July 21, 2009. Â
The Smiling Assassin did it with the fifth 5-wicket haul of his nascent Test career before his third Test 50, the second one to fall just 4 short of a maiden hundred, took Bangladesh to a memorable second and final Test win at the National Cricket Stadium in St. Georgeâ€™s, Grenada.
Bangladesh had won their first Test series abroad in convincing fashion, sweeping aside the hosts with consecutive wins. Shakib Al Hasan, both Man of the Match and Man of the Series, led from the front with ball and bat, and his joyous, aggressive, thoughtful, and at times unorthodox but always assertive Captaincy took us where no Bangladeshi cricketer or cricket fan has gone before.
An unforgettable ride it was for a nation of 150 million, leaving the blessed combination of thrill, joy and hope that will continue to linger whenever and wherever we revisit this important piece of cricket history, and understand this as the first of many more to come. There is no need to temper that optimism with reality, because the reality is Shakib Al Hasan and his band of fearless Tigers still years way from approaching their peak years at the highest level.
The rain truncated day four started with West Indies in trouble with only David Bernard, not out at 61 with his third Test 50 in four innings, offering the only purely hypothetical hope for a fighting lead. When the quixotic Jamaican fell to a decisive Enamul Haque comeback after hitting him for a six, so ended that particular hope. Haque strung him forward with a sharply dipping fuller delivery on middle and off, and slipped it under his bat to have him comprehensively stumped at 69.
Volatile pacer Tino â€œWild Thingâ€ Best soon followed as Al Hasanâ€™s 5h victim of the innings. The Bangladesh skipperâ€™s widish delivery going down leg missed a sweeping Bestâ€™s bat but perhaps not the bottom of his glove. The umpire however had no such doubt and ended the West Indian innings at 209. A stupefied Best was gone at 12 and Bangladesh were with a fourth innings target of 215 runs with all the time in the world. The man from Barbados was to lead his fellow pacers bowl out of their skins, and overcome insurmountable odds to reverse the probable outcome of the match and the series.
The task of chasing 215 with day five still to come seemed easy enough in theory, but given the stagnant reality of Bangladeshi batting as a whole, turned out to be an adventurous ride on an emotional rollercoaster.
Openers Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes started the chase. Iqbal looked confident as usual, sighting some excellent Windies deliveries early, but his partner Kayes failed to put a stop to his slow but steady decline since the first innings of the first Test. Kayes looked uncomfortable and it was just a matter of time before his discomfort expressed itself in poor shot selection.
In just the 10th over, Kayes decided to get cute with another good delivery from the excellent Kemar Roach and found himself taking the long and lonely walk back soon after. Just short of length and angling away from him at pace, Kayes simply couldnâ€™t let it go. He had to try and guide it over the slip cordon and go for dubious glory. Darren Sammy jumped high in the air to take the catch and make obvious the unforced error of that impulse. Kayes was gone 8, providing the hosts with the early breakthrough they need.
Bangladesh were 27 for one when Junaid Siddique entered the scene like a walking wicket. To his credit, the squinting left hander decided not to get ugly and survive with a straight bat as much possible. But before he had the chance to buy into the idea, Iqbal fell to an excellent delivery from the hugely underrated Sammy. His ambiguous line just outside off forced Iqbal to play at it and the faintest of edges found its way into Chadwick Waltonâ€™s gloves to provide the double breakthrough they needed.
With his country at 29 for 2, Raquibul Hasan, looking more confident from his 44 run first innings, joined the stirred and shaken Siddique in the middle in order to prevent further damage. The young right hander from Barisal Division in the beautiful south central cost of Bangladesh, had other ideas. He survived dangerously with those uncharacteristically rash shots we have been witnessing with increased horror since the inaugural Port City League in Bangladesh, a T20 affair.
As Lady Luck continued to shelter Hasan, Siddique fell to another Sammy special. Pitched up on middle and off, the tall left hander from Rajshahi in Northern Bangladesh played the wrong line and found himself thick edged at slip, one of two familiar ways he tends to disappoint his fans. Bangladesh were 49 for 3 and in deep but familiar trouble.
Enter Mohammad Ashraful Matin, a short man with a big reputation either way, and under the proverbial axe. Presented with yet another opportunity to at once redeem himself and resurrect his all but dying International career, Matin seemed to want to expiate with a memorable innings. But sadly for him and tragically for Bangladesh cricket, his quota of bungled opportunities already came to a crashing end in the first innings with yet another display of fatalism.
Sammy delivered an unplayable delivery worthy of the Caribbean Kings of the past. Threaded through the corridor of uncertainly at pace, its venom found Matin frozen in Limbo before finding the dreaded faint edge back to Waltonâ€™s gloves. Matin registered the 45th single figure innings, including 15 ducks, of his Test career leaving his country, fans and himself shattered.
Bangladesh found themselves at 67 for 4 and with the distinct possibility of a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory staring them in the face. Skipper Shakib Al Hasan had other ideas. With a reckless abandon matched only by his unshakable faith in Lady Luck, he and the other Hasan threw caution to the wind and put on one streaky run after another to wrest momentum away from the hosts. Mocked and demoralized in the process, the hosts went to tea shaking their heads in disbelief but still hopeful.
After tea, as if to toy with their hosts even more, the Hasans decided to radically alter the script. In a wonderful display of sensible cricket, they rotated the strike, safely drove the drivable, and built a match winning partnership of 106 runs. Hasan fell softly to Sammy at 65, but his maiden Test 50 had already broken the West Indian spirit as he left his team and country in a commanding 173 for 5. Skipper Al Hasan, again increasingly belligerent but more safely so, went past his Test 50 at the other end and began to eye his maiden Test 100.
Probable finisher Mushfiqur Rahim came to finish job but found himself gifting Sammy his second 5-wicket haul of the series at 12. It was the third Test fifer for this underrated 25 year old all rounder from St. Lucia. The accidental Vice Captain who came to play.
Bangladesh were 201 for 6 as Rahim departed but the Fat Lady was already I the park. Mohammad Mahmudullah, not out at zero, watched his Skipper end the match with a booming six over long on, and announced a new beginning for Bangladesh cricket.
The Fat Lady, now more familiar with the Asiatic melody from the subtropical cusp of South and Southeast Asia, sang of jubilation and belonging to the world of cricket and beyond. We are here ladies and gentleman, get used to it.
Sohel N. Rahman, July 21st, 2009. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â