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April 7, 2007
"Is today the day you're no longer a minnow?" Habibul Bashar smiled kindly at the question, but he has known and his team has known for a little time now. They did not, for example, celebrate all that much in the dressing-room. "Not like India. Winning is more familiar now."
Bangladesh can run on inspiration but not only that, they showed today, and they will again. They can resurrect an innings, they can exploit favourable conditions, they can impose in the field a choking presence, they can sense a moment: they can, if in sync, clinically disrobe quality opposition, and today's also happened to be one ranked No. 1 in the world.
The victory, as remarkable and comprehensive as the one against India, threw open the Super Eights mercifully alive to all manner of possibilities and left South Africans thanking their stars for Robin Peterson's divine edge that fetched them two points against Sri Lanka ten days ago.
Graeme Smith was confronted this morning with the same trade-off that captains have been faced with at Providence. To bowl first and take advantage of early moisture or second and use the slowness of the pitch? Given his bowling composition the choice has been simple. But having made inroads into Bangladesh's batting, he was left wondering for an hour how to tell apart the sparkling young duo of Mohammad Ashraful and Aftab Ahmed under the helmet. Righties, attacking, 5 ft 2 in, shirt numbers 97 and 98. The trick is in the stance. Ashraful's is the higher backlift and the looser grip; the looseness of grip prefaces extraordinary wristwork.
His innings was among the most delightful of the Cup. Jacques Kallis was attacked early and aerially with pick-ups and pulls, but by and large he bided his time, settling the innings that appeared to juddering to a familiar halt. Here was calm from youth.
The innings burst open in the thirty-sixth over, when Aftab launched two sixes as large as the bowler Justin Kemp. Runs came at eight an over thereafter; Ashraful himself scored his last fifty from 31 deliveries. The memories were of Cardiff 2005, of the pair hurrying Australia to defeat.
Again and again Ashraful skittered like a cat across the stumps to full balls and yorkers and flipped them behind the wicket. These were reasonable fast bowlers we're talking about. Makhaya Ntini, Charl Langeveldt, Andre Nel. In another time batsmen would have made impressive strikes to long-off and huffed singles, unable to fathom the injustice of a fielder in the path of these handsome drives.
Ashraful's was not the work of a one-trick pony. His range is delicious. He is fleet of foot and keen of eye and supple of hand. As sweetly as he can dab the ball fine on the off so purposefully can he loft and pull. A batsman is worth watching when he can angle straight deliveries through extra cover. As Smith would note, he worked the field beautifully.
One match-changing partnership was followed by another with Mashrafe Mortaza, and another in the field with three spinners in left-arm unison. Mohammad Rafique, short, old and vigorous, with his curved bouncing run-up, flopping hair and rich set of tricks; Abdur Razzak tall, strong and tight with the semi-new ball; Saqibul, frantic in final stride and slow through the air. "One thing similar in them is that they are three left-arm spinners," said Bashar. "But they are three different kinds of bowlers, and they always bowl in different kind of positions. Whenever I give them the ball they've always done the job for me."
A great squeeze was applied to struggling South Africans. Between the fifteenth and twenty-seventh over, all but one of the twelve overs left arm-spin, not a single boundary was struck. All told they bowled two short of thirty overs for 96 runs and six wickets.
If the pitch was like back home, barely less was the support received from a fairly big holiday audience. At the moment of victory, Indian journalists applauded in the press-box, Guyanese in the crowd waved the Golden Arrowhead. Underdog victories know no nationalities.
Perhaps Bangladesh will be thrashed next game, perhaps they will make a fight of it, perhaps they will construct another fine victory, perhaps they will fade away and return home, perhaps they will storm into the semis, but the statement had been made. "We showed that we came to Super Eights not just to participate," said Bashar, "but to show that we deserve to play in the Super Eights." Perhaps he will be stopped asking the question.
Rahul Bhattacharya is author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04Feeds: Rahul Bhattacharya
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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