<
>

Defeat no dampener for fearless Bangladesh

Daniel Vettori had taken a break and was waiting at the third-man boundary for the over to end. Standing next to him with a couple of bottles in his hand was Mominul Haque, who, with a red bib on, did not look any different from the kid that had stood in front of Vettori during the national anthem.

The difference was stark, not only between Vettori and Mominul, but also between the heights of the two squads overall, and, in the lead-up to the match, between the size of the halos around each team - a big, blindingly bright one around the ruthless and unbeaten New Zealand, and a feeble glow, no more than one generated by a candle, around Bangladesh

More famed batting line-ups had been blown away by this New Zealand attack and Bangladesh, with a fresh coat of maturity but still Bangladesh, would have been spared deeper scrutiny had they succumbed, certainly after they were sent in.

Instead, Mahmudullah's second consecutive century led another remarkable all-round batting performance, with the bowlers and fielders following it up with sustained intensity, leaving New Zealand with a few questions to ponder before the knockouts.

The ball swung viciously, the fielders buzzed around batsmen at close range, and claustrophobia would have been understandable, but as Chandika Hathurusingha said yesterday, Bangladesh have repeatedly talked among themselves about playing with no fear and today was another good example.

Three overs, three maidens for Trent Boult, four slips, no third man - New Zealand wanted to play Test cricket and Bangladesh weren't shying away. Imrul Kayes played 19 balls for his 2, Tamim waited for 20 deliveries before flicking a boundary and eight runs came off the first seven overs.

Aggressive fields meant open spaces, more opportunities to score. It sounds simplistic, but Soumya Sarkar was intent on proving it. While jogging a single in the 13th over after a push into the deep, he even had time to clear something from the pitch.

A number of edges ran to the third man boundary, meaning that Bangladesh had already scooted to 72 in 14 overs when Brendon McCullum turned to Vettori. In the next 10 overs, Sarkar and Mahmudullah showed remarkable poise, even though only 25 runs came and no boundaries were hit.

There was a bit of panic in the grass banks when an elderly man, high on spirits and looking to use the middle-overs calm for a loo break, hobbled his way between and over the closely-packed bodies, but in the middle Bangladesh remained firmly grounded and comfortable with their pace. Mahmudullah was in control.

The most assured batsman in the line-up now, Mahmudullah was not rushed like the others. He survived a rocky start and could well have been dismissed for a duck, twice. But that did not seem to affect him.

Mahmudullah doesn't step out of the crease often, or attempt extraordinary shots. He doesn't have to. An elegant player to watch, he has only been extravagant in his celebrations, and he was central to Bangladesh's innings plan. Around him, others had a bit more bandwidth - like Shakib Al Hasan, who surprised McCullum by calling the Powerplay two overs early. That early call may have been responsible for McCullum running out of bowling options towards the end, and having to turn to Grant Elliot for the 48th and 50th overs.

Like an old-fashioned one-dayer, Bangladesh made the most of the last 15 overs, Mahmudullah accelerating smoothly after his century and Sabbir Rahman's cameo providing the added thrust.

In the subcontinent, batting teams tend to build their innings in a more linear manner, without so many changes in momentum. In this World Cup, however, teams have had to be smarter in planning when to hold back and when to launch. Bangladesh had been at ease with it in their previous two matches; today, they aced their toughest test yet.

The freedom with which they played showed when they took the field, Shakib again befuddling McCullum by opening with two spinners, another sign of their confidence.

As the players shook hands with beaming smiles after what had been a seesaw match, the difference in the heights wasn't as noticeable as before. Bangladesh had already added a few inches to their stature and a few more lumens to their halo.