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Bangladesh in West Indies, 2009


Enhanced spin attack puts Bangladesh on top

July 18th, 2009  

After the re-aggravated knee injury sidelined debutant Skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza early in the rain truncated first test, a set of possibilities for a new lineup presented itself for the second test match at the National Cricket Stadium, St George's in Grenada.

With the captaincy resting firmly in the able mind and hands of accidental Captain Shakib Al Hasan, the smiling assassin who engineered his side’s very first test victory outside Bangladesh, it became a question of who was best suited to replace Mortaza, the pace spearhead, in the traditionally more seamer-friendly St. George’s pitch from July 17th, 2009.

Dhaka Division seamer Mahbubul Alam was presumed to be the popular straight substitution for many, also deeply concerned about a grunting but ineffective Shahadat Hossain. Others also looked at the terrible batting from disgraced former skipper Mohammad Ashraful, and a painfully out of sorts Raquibul Hasan to make room for young Mehrab Hossain, also an occasional SLA. Most of that ended up being wishful thinking because of the Bangladeshi team management’s rather dogmatic understanding of “team combination and chemistry” irrespective of harmfully dodgy lack of performance from some, especially after the rarest of wins. Generally the Bangladeshi coattail becomes longer in the event of a win and this was a big one. Big enough to become a cape suitable for superheroes.

But other, less speculative realities also came into play in light of the first test match. It was obvious that the current group of West Indian batters, as likely as they are to play better in the second and final test, has issues with quality slow bowling and pretty much all of its attributes, not just classic turn. So why not just overwhelm them with more slow bowling? Why not just step on the gas and drive away with a possible series sweep?       

Common sense prevailed in the end and young SLA Enamul Haque got the much deserved restart to his test career. Looking predatory from his first delivery, the talented young man from Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh did not disappoint with his game in the air, and generated a bit of turn for extra measure. With his carefully scripted repertoire of deliveries, he used the available drift, manipulated flight, line and length, and varied pace through the air like a tiger toying with his helpless prey. He finished 3 for 62 in 24 overs, and topped the list of menacing Bangladeshi slow bowlers who accounted for 9 of the Windies wickets as the hosts were bowled out for a difficult 237 in 76.1 overs. His numbers, as good as they were, do justice neither to the quality we witnessed, nor the intensely fatal impact they had on the opposition batters, no matter whom they fell to in the end.   

Skipper Shakib Al Hasan removed first test centurion Omar Phillips at 23 and provided the initial breakthrough, before taking double half centurion David Bernard at 17. Then the elegant SLA denied Travis Dowlin his deserved maiden test century at 95, thanks to the brilliant catch taken by a leaping Tamim Iqbal at cover falling backwards, and spelling the end to the hosts’ painstaking first innings in the process. Al Hasan finished with 3 for 59 in 21.1 overs. His unorthodox decision to bowl first and protect his openers until the wicket became more batting friendly had paid off.

The wicket was not the green top as expected but its wet spots, at least in the initial two to three hours, offered enough spongy bounce for Kemar Roach, Tino Best, and Darren Sammy to trouble the Bangladeshi top order. Al Hasan’s decision also underscored his confidence in his slow bowlers, as well as his batters batting last on an inevitably slower wicket against an opposition devoid of quality slow bowlers.

Mohammad Mahmudullah, the right-arm offbreak bowler who hauled 9 at debut in the first test, added to his surprising emergence as a genuine strike bowler with 3 for 44 in 13 overs. Again he reaped the benefit of intense pressure from the other end by removing a hostile Dale Richards at 69.

Richards took the Bangladeshi new ball bowlers to task before its slow bowlers put a predictably abrupt grip on his eventually 80 ball misadventure with eleven 4s and two 6s, some streaky and some gorgeous. Unable to withstand the chokehold, Richards ran out of borrowed time gave it away softly to Mahmudullah who had no trouble registering his first of two caught and bowled dismissals.

Ryan Hinds, brought into the side for the second test was his second victim at 2. The idea that he would have strengthened the West Indies batting must remain as such until the second innings. Windies Skipper Floyd Reifer, determined to restore some wounded pride by winning this match, was Mahmudullah’s third victim. His delivery on off straightened and caught the Windies Skipper plumb in front. An easy decision even for the likes of the imperiously blind A. Shocker, in form as usual with a couple of howlers through the innings.

Barely used Shahadat Hossain’s embarrassing emulation of Maria Sharapova got him a comical wicket as a suddenly disturbed Ryan Austin backed into his stumps, as if to dull the cry of anguish coming out of Hossain’s throat. In the first test, a similar resonation from Hossain’s vocal cords forced Richards into a dopey run out. To his credit, Hossain did bowl better in his second spell and delivered some good looking swingers both ways. But his stock continues to plummet in the minds of many Bangladeshi fans.

High slinger Rubel Hossain, also used sparingly, bowled better in his second spell but found himself wicketless despite generating some decent reverse swing. Skipper Al Hasan is clearly not the sort of guy who “fixes” unbroken things just for sake of variety, and his aversion to the concept of “art for art’s sake”  paid off in the end as he, Haque and Mahmudullah bowled 58.1 of the 76.1 overs required to end the West Indian innings.

Mohammad Ashraful failed to repeat his effective cameo with the ball from the first test. He is under tremendous pressure to perform with bat in this test. Survival or the axe, not much of a choice at all. So it would be intriguing to see his answer.

Bangladeshi openers Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes looked passably untroubled by Windies pacers until Kayes succumbed to a good and typically deceptive delivery from Darren Sammy. Delivered just outside off, Kayes found himself in two minds. By the time he decided to pull out of his commitment, a thin outside edge had already found its way into Keeper Chadwick Walton’s eager gloves. Kayes drove a couple of uppish but good looking boundaries in his 24 ball 14. Bangladeshi fans wish to see this compact and strokemaking young opener from Khulna deliver on the promise he has shown in glimpses, with a big enough knock sooner rather than later.

Bangladesh were 35 for 1 in 10 overs as day one of this second test came to an end. Iqbal looked solid and was not out on 14. Able night watchman Enamul Haque was not out on 5. Haque looked more than capable of surviving long enough to make it easier for Junaid Siddique to build another huge partnership with Iqbal, before Raquibul Hasan, Mohammad Ashraful, Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim have their opportunities to build a great first innings for Bangladesh.  More comfortable with a slightly older ball at degraded pace, a good opportunity finds itself flirting with Bangladesh on day two.

Sohel N Rahman, July 18th, 2009


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