Ashraful shows signs of changing script
In April, Bangladesh had toured Pakistan for five ODIs, a series in which they were whitewashed 5-0. The batsman who inflicted the most damage on them was Salman Butt, pillaging 451 runs in five matches. Shahid Afridi was Bangladesh's tormenter with the ball, his 12 wickets costing a mere 16.33 apiece.
Bangladesh spent the time between then and now working hard on individual weaknesses but the script in the Kitply Cup opener against Pakistan did not change. They failed to stop the same scourges; Butt built the platform with an aggressive 70 and Afridi bowled a match-winning spell of 3 for 19. Bangladesh were out of the contest so early that the game ended in farcical scenes, that of Butt and Younis Khan bowling part-time spin in the final overs.
"Butt set it up for them [Pakistan]," Jamie Siddons, the Bangladesh coach, said after the game. "But Afridi turned it on its head really. His spell was telling and we really couldn't recover once he came on and did what he did. Our batsmen need to find a way to combat him and score at least three or four runs an over which we weren't able to do today without losing wickets."
Afridi came on at the start of the third Powerplay - a period which Mohammad Ashraful, the Bangladesh captain, identified as where the match was lost - and bowled his eight overs on the trot. He varied his pace regularly, gave the ball flight and gained enough turn off a slow surface to make batting difficult. His tight line and clever changes of pace slowed down Bangladesh's run-rate, which in turn forced them to take risks. Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, said "it was the best I've seen him bowl in a long time."
The damage to Bangladesh chances, however, had begun much earlier. Siddons, on the eve of the match, had said they would prefer to bat but the rain-shortened innings and the possibility of Duckworth/Lewis coming into play made them "take a punt and try chasing the runs down". Given that decision, it was imperative their bowlers backed up Ashraful's decision to field, something they failed to do. Nine out of the first 12 overs had boundaries in them, and three out of those nine contained two boundaries.
"Our bowlers let us down," Siddons said. "They bowled too many half volleys and too many short and wide balls, which made us give away boundaries. Every time our batsmen have had to chase 300 [in a 50-over match] or 240 in a 40-over game, which isn't easy and probably beyond our batsmen at the moment."
Butt scored 60 out of 70 runs square of the wicket while Mohammad Yousuf, who made 59 off 56, took 25 through the midwicket region, a clear indicator of the shoddy lines and lengths bowled by the Bangladesh attack.
|"I know everyone is probably thinking that's not the [Mohammad] Ashraful we expect, but the Ashraful that hits the ball in the air a lot, gets out a lot too, and comes off probably once or twice a year. I'm looking at someone who makes 60-70 quite oftenJamie Siddons, Bangladesh coach|
One of the positives for Bangladesh - apart from their excellent ground fielding - to emerge from this comprehensive defeat was the manner in which Ashraful went about collecting his runs. The pressure was certainly off because Bangladesh had no hope of winning, and perhaps Ashraful could have played with a little more urgency than 56 off 90 balls, but Siddons had asked for consistency from his captain and Ashraful showed he could shelve his flamboyance and knuckle down.
"We've worked hard on him [Ashraful] batting the way he batted today," Siddons said. "I know everyone is probably thinking that's not the Ashraful we expect, but the Ashraful that hits the ball in the air a lot, gets out a lot too, and comes off probably once or twice a year. I'm looking at someone who makes 60-70 quite often. I think he's a very hard player to get out if he bats the way he did today. We always tend to have one player who scores and the rest fail. We need to have more consistency."
And once that consistency is achieved, perhaps Bangladesh can avoid the terrible sight of a lone batsman - Ashraful in this case - leaving deliveries outside off stump and allowing part-timers to get away with bowling maidens in the final over of a hopeless run-chase.
Bangladesh have one more league match to try and put what they've been learning over the last month into practice. A repeat of upsetting India like they did at World Cup 2007 is maybe too much to ask for, but challenging them in all departments certainly isn't.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo