At best, the cynics said, Bangladesh can only bat. They don't have the bowling and fielding to do well in a Test match. Well, over the first two days of the inaugural Test against India at the Bangabandhu stadium in Dhaka, the batsmen proved the critics wrong, those who said that Bangladesh players could bat only for 30 overs and not for six and seven hours. And on Sunday, the bowlers and fielders made the cynics eat their words. In fact for long periods, Bangladesh seemed to have mighty India in a spot of bother and it was only a seventh wicket partnership of 121 runs between Sourav Ganguly and Sunil Joshi which saved the visitors the blushes.
The Ganguly-Joshi stand helped India recover a lot of ground and end the third day of the Test at 366 for seven off 116 overs. With India only 34 runs behind, an interesting two days lie ahead. There is the prospect of a keen fight for the first innings lead. And whatever the lead and whichever team gets it, there is still plenty left to play for both teams in the match. And whoever thought such a scenario would be possible midway through this Test match? The pitch is still playing well except for the inevitable wear and tear and almost any result looks possible.
And for the match to have reached this stage, all credit must go to Bangladesh. This was to be the day when Indian batsmanship would break new records and reach new heights, or so was commonly believed. A score of something in the region of 400 for four wickets was widely predicted. But by their resilient qualities, Bangladesh not only kept the famed Indian batting line up in check but they also took wickets at regular intervals. And symbolising this fighting spirit was Naimur Rahman. The 26-year-old captain led from the front in taking five wickets for 110 off 40 overs with his off spinners. His scalps included Tendulkar and Ganguly.
And yet when Sadagopan Ramesh and Murali Kartik started the proceedings confidently enough, the stage did seem set for a massive Indian reply. The first inclination that all would not go India's way came when Ramesh was bowled by Ranjan Das. The 18-year-old left arm medium pacer, yet to play a ODI, was pushed into the Test team and the gamble paid off when the left handed Ramesh, playing forward, was beaten by the pace and bounce and the ball brushed his bat on the way to hitting the off and middle stumps. Ramesh's 58 was compiled off 92 balls and he hit six fours.
Nightwatchman Murali Kartik doggedly held on and Rahul Dravid started in fluent fashion. However on 28, Dravid was caught at short leg by Al Shahriar off Naimur Rahman. But even though India were now 155 for three, with Tendulkar and Ganguly to come, there was no need for panic.
The small crowd gave Tendulkar a big cheer but he did not last long. He was declared out by umpire Steve Bucknor, caught at short leg by substitute fielder Rajin Saleh off Naimur. The substitute was necessitated following an injury to wicketkeeper Khaled Masud who was hit on the knee as a ball from Hasibul Hussein beat Ramesh. Shahriar Hoosein took over the duty behind the wickets. With Murali Karthik having gone just before this, also dismissed by the same combination, India were now 190 for five and suddenly in a spot of bother.
The rescue act was initiated by Ganguly and Saba Karim. The two added 46 runs for the sixth wicket off 15.3 overs and looked good for many more when the wicketkeeper was out in strange circumstances. He went forward to Naimur Rahman and the next thing everyone saw were the stumps being disturbed. Even as excited shouts of 'bowled' echoed all over the ground, it was quickly apparent that the ball had come off Shahriar Hoosain's pads and then hit the stumps. Unsure of what exactly had happened, umpires Shepherd and Bucknor referred the matter to the third umpire. TV replays confirmed that the ball had indeed ricocheted off Hoosain's pads but more importantly, at the moment the ball had hit the stumps, Karim's foot was just outside the crease. After an agonizingly long wait when match referee Raman Subba Row was seen talking on the walkie talkie to the umpires, the red light came on signalling Karim's exit. A bit unfortunate to be stumped this way, Karim was out under law 39-2 (a) which states ''the batsman is out stumped if the ball rebounds on to the stumps from any part of the wicketkeeper's person or equipment other than a protective helmet.''
With six down for 236, the repair work had to start all over again. Ganguly's graceful batting continued to provide a ray of sunshine and now he found an able partner in Sunil Joshi. Coming together just before tea, the two proceeded to wrest the initiative. Despite the grim situation, both went for their strokes. Joshi matched his more illustrious partner with some bold lofted shots, while Ganguly remained elegance personified. They even caused the removal of Naimur Rahman from the attack. He had an unchanged spell of 27-3-89-3 today and he was easily the best bowler on view. Joshi now pressed on the accelerator and took ten runs off three deliveries from Habibul Bashar. In the first hour after the break, India scored 59 runs from 14 overs, the brightest phase of the innings.
Joshi pulled left arm spinner Rafique to the mid wicket fence to reach his maiden half century in Tests. By now the 31-year-old all rounder from Karnataka was outscoring Ganguly as the partnership became the highest of the innings and proceeded merrily towards the three figure mark which was duly reached off 138 balls. Runs came freely now as if to mock at the earlier batsmen. The siege had been lifted and the counter attack had commenced. Under its influence, the bowling became wayward and the fielding wilted.
The 350 came up and suddenly the Bangladesh total of 400 had come within sight. Interest now shifted on whether the Indian captain would reach his hundred before stumps and whether the two batsmen would come in unbeaten. But in the last half hour, Ganguly and Joshi put up the shutters, hoping to carry on their good work tomorrow. That was not to be for Ganguly suddenly got a rush of blood, jumped out to Naimur Rahman, who had returned to the attack, and holed out to Al Shahriar at long on. Ganguly's 84 was compiled off 153 balls and he hit five boundaries. Like the seventh wicket partnership which realised 121 runs off 32.3 overs, Ganguly's was an invaluable knock.
The light by now was murky but Ajit Agarkar and Joshi played out the last few overs. No praise can be too high for Joshi who by stumps had hit eight fours in his 71 for which he faced 112 balls. One must not forget he already has a five wicket haul in this match.