It took a humiliating defeat and the spectre of unspeakable ignominy to rouse the Indian batsmen to come up with a performance befitting their stature. It was a victory in itself for Bangladesh to force India to depart from their stated objective of experimentation and field a full-strength side, but it would have been unrealistic to expect them to beat India twice in two days. Victory apart, India can take comfort from the wholesomeness of their batting performance, an attribute that had gone missing since Asia Cup in July.
India have copped a horrible season in one-day cricket since their sensational and emotionally charged tour of Pakistan in April. Since then, they haven't won a single match of consequence against a team of consequence. Before this match, they had won six of their 16 games since April, and only two of them against the stronger teams, and on both occasions, the opponents had little at stake: Sri Lanka had already qualified for the Asia Cup final and England had already wrapped up the NatWest Challenge.
It wasn't difficult to see where the major problem was. The Indian batsmen simply failed to turn up. Even the wins against the minnows were scratchy affairs. It began with a wobble against a few part-time bowlers of UAE who reduced them to 65 for 3 and not once since then have India managed to cross 100 in the first 15 overs or added 100 for the first wicket. In fact, even against weak opponents, their performance in the first 15 overs has been appalling. Against UAE, they managed 58 for 2, against Kenya 55 for 1 and in the three matches against Bangladesh, 77 for 1, 53 for 3 and 47 for 2. Today, they managed both, 100 runs for first wicket and 100 within the first 15.
Today, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag reminded India what they had been missing. The scorecard will show Sehwag scored more runs and at a faster rate, but it was Tendulkar who got them going by a couple of things that we haven't seen him doing for a while. India's start had been solid, but relatively sedate till the ninth over, when Tendulkar decided to take charge, literally. He hit Hasibul Hossain, for three fours that over, but the last one was the most significant. After having mistimed a pull that ran to the fine-leg boundary off an inside edge and slapped a short and wide ball to the point fence, Tendulkar charged down the wicket and hoiked the ball over mid-on. It was a trademark shot till a couple years ago when Tendulkar handed over the bullying part to Sehwag.
In the next over, bowled by Mushfiqur Rahman, Tendulkar was back to his inventive best. The fourth ball, a good-length one, was swung over midwicket forcing the man on the square-leg boundary to move in the direction of the stroke; to the next ball, he walked across to the offstump and gently guided the ball to square-leg; and the next ball was paddled even finer. This galvanized Sehwag into flurry of audacious hits over the top and 60 came in four overs of mayhem. After this, the outcome of the match was never in doubt.
But despite this heavy defeat, Bangladesh can take heart from their performance in the one-day series. To start with, they were much better in the ODIs than in the Tests where their limitations in technique and temperament were severely exposed. The shorter game is always kinder to weaker teams because it allows players to overcome their lack of skills with discipline and enthusiasm.
They kept the Indian batsmen in a leash in the first one-dayer and won the second one through their fielding. As he had done through the Test series, Mashrafe Mortaza held a good line and wobbled the ball just enough to trouble the batsmen with the new ball, and their lower order always batted spiritedly. Zimbabwe couldn't arrive on their shores soon enough.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo in India and of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.