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September 15, 2007
One of the off-field entertainments in place during this tournament is the dancers placed around the boundary edge who jump onto stage with each boundary that's hit or wicket which falls. It's a miracle none of them collapsed of exhaustion the way Bangladesh flew out of the blocks at Newlands. Few, if any, innings, even in Twenty20, have begun in such astonishing style and after 4.2 overs the score line read 58 for 4. There'd barely been a ball where the dancers hadn't been up on their podiums.
Bangladesh batted with a freedom of a team who knew they were already in the next stage, but you sense that they wouldn't have played much differently if the situation hadn't been so comfortable. They have some of the most naturally aggressive batsmen in the game - one of the reasons their Test growth has been much more stunted than in limited-overs cricket - and once the big shots began it was hard to stop them.
There has never been any doubting their ability to play shots, but even in Twenty20 there is a judgment call to be made. Mohammad Ashraful opened his innings with a majestic first-ball six over square leg then scooped his next delivery over short fine leg. Ten in two balls is plenty, but the adrenalin was coursing through Ashraful's veins and he couldn't stop, miscuing his third ball to Graeme Smith at mid-on.
Aftab Ahmed also quickly found his over drive setting, mauling Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini in the early overs. It was an audacious period of striking and the packed crowd were lapping it up. England captain Paul Collingwood was spotted in the crowd, trying to collect a few tips for Sunday's key Super Eights game, but he seemed as equally baffled by what was going on.
If the likes of Ashraful and Ahmed are going to play with such abandonment, they also need to learn when to step back for a moment. The phrase, '20 overs is more than you think' has been used so much by domestic players that, in five years, it is already a cliché but it does hold true. Ahmed had given his side such an early kick-start, he could have taken a few overs to consolidate, but instead fell to an awful swing across the line.
|If the likes of Ashraful and Ahmed are going to play with such abandonment, they also need to learn when to step back for a moment|
Deriders of Twenty20 say it is not much more than glorified slogging. But the innings of Chris Gayle and Sanath Jayasuriya already in this tournament have been a compacted version of how they play in ODIs. Jehan Mubarak's 13-ball 46 against Kenya was clean, straight hitting, not slogging. However, some of Bangladesh's shot selection did lurch back towards the hit-and-hope variety. "We wanted to play our natural game," said Ashraful. "We have good strikers in the top six but while the run-rate was good we lost too many wickets."
Their age can be put forward as a significant factor in their defence - no one in the side is older than 25 - and the passion they put into their cricket is a joy to watch. They want to succeed every time and Ashraful could barely tear himself away from the crease after his dismissal. Against West Indies Ashraful and Ahmed guided the team to victory, but even though the batting was no less aggressive there was a touch more selection. That, however, was in a chasing situation and, as expected, it is quickly becoming clear that hunting down runs is the way to go.
In the end they weren't a million miles away from a decent total, which is where some restraint would have paid dividends. It is still difficult to judge what a defendable score is when batting first and as Bangladesh's approach suggested they did really know what they were aiming at. But it cost them nothing having a go and if ever there was a game to try something different this was it. As with everything in their development, it will have been a valuable learning experience.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?