By Rabeed Imam
For many months cricket fans in this country have wept while the rest of the world ridiculed our cricket, our players. There has been a concerted effort in the international media to negatively project anything and everything associated with Bangladesh's cricket, a campaign which has intensified with India's tour of Bangladesh.
Even a couple of days ago Bangladesh were called the 'ugly sister' of the Test world on the most reputed cricket website. This country has been portrayed as a land of no hope, no talent and no world class player. But for most of the day it rained brilliance at the MA Aziz Stadium in Chittagong on Sunday at the end of which there were tears in the eyes of millions all over Bangladesh but this outpouring of emotion was of pride and unbridled joy.
With one innings that can dry up your stock of adjectives, Mohammad Ashraful has gone a long way in changing the perception of Bangladesh's cricket, hopefully for ever. True the Tigers will lose the second Test handsomely with nearly two days to spare but the second Test will always be remembered as the match where Ashraful inspired his side to show what they are capable of if they play to their potential. Single-handedly he earned respect for his country that had been so elusive and when he reached that magical three-figure mark before tea, everyone at the ground stood up to applaud his genius including those in the Indian dressing room and a delighted Ravi Shastri in the ESPN studio -- a rare sight which every Bangladeshi young hopeful should replay in their dreams and try to emulate in the future.
It took over three years for Ashraful to live up to the standards he had set on debut. He was still not 17 when he made world cricket history by becoming the youngest Test centurion on debut against Sri Lanka in September 2001. But he had remained a young prodigy since showing only fleeting signs of brilliance before finally giving a full exhibition on Sunday of what he is capable of.
Ashraful's 158 not out in the Bangladesh first innings was unique because it was celebrated beyond the boundaries that separate the two nations involved in the battle.
“It was absolutely a brilliant knock but not unexpected because he has the talent to play this kind of innings'. The way he dominated the bowlers was amazing for me,” said Indian captain Sourav Ganguly.
Habibul Bashar, the Bangladesh captain had stolen the limelight on most occasions since the Tigers attained Test status but even he had no hesitation in calling it the best.
“It was the greatest innings I have ever seen a Bangladeshi batsman play. The way Ashraful dominated the bowlers was a rare experience for me,” said the country's most prolific batsman.
“I can’t imagine a Bangladeshi batsman playing every shot in the book," said Bashar before recalling Ashraful's audacious reverse swept four against Harbhajan Singh with a smile.
Indeed total domination was the goal when he walked out to bat in the morning with his team tottering on 54 for three. And then he set about dismantling Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan who probably did not know that short-pitched stuff is like unexpected bonus to the 20-year-old.
“I found some rough spots on the track and that’s why I decided not to allow the Indian bowlers to settle into a line. I was confident because I had a good knock against them in the first innings in Dhaka. But I never thought about personal achievements,” said Ashraful.
“I never bothered about who was bowling at me. I could read the balls easily which I believe was the reason behind my success,” he said.
Since his first Test innings, he has continued to feel the pressure to perform a repeat act but things have not gone as he had anticipated.
“It took a long time to score my second hundred but I believe the third one will be sooner because I am more mature now,” Ashraful declared before acknowledging the words of wisdom from the master -- Sachin Tendulkar -- during a one to one meeting in Dhaka last week.
“Sachin told me to always play my natural game and I tried to do it today and got the results.”
Inevitably, he was asked to compare his two hundreds and Ashraful replied with the gait of a pro.
“I couldn’t even understand what I had achieved during the first century. But now I know the importance of good knocks in any batsman's career. I also know two hundreds doesn't make a great batsman."