'I needed to prove something to myself'
Only a handful of international cricketers can claim to have scripted their country's greatest cricketing triumph. Mohammad Ashraful, who followed his heroics against Australia with a dazzling 94 off 52 balls against England at Trent Bridge, relived Bangladesh's finest cricketing moment but emphatically stated that this was "just the beginning".
Is your mother finally convinced that you can face bowlers who are taller than you?
[Laughs] I hope so. Before the game she had said I was too short to face all those tall bowlers. She called up late in the night after the victory and told me how our house was packed with fans. Thousands of motorcycles had lined up to congratulate my family. God willing, I can carry on the same way throughout the series.
How important is this win for Bangladesh?
It has given us confidence to play against the best. We needed to win in the one-day series after doing badly in the Tests. There was a lot of talk about how we should not play international cricket and we were under tremendous pressure. We knew we had to put up a good fight against Australia. Winning was a fantastic bonus.
It was a golden opportunity to play against two of the best teams in the world. My coach had told me the importance of doing well in England. A few good scores would increase my confidence and I might even get a chance to play county cricket in the future. I had prepared really hard for this tour and I'm glad that things are finally falling into place.
What was the biggest problem in the Test series?
There was just too much pressure. Playing at Lord's, people expect you to do well. So many people came to me the day before and said, 'You have to score a hundred and get your name on the honours board'. Also the conditions were not even close to what we had seen before. Most Asian countries struggle in these conditions. We are not as strong as India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka and we struggled more.
Coming to the NatWest series, you were beaten comprehensively by England in the first game. So what was the gameplan for the Australia game?
The batsmen needed to get into form. We had done well against Australia when we toured there, so we knew we were capable of putting up a good show. Both the captain and the coach had told us the importance of staying at the wicket. So we decided to spend as much of time in the middle while batting and put up a disciplined show with the ball.
Were you surprised when Australia chose to bat?
Not at all. They always play positive cricket and we knew that they will not worry too much about conditions. Most of the time, the result of the toss doesn't matter to them.
But did it matter at Cardiff?
The conditions were better for bowling in the morning than in the afternoon and I thought we bowled well to keep a check on them constantly which didn't allow them to get a really big score.
|We are hoping to not repeat previous mistakes. We have won matches before, like beating Pakistan in 1999 and India last year, but have done badly in a series of matches after that. We need to be competitive throughout this series.|
What was the talk during the lunch break?
Nothing. We knew our job. We had to play out 50 overs and that is what all the batsmen were thinking of. Dav [Whatmore] has always told me: `Just stay there. The runs will come'. So there was no big strategy to discuss.
Talk us through your partnership with Habibul Bashar. Was there any plan to pace the run-chase?
When we started off, neither of us were even bothered about the total. We tried our best to stay there and play out 50 overs. That's all we told ourselves - don't get out. When I am well set I play the faster bowlers well while Bashar plays the spinners well. So we tried to rotate the strike that way. We had our share of luck too and suddenly at the end of the 34th over we realised we needed around 120 runs at a gettable run-rate. We also had wickets in hand so we decided to get to 160 at the 40-over mark because 90 runs in the last ten overs is manageable.
What about the Australian bowlers? How would you compare them to the England bowlers?
Both are very good but the England bowlers got some help from the pitch that was bouncy. Even during the Test matches, we found it difficult to adjust to the bouncy wickets. The Cardiff wicket was flat and had dried out so the Australians didn't get as much bounce. This pitch was more like pitches back home.
When did you start feeling that you have a good chance to win?
When we needed 73 off 60 balls with seven wickets in hand, we knew we could do it. We also realised that we could do it without taking too much risks.
Can you tell us your thoughts once you reached your hundred
It was amazing. On the morning of the game, my spirits were low. I was going to play my 50th ODI and had made just four half-centuries. My average was not even 20. I felt I had not done anything in one-dayers. I had scored two hundreds in Tests, but nothing in one-dayers. My last half-century in ODIs was against Sri Lanka in Colombo nearly a year back. So I needed to prove something to myself. I later found out that only one other Bangladesh batsman had scored a one-day hundred [Mehrab Hossain]. And I had done it against Australia. I was in another world.
Where does the team go from here?
We are hoping to not repeat previous mistakes. We have won matches before, like beating Pakistan in 1999 and India last year, but have done badly in a series of matches after that. We need to be competitive throughout this series. That is the main thing. And with a bit of luck, who knows. We may even pull off one more.
How do you handle the pressure from the media and former players about Bangladesh's Test status?
It's tough on us. They are all great players but we are a young side. The average age of the Australian team is around 33. Our average age is around 22 so it will take some time. But in the last six months we have improved. We beat India in a one-dayer. We beat Zimbabwe in both Tests and one-dayers and now we beat Australia. If we gradually improve, we can be a good team in 3-4 years. Most of us are young, so with some experience we can win more often.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo