Monday, June 05, 2023
Updated: Monday, June 20, 2005
|From agony to ecstasy|
G. M. Bashar
I have now recovered from three days of what could only be described as a virtual roller coaster. The last two games (Bangladesh vs. England and Bangladesh vs. Australia) have provided me ample details to ponder about but I shall restrict myself to a few points that may provide a personal peek at the two matches from a spectator's point of view.
My abiding memories of the Oval are of a friendly and spirited pitch, of cricket games played in the right spirit, of healthy scorecards, and ? of rain, rain as in the English kind. The potential of a damp field was always on and Thursday was no different, with the whole of Bangladesh's innings conducted in a steady precipitation that varied from intermittent drizzle to persistent shower. We got through it, however, and produced a respectable batting and bowling performance under the circumstances, even if the wicketless scorecard of defeat is derided as a sign of weakness. A look at Mashrafe would be ample evidence that our bowlers are certainly not a bunch of mediocre performers. His improved run up, coupled with perfect line and length, was a harbinger of more to come
In many respects our batting seemed to struggle with the conditions more than the bowlers did, even if the scorecard does not say so. Slips and scary edges when playing shots were the common denominators as none of the batsmen got on top of the English bowling, and there was a steady dribble of wickets that kept England in firm control.
Bangladesh could not put together a significant partnership at the Oval for many reasons but the on and off nature of the game played a major role. Our batsmen still need to realize that such interruptions are part and parcel of cricket. As an international team you bat in any condition and there is simply no excuse.
Another excuse that I see bandied about is that England has a formidable bowling line up. I beg to differ, although it was interesting to see Harmison in action. He generates sufficient pace and bounce (an aspect that Tapash lacks), but I am sure that some of our batters could have handled his quota of overs without worries. Rather, it was Lewis who troubled our batsmen. And the cruelest blow of all was Bashar?s dismissal. He was on track to perform something special with Aftab in the other end, but a split second misjudgment and an unnecessary hook at the wrong time resulted in a match-losing situation. Aftab needed Bashar at that point, and more than that, Bangladesh really needs Bashar at the crease on a regular basis.
Of all the Bangladeshi batsmen, I was happy to see that Bashar, unlike Nafis and Javed, was not beaten by the fast balls and the likelihood of him being caught and bowled was slim at that point. He played clean shots and was ready to stay right up to the end. To my surprise, the outfield was fast and the balls sped to the boundary as on any other fine day.
Without further delay, let me narrate the events leading up to the earth-shattering moment in Cardiff. I trudged to the ground rather lazily, careful not to repeat the bubbly fanfare of my early arrival at the Oval.
It was a lonely walk as all sorts of worst-case scenarios filled my head. At the Oval, I had to hear the humorous but taunting songs of all those England fans, but today it was serious business. And I am sorry to say that at the back of my mind, I was making plans in the event of a short game. Many others had forfeited their tickets and many simply didn?t bother to buy a ticket despite living a few streets away. So all the credits and salutes go to the brave souls who made to the ground despite all the mental obstacles.
Soon I rued the fact that I had actually missed our first two wickets! After seeing Tapash in his usual dogged form I realized quickly that the team was exuding the same spirit that was evident in the first ODI match in West Indies, i.e., a buzzing fielding team out for blood!
Despite the fact that Sophia Gardens is a small ground (in terms of capacity), I also happen to be intimately acquainted with this pitch from eons ago, and from previous observations, I can say that once set, a batsman will have no problems accomplishing big scores here. Javed Miandad can testify to that.
Undoubtedly, the fast and furious dismissal of Ponting and Gilchrist had set the psychological framework of this game. Australia needed time to settle in and play their natural game. They are a disciplined team but nevertheless players who also love their shots and like to display their flair for strokes.
But Tapash came through brilliantly for Bangladesh with his early strike. And more importantly, our other bowlers kept things tight. Rafique bowled a brilliant ten overs and should have been given that lbw decision against Clarke. And to this hour I maintain that Rafique is still the pick of our bowling with his ability to inflict a degree of uncertainty in the opposition camp. One never knows when Rafique gets a wicket, and the Aussies respect that.
One irritating aspect of Nazmul is his tendency to try those awful yorkers. I have seen enough of it and despite some success, an yorker is something he has yet to fully master. It also is indicative of the weakness we have in our bowling coaching. So I hope the selectors engage a competent fast bowling coach and that De Winter looks closely at some of our "pacers".
Nevertheless, from a Bangladeshi perspective, the Australian total always looked imposing. To even reach 200 was something I, frankly, didn?t expect and everyone expected the Australians to turn the screw, but it never happened. The turning point must have been when Ashraful survived a ricochet off his bat that left the ball spinning and narrowly missing his stumps by a few inches.
Ashraful is known to have many lives and he seldom controlled his shots on earlier occasions in the tour. But in Sophia Gardens, he was in control of all the factors that stood in the way of a Bangladesh victory. He built a very competent innings that was characterized by correct shot selection, a much-improved running between wickets, and a wide variety of shots (of which the sweeps were thoroughly relished by the crowd). To my surprise, I thought his hooks were well placed, even the one that Gillespie had dropped, because that one just lacked a bit of extra firepower. Talking of firepower, I had expected Ash to hit harder, but he didn't. This indicated a very conscious mindset on Ashraful's part. One that was undoubtedly helped by the few chats he had with Bashar on the pitch.
It was Rafique and Aftab, not Ashraful, who hit the ball harder and hit it when it mattered. Runs were never plundered at a fearful rate and why should they? The team knew that with wickets in hand, the stroke play of Ashraful and a watchful stint by Bashar would be enough to set the stage for any of the other batsmen to have a strike at that total. Lady luck was always on our side and I wouldn?t say it was a match of ?ifs?. It wasn?t a lottery as the Australians just didn?t trouble or test our batsmen to the degree that they are capable of.
In fact, most of the crowd had realized this once Ash reached 80. From there, even when Ash?s marathon innings came to an end, it was too late for Australia. The stands started to swell up, as all those who had decided to go home at lunch, i.e., at the start of the Bangladshi innings, reverted back to the stadium. Including a sizeable Bengali component!
By the 42nd over, I felt a bit guilty. I had to hurriedly summon a few of our couch potato friends to come back and do their duty to support the team! And embarrassingly, whenever I came across an Aussie, I heard a similar sentiment-
?Oh mate, I thought you guys had heaps of fans, where are they??
So Bashar?s words ringed true - these days don?t come so often, do they? It is a painful reality that needs to be erased. And sadly, on a day when the sun shone so bright, with the adjacent Taff River in full summer glory, both literally and metaphorically, the Bangladeshi victory was tinged by the fact that the crowd in Cardiff could possibly have been the lowest of all tour venues. More people will turn up in the next few matches but the Tigers deserved a full house on the day of their glory, 18th of June 2005.
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