Bangladesh v India, 2nd Test, Dhaka May 27, 2007

A spark of hope

Ashraful was determined, maybe even angry. He took it all out on what it was meant to be directed against in the first place: the ball



In a Test full of gloom and embarrassment for Bangladesh, Ashraful alone shone, albeit briefly © Getty Images

For a while, the stadium felt like a morgue. One could push back a chair and hear it. Even the Indians did not celebrate it too much. They too had started enjoying it probably. Mohammad Ashraful tried to loft Anil Kumble over midwicket, got too close to the pitch of the ball, and gave an easy catch to Sachin Tendulkar.

In a Test full of gloom and embarrassment for Bangladesh, Ashraful alone shone. That light was given to them all too briefly, 46 minutes to be exact. But for that brief while, it alleviated everything. Habibul Bashar's decision to field first was forgotten, Javed Omar's king pair, Bashar's lame dismissals, the umpires' mistakes, everything was forgiven. And then, Ashraful got too close to the pitch of the ball and that was that. It was unfair, cruel even. But that is cricket.

The whole nation had been disappointed with Bangladesh's performance. The newspapers had said that in sending Ashraful for the press conference on Saturday, Bashar had not even been man enough to face the questions. "Who exactly chose to field first?" he was asked, as if it were a court-martial. After years of hard work had gone in earning the respect Bangladesh had, it was all in danger of disappearing with a humiliating defeat. And Ashraful could do nothing; everyone else had let the team down badly. He was out to avoid a king pair much sooner than he would have expected.

Ashraful was determined, maybe even angry. He took it all out on what it was meant to be directed against in the first place: the ball. The very first ball, when others in his state would be looking to play it out, his bat went high and he whipped it past square leg for one, and the intent was clear. The second ball he faced was defended solidly. From the third, he began an assault that was as breathtaking and delightful as it was hopeless. Zaheer Khan pitched up and was driven through mid-off. Zaheer bowled a yorker next, which was defended well. Another length ball was driven through extra cover, another boundary came through fine leg, and all of a sudden life had returned to Shere-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in the time span of one over. Everyone knew there was no chance of a contest, yet everyone was engaged. Some journalists had initiated the process of advancing their tickets; they couldn't be blamed, the cricket was tepid. But with Ashraful firing they abandoned all that and became engrossed in the game.

When they bowled length and full, they were driven through the covers; when they bowled short, they were pulled; when they strayed on the stumps, they were flicked. Soon, Ashraful had missed Jacques Kallis's fastest Test fifty (24 balls) by two balls, and was seriously threatening the fastest ever century by Vivian Richards

By his standards, Ashraful was well set when RP Singh decided to bowl him a short one. It must have been telepathy because Ashraful had rocked back even before the ball had pitched and hit the shot of the match for a six. The pitch became its slow, flat self and the Indian bowling reverted to type - unenergetic and unimaginative. When they bowled length and full, they were driven through the covers; when they bowled short, they were pulled; when they strayed on the stumps, they were flicked. Soon, Ashraful had missed Jacques Kallis's fastest Test fifty (24 balls) by two balls, and was seriously threatening the fastest ever century by Vivian Richards.

He went on to give debutant Ishant Sharma his baptism and India had no recourse but turn to their talisman, Kumble. His first ball to Ashraful was driven through extra cover for four, but he was given respect after that. In his second over, Ashraful got too close to the pitch of the ball. For about a minute, not many moved. The light given for too brief a while was gone, and although Ashraful left the rest of the batsmen inspired - half-centurion Mashrafe Mortaza one of them - normal service had largely resumed. The spectators went back to being sullen and the journalists started calling the airline offices once again.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine