New Zealand had already lost an ODI to an ICL-depleted Bangladesh side, and on a slow pitch in Chittagong they were threatening to lose a Test too. New Zealand's attack looked toothless, the batsmen strokeless. Step forward Daniel Vettori, the captain who saved the ship. First his 5 for 59 off 36 overs (15 maidens) restricted Bangladesh; then he scored a half-century from No. 8 to ensure his side didn't trail by more than 100. Four wickets off 42 overs in the second innings kept the target down to 317. Then, in what amounted to a no-confidence vote to his batsmen, Vettori promoted himself to No. 4, and saw New Zealand through with a painstaking 76.
Peter Siddle made a breathtaking start to his Test career, against India in Mohali. At least it was breathtaking to the batsman, Gautam Gambhir, who found it's no picnic facing a man who chops wood for fun and is nicknamed Vicious. Second over of the day, Siddle ran in with the new ball, pinged it in short and caught Gambhir flush on the side of the head as he tried too late to duck. How does one follow up a start like that? Siddle went on yield seven runs in that first over, and sent down 43 overs to take 4 for 176 in match. As far as anti-climaxes go, it's not quite up there with taking a wicket with your first ball and then none ever again, but it's close.
Before he finally got his India cap, Amit Mishra had toiled hard for eight years on India's domestic circuit, taking more than 300 wickets in that time. He knew he would get only one match, unless Anil Kumble didn't recover in time for the Delhi Test, or Mishra did something extraordinary himself. The first eventuality was not in Mishra's hands, but the other was: he produced a performance that dared the team management to keep him out of the side, bamboozling Australia on a Mohali pitch that had, until then, seemed trustworthy. Suddenly big spin, treacherous googlies and sly sliders confronted Australia, and they succumbed, handing the debutant a five-for. In the second innings, after the other bowlers had had their fill, he delivered the coup de grace, taking the last two wickets in successive overs. Mishra is an old-school legspinner, not afraid to throw the ball up, not easily put off by having runs taken off him, and it was a delight to watch him turn the ball longer and bigger than all the other spinners in the series put together.
The Allrounder II
Spare a thought for Shakib Al Hasan, the 21-year-old from Khulna. He had just had the match of his life, in the first Test against New Zealand, but ended on the losing side by three wickets. Only in the first innings of the four, when he made 5 out of Bangladesh's 245, was he not a key performer. He more than made up for that batting failure with figures of 26.5-6-36-7, the best performance by a distance by any Bangladesh bowler in a Test match. His 71 set New Zealand a steep target, but he could only manage two wickets in the final innings, taking his match figures to 9 for 115.
If India win this series they know when the momentum turned their way. They had a typically slow start in Bangalore, losing seven first-innings wickets while still 198 behind. Out came Zaheer Khan to join Harbhajan Singh, and slowly but surely things went pear-shaped for Australia. The good deliveries took edges and went through gaps, the average ones were thumped for boundaries, and the ones that kept low were not on the line of the stumps. Every run of the 80 the two added frustrated Australia and inched India back into the series. Both went on to score fifties, and Zaheer rubbed it in, taunting Australia's attack for not being able to take 20 wickets.
This one had it all. After 43 overs on the first morning in Chittagong, Bangladesh were 44 for 4. Mehrab Hossain jnr and Mushfiqur Rahim then led their revival - Mehrab scoring 83 runs. New Zealand didn't make a spectacular start either, losing four wickets for 52 before Brendon McCullum came in and tried to fight drudgery with daredevilry, taking New Zealand to 99, whereupon three wickets fell for one run and Vettori had to fight drudgery with drudgery to limit the damage. Having secured a 74-run lead, Bangladesh made another poor start only to be rescued by Shakib, who added 56 with Mushfiqur and 48 with Naeem Islam for the sixth and seventh wickets to help Bangladesh set what seemed an imposing target. New Zealand made a good start to the chase, but lost Jesse Ryder towards the end of the day to make it 145 for 2. In came Vettori, presumably to see his side through to stumps, but he turned out to have a grander plan. He put on 40 runs with Aaron Redmond, 82 with Daniel Flynn, and dragged his side over the threshold. Bangladesh kept chipping away but in the end missed history by three wickets.
The stage was set. Ricky Ponting walked out in Bangalore, in the first over of the series, his batting average in India 12.28. India may have had the psychological upper hand, but Ponting was dogged: he took the attack to the bowlers, hardly looking the part of the man who had struggled so much in India till then. It helped that he had come out to the middle early. His major tormentor, Harbhajan Singh, was still some way away. By the time spin eventually came on, Ponting was duly entrenched, and he took 37 off 46 Harbhajan deliveries, going on to make a redeeming century and taking the first steps towards eliminating the final hurdle between him and the ranks of the great batsmen.
We've all heard of eye-popping catches, but spectacular drops? Welcome to the Stanford 20/20 for 20, where the low floodlights (because of the airport nearby) have been blamed for some dismally butterfingered fielding. Match two, England v Middlesex, featured two classic clangers. In the third over Murali Kartik dropped a regulation edge at slip off Ian Bell - a blooper somewhat explained by the fact that he had "more tape on his fingers than an Iraqi war veteran", as Tony Cozier put it picturesquely on the commentary. The piece de resistance followed 11 overs later when Shaun Udal bowled to Andrew Flintoff: the ball ballooned to mid-on and Flintoff began to walk back only to turn and make his way back when he realised that Andrew Strauss had dropped it, in a howler so thunderous it was heard in Puerto Rico.
On the 9th of October, Bangladesh took the field in the first ODI against New Zealand, still reeling from the ICL blow, and looking to control further damage within the players left behind. Some of their players had spoken, in the lead-up, of the millions they had foregone in favour of representing their nation. Fittingly they produced a champion ODI performance on a slow Mirpur pitch. The bowlers stifled the New Zealand batsmen, restricting them to 201. Mashrafe Mortaza took 4 for 44, and Abdur Razzak 3 for 33; five top-order wickets fell for 32 runs. Then the batsmen checked in: Junaid Siddique scored a patient 85, and Mohammad Ahsraful provided the impetus with 60 off 56 as Bangladesh got home with nearly five overs to spare. It hardly seemed an upset, given how easy it was in the end.
Two contenders here, from the same innings, Australia's second in Mohali. First up, in the 11th over, Ishant Sharma got one to pitch on a length wide of off stump. Ponting lunged out to cover the stumps and leave, but the ball moved in with the shine. Ponting saw it and looked to get the bat down, but the movement was sharp and took the stumps. "It would get me 95 times out of 100," Ponting later said.
The second one was a bit of a waste, coming as it did to a tailender. Nine years ago Wasim Akram bowled a similar delivery to Rahul Dravid in Chennai with the same result. The time it was Zaheer to Brett Lee, who had just taken guard. It landed just outside leg, on a length, dipping in, but upon pitching moved away to leave Lee, who had been forced into the shot, and took the stumps. A very good, or very fortunate, batsman might just have got his pad in the way. Dravid couldn't do anything about it in 1999, and Lee was luckless here.
India Blue opening batsman Virat Kohli may have scored only 62 runs in the three games of the Challenger Trophy but he went a long way towards making up with four catches - one regulation, one good, one superb, and one spectacular - in the tournament. Of the last two, the first came in the final, against Red: an outside edge from Rohit Sharma off a full outswinger from Ashok Dinda that Kohli took, diving to his right. The peach had come in the game before. Second over of Green's chase; Irfan Pathan to Shikhar Dhawan, full on the off stump, angling away; Dhawan tried to angle it away to third man. Kohli, at gully, threw himself full length to his right and took the ball one-handed.