India clinch series with 46-run win
Gautam Gambhir's second one-day century, and a promising three-wicket debut for Piyush Chawla were the highlights as India sealed the one-day series against Bangladesh with a comprehensive 46-run victory in a match reduced to 49 overs a side by early-morning drizzle. Aftab Ahmed's brisk 40 gave Bangladesh a glimmer of hope early on, but needing to overhaul 284, they fell a fair way short on a sluggish pitch.
But while it was the slow-bowling duo of Chawla and Ramesh Powar that applied the tourniquet, it was Zaheer Khan that made the initial incisions. When Bangladesh upset India at Port-of-Spain in March, Tamim Iqbal had given him a bit of a pasting, and he repeated the treatment in the opening match of this series. But lightning didn't strike thrice, as indecisive calling deprived Bangladesh of Tamim's services with only 18 on the board.
He struck a delivery from Zaheer to mid-off and started to run, only for a yes-no routine from Javed Omar to leave him hopelessly short as he attempted to regain his ground. Harsh words were exchanged as Tamim walked off, but the damage had been done. The innings badly needed some momentum at that stage and it came from Aftab, who started with a glorious straight-drive off Zaheer before clipping Munaf Patel nonchalantly over midwicket for six. When another shot was smashed through the off side, Rahul Dravid strengthened the cordon, but he was helpless when a ball was driven straight at his midriff with immense power.
One of the heroes of the victory over Australia at Cardiff in 2005, Aftab had no qualms about adopting the unorthodox, and when Zaheer came round the wicket, he moved inside the line and scooped one down to fine leg, before a heads-up charge sent another shot sailing over point and down to the rope.
Omar's attempt to emulate his partner only resulted in him misreading a slower delivery from Zaheer and chipping to cover, and India's position was strengthened minutes later when Saqibul Hasan, who saw a loft just bypass midwicket, nibbled one behind the stumps.
Aftab carried on regardless, dispatching Munaf over cover for four, prompting Dravid to call for spin in the 15th over. Chawla's first ball was crashed through the covers for four, but he soon settled down to beguile the batsmen with his variety, especially a well-disguised googly that few of the batsmen were able to pick.
It accounted for Ashraful, who chopped one on, and when Aftab's 41-ball innings ended with a tame charge to Ramesh Powar, Bangladesh were down for the count at 92 for 5. Mushfiqur Rahim played some lovely strokes down the ground while adding 59 with Habibul Bashar, but the captain's wait-and-watch approach saw the asking-rate spiral out of reach. By the time the big hits came - Mashrafe Mortaza took four sixes and 26 runs off a Dinesh Mongia over - they were nothing more than consolation for the raucous crowd at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium.
Earlier, India's top order put in an improved performance in the sweltering heat, mixing energetic running with clever placement into the gaps. Sloppy catching helped - Gambhir survived two tough chances - but the lower order couldn't quite cash in the chips as Bangladesh fought back.
Having spent years on the periphery, Gambhir knew the importance of seizing limited chances. As in the first match, he began at a rapid clip, whipping erratic deliveries to square leg, before settling down to nurdle a patient fifty. He had to battle the oppressive conditions, forced to use a runner towards the latter part of the innings after being afflicted by cramp, but still managed to pierce the field on a regular basis.
His footwork to the spinners was decisive, and he repeatedly targetted the gaps at midwicket and extra-cover. Unlike the more experienced Virender Sehwag, who succumbed to the temptation of trying to whack every ball out of the ground, Gambhir paced his innings impressively. His attempts to accelerate in the latter half of his innings were affected by his condition - a hobble followed nearly every stroke - but he carried on gamely to three figures.
Earlier, Bangladesh had been guilty of frittering away opportunities. Mortaza was back, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who helped stabilise the innings with 36, edged him twice, only for the ball to drop short of first slip on each occasion. Abdur Razzak also found the outside edge of Dhoni's bat in his first over, but there was no slip in place to snaffle the chance. Soon after, he fluffed a flat-batted swat as Dhoni went on to add 87 with Gambhir.
Gambhir had his share of good fortune too - an inside-edge off a fizzing Razzak delivery just eluded Rahim's clutches - but for the most part, the batsmen rotated the strike without much ado. Though it was a must-win game, Bashar didn't set attacking fields, especially for his trio of left-arm spinners.
Dravid ensured that he stayed on till the end, watching the lower order play some rash strokes. He had worked out the pitch better than most, nudging the ball around for most of his innings even as Bangladesh's bowlers ensured that there would be no late run-glut. Their initial profligacy, however, cost them dearly, as two of Indian cricket's men-on-the-fringe seized their moment.
Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo