Gambhir century takes India to easy win
A fifth ODI century for Gautam Gambhir and another quickfire fifty from Virender Sehwag extended India's domination in the Kitply Cup as they thumped Bangladesh in Mirpur by seven wickets, with 14.5 overs to spare, and set up a final with Pakistan. Bangladesh needed to win by a bonus point to book their place in the final but, despite Raqibul Hasan's 89, they were always going to fall short of a fighting total after a miserly opening burst from Praveen Kumar.
Chasing 223, India were off to a flier with Sehwag in imperious touch. He offered a few chances early in his innings but soon took the attack to Reza in the sixth over, smacking one over midwicket for a boundary and then another through point. Fortunately for him, an outside edge eluded a diving Mushfiqur Rahim. Gambhir repeated the dose in Reza's next over, taking three fours as the bowler erred in his line.
Ashraful brought on Dolar Mahmud, playing his second game, but Sehwag showed him no mercy and disdainfully dispatched twice him over the extra-cover boundary for six. To Bangladesh's relief, he then smashed a short ball straight into the hands of Tamim Iqbal at square leg at the end of an over in which he plundered 24 to rush to 59 off just 32 balls.
The platform had been set for the other batsmen to consolidate, and Gambhir took the cue from his Delhi team-mate. Rohit Sharma was lucky to survive an outside edge off Dolar and then pulled one superbly for six, but it was Gambhir who stole the show once the spinners come into play.
Gambhir, reputed to be the best player of spin in this Indian XI, justified that tag; he didn't hesitate to come down the track - giving himself a bit of room as well - and launched boundaries with ease in the arc between wide long-off and extra cover. Forty-four of his runs came in that region and when the Bangladesh bowlers pitched it short on middle and leg, he pulled or slog-swept them. Abdur Razzak's entry into the attack was greeted with a inside-out shot over extra cover for four, and he was then launched over long-off for six.
Gambhir was much slower than Sehwag to his fifty - it took 57 balls - but he stayed till the end to get a well-deserved hundred. Some innocuous spin from Mahmudullah and Alok Kapali was hardly a problem for a man who'd handled Muttiah Muralitharan with aplomb in the CB Series. Rohit and Yuvraj Singh fell at the other end, but that didn't matter as Gambhir's unbeaten 107 saw India home.
Mohammad Ashraful, the Bangladesh captain, was left helpless as Sehwag and Gambhir plundered runs, but it was his batsmen who'd let the team down with an inadequate 222, which owed much to Raqibul's 89.
Along with Ashraful, Raqibul rebuilt a tottering innings - Bangladesh's openers had fallen for just 17 - with a 76-run stand in 19.4 overs. Ashraful's 67-ball 36 ended in a tame manner, one driven back to Yusuf Pathan handing him his first ODI wicket. Although the more experienced Ashraful failed to capitalise, Raqibul didn't disappoint. In his eighth innings, he came up with his highest score - his 89 also being the best for a Bangladesh batsman against India - surely one of the few positives for coach Jamie Siddons from this tournament.
Bangladesh crawled in the early half of their innings. Praveen's opening spell of 7-2-8-1, backed by a disciplined effort from the other Indian bowlers, ensured runs came at a premium. It was Alok Kapali's entry - with Bangladesh at 106 for 4 in the 30th over - that gave the innings much-needed momentum. Both he and Raqibul found the gaps and ran hard for the singles. There were only four boundaries and just when Bangladesh looked set for a late-over surge, Kapali was cleaned up by Irfan as he walked across the stumps. The fifth-wicket partnership added 46 in 8.4 overs.
Raqibul brought up his fifty off 78 balls, and he upped the pace in the latter half of his innings as India's bowlers failed to make inroads in the middle overs. Praveen's returns in his last three overs fetched three times the runs off his first seven, but with Raqibul cramping up, Bangladesh didn't make full use of the final few overs. Mahmudullah chipped in with 24, but Bangladesh lost their last four wickets for 26 as they were bowled out in 49.5 overs.
Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo