Bangladesh in Sri Lanka / News

The partnership between Ashraful and Mushfiqur was an eye-opener

All is not lost

Charlie Austin

July 5, 2007

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Mohammad Ashraful and Mushfiqur Rahim kept the Sri Lankan bowlers at bay during their 191-run partnership © AFP
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After Bangladesh's shambolic first innings, followed by a meek surrender last evening after a rollicking second-innings start from the openers, there was a school of thought, and a considerably influential one at that, who had predicted this match would be done and dusted before lunch on the third day. But, at last, we were treated to resistance rather than a roll over, as Mohammad Ashraful and Mushfiqur Rahim clipped their naturally aggressive wings and buckled down for a proper fight.

Their record stand of 191, the highest by a Bangladesh pair in Test cricket, which spanned exactly 59 overs, did not change the result: another innings defeat, their second on the trot. Neither did it change the uncomfortable truth that Bangladesh are still minnows in the five-day game. But it did provide great entertainment, it will surely have raised the spirits of a depressed dressing-room and it will have given frustrated supporters renewed hope that the transition to a competitive Test force is not a fantasy.

Of course, all hope with Ashraful is tinged with concern that the recklessness that bubbles within will continue his frustrating inconsistency. Nevertheless, today's century, the fourth of his career, signaled that he does have the potential to rise to the challenge of leading the team both as a captain and also their best batsman. We've always known that that he has the ability to tame the world's leading bowlers, today he also showed the capacity to replace audacity with patience.

The only black-mark in this game for Sri Lanka would have been Tillakaratne Dilshan's wild slog on Wednesday, a wasteful dismissal for a player that needs some big scores as the likes of Chamara Kapugedera and Thilan Samaraweera - not to mention Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya - are waiting in the wings

The contribution of Mushfiqur was even more exciting for Bangladesh cricket. Despite being just 18 years old, he appeared the calm old hand in the middle, keeping Ashraful in check and guiding to him his century. It was a travesty that he himself did not notch up a maiden century because he certainly deserved one, handling all the bowlers, even Muttiah Muralitharan and his doosra, with aplomb. One thing is for sure though: a maiden Test hundred is not long off. He clearly showed that he now needs to bat higher up the order.

The problem, though, is the rest of the batting. While Ashraful and Mushfiqur clearly have the skill, temperament and flair to cut it at this level, the likes of Shariar Nafees, Javed Omar and Mehrab Hossain Jnr. have to learn fast if Bangladesh is to stop tottering from innings defeat to innings defeat. And Habibul Bashar looks like a man in need of a serious holiday: tense, frustrated and unhappy. When he missed a Dilhara Fernando yorker in the morning his look of shock suggested it was a wonder delivery: in truth, it was fast and straight but far from unplayable.

Sri Lanka's bowlers toiled hard throughout the day after Fernando's breakthrough and they will not have been unduly disappointed by their inability to breakthrough. On what was the most dormant of surfaces, they created a handful of half chances and also had a several close appeals turned down. They knew all along that one wicket could bring the house tumbling down and that's exactly what happened, the last five wickets adding just 30 runs.

A 2-0 series victory for Sri Lanka will not prompt wild celebrations in Colombo tonight. They expected to win and anything less than a convincing 3-0 whitewash will be considered a failure. But they will have been particularly pleased by the fire and consistency of Fernando, who has had an excellent series, the healthy contributions of both openers, Michael Vandort and Malinda Warnapura, and the fine catching in this game, a marked improvement on the opening Test.

The only black-mark in this game for Sri Lanka would have been Tillakaratne Dilshan's wild slog on Wednesday, a wasteful dismissal for a player who needs some big scores as the likes of Chamara Kapugedera and Thilan Samaraweera - not to mention Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya - are waiting in the wings. With Upul Tharanga also scheduled for a return, competition for places in Sri Lanka's top six is hotting up and no player can afford to spurn his opportunities.

Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Charlie Austin Sri Lanka editor When Charlie Austin left for Sri Lanka after graduating from Sussex University, he was a planning a winter's cricket in the tropics and a six-month stint with an environmental NGO. His mother's worst fears were soon realised when it became clear that he had fallen in love with the island. Six months have now become eight years and Colombo has become his home. He joined Cricinfo in February 2000 and now heads operations in Sri Lanka, responsible for both sales and editorial. He is also the director of a UK-based travel company called Red Dot Tours, and is currently ghosting Muttiah Muralitharan's autobiography.
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