as well the Indians took the field with five bowlers. What the position would have been with only four frontline bowlers is too frightening to comprehend.

In the face of an unexpectedly challenging total, a good start for India became imperative. Openers Sadagopan Ramesh and debutant Shiv Sundar Das provided it with a partnership of 66 runs off 19 overs. Both batsmen played confidently against both seam and spin and they looked set for a long partnership when suddenly Das was bowled by Naimur Rahman. He shouldered arms to a ball that pitched outside the off stump and to his horror found it turning sharply and hitting the top of the off and middle stumps. Das had looked in good nick. He played a few elegant drives and rasping square cuts and looked good for a long innings. But the 23-year-old Orissa opener had to be content with 29 off 67 balls with four hits to the ropes.

Das matched Ramesh in strokeplay and run production. The 25-year-old left hander from Chennai was in pleasing form and came through unbeaten with 40 compiled off 67 balls and inclusive of four boundaries. Keeping him company is nightwatchman Murali Karthik on seven. India have the perfect springboard to take off for a fitting reply to the Bangladesh total. The pitch, which is still a sleeping beauty, and the long line of illustrious strokeplayers and insatiable run getters are strong factors in their favour.