When the umpires finally called stumps in the lengthening evening shadows at
Beausejour Stadium, Bangladesh cricket fans around the world let out a collective
sigh of relief, satisfaction and happiness. The team recovered well from the
disastrous loss of opener Hannan Sarkar the very first ball of the test and batted
through the day to post a respectable 278/7 marked by a scintillating century
by the captain Habibul Bashar. Advantage Bangladesh.
Pre-match pundits were writing a different script before the game got underway.
On a supposedly pacy pitch, the newly resurgent and revitalized West Indian
pace quartet was supposed to give the Bangladeshi batsmen a torrid time. When
Bangladesh opted to bat and lost Hannan lbw to Pedro Collins, the worst nightmares
of Bangladeshi fans seemed to be coming true. Were we again to see our top order
collapse like so often in the past? Was Jermaine Lawson, in his come back Test,
going to decimate the Bangladesh innings like he did in Dhaka in 2002 when he
took out our last 6 wickets for no runs?
In walked in Habibul Bashar, once again having to play the role of a ?virtual?
opener, instead of his (and our) preferred role as one-down batsman. And he
stayed. Stayed on for three and a half hours in a dazzling show to score his
third and highest century score of 113. Many of his 15 shots to the boundary
came through his favored hooks and pulls. He punished anything wayward and short.
However, this time he was more circumspect than he has been in the past. No,
not circumspect in his usual aggressive batting style; for a while he had the
Bangladesh scoring rate clipping along as if we were playing a rain-shortened
ODI. But he was unusually circumspect in his shot selection, in his timing and
in choosing the gaps well ? perhaps some of Whatmore?s lessons finally
Bashar was ably supported by redoubtable Javed Omar with whom he put in a partnership
of 121 and then by Rajin Saleh for a 50 run partnership until Bashar finally
succumbed top-edging, yes, a hook. When he finally departed after tea, Bangladesh
was a healthy 176 for three and could well claim to have won the first two sessions.
As for the West Indies, it was a miserable outing for their vaunted speedsters.
The pitch didn?t turn out to be the pacer?s paradise as was promised
by the groundsman. Yes it was hard, but it seemed a good batting pitch and might
actually take some spin later on during the match. The pacers themselves were
all at sea- very wayward and could not seem to find their rhythm. The Bangladeshi
batsmen suitably punished their many loose balls. And the Bangladeshi outs were
more due to the batsmen themselves than to anything extraordinary from this
supposed fearsome foursome. Pedro Collins was the only one who seemed to be
a notch above the rest. Jermaine Lawson?s return didn?t cause as
much as a ruckus as last time he played against Bangladesh, though he did pick
up Bashar?s valuable wicket. Lara must have been so frustrated that he
brought in the part-bowler Dwayne Smith.
It was another part-timer, Ramnaresh Sarwan and his leg-breaks that put a little
bit of a damper to the Bangladesh innings. After he had Rajin Saleh caught by
wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs, the wickets slowly started to fall. Fifth down
Mohammad Ashraful anchored himself at one end, but at the other a steady succession
of our batsmen came and went without making too much of a mark.
Debutant Faisal Hossain showed no first-time jitters and opened his score with
a one and an imperious four. But he did not last long and neither did Mushfiqur Rahman
and Khaled Mashud. They ?piddled? around a bit, playing second foil
to Ashraful but both departed in quick succession.
When spin-wizard Mohammad Rafique joined Ashraful, they stemmed the rot and
saw through the day with no further conniptions. Ashraful played a patient yet
lucky innings. When the two spinners were operating from both ends and had tied
down the scoring for a while, he did not show his customary impatience and patted
down anything awkward. In one, he was almost run out in a bizarre incidence
caused by a misunderstanding with Rajin Saleh and in the other, the hapless
(no wickets, two sitters dropped) Pedro Collins gifted him a life. In the end,
Ashraful remained unbeaten with a good 65 and kept the strike for tomorrow with
a last ball run. His partner, Rafique played with his customary gusto and remains
unbeaten on 17.
I would give the West Indies an advantage for this session and in the final
analysis I would put Bangladesh ahead 2-1 for today. Ideally, we would like
to have scored a few more runs (300+) and lost a couple of wickets less, but
all in all a satisfying day.
There was much to take pleasure from today?s proceedings, not the least
being Bashar?s century. After the debacle of the first ball, the Bangladesh
early order did not fold like a house of cards, as they are wont to. They were
not intimidated by the pre-match hullabaloo about the new found West Indies
pace quartet and took them head on. The batsmen showed more application and
thought to the batting than they had done in the past. Even the disappointing
last session wasn?t marked by another usual sudden collapse but a more
manageable and less painful slow attrition. We did garner a respectable score
and we batted through the whole day ? 278 for 7 is nothing to sneer at
and something to be happy about.
However, tomorrow (or today for some of you) is a new day. The West Indies
pacers must be chomping at the bit to earn back some respect. One of the most
crucial event of today?s innings might well have been Ashraful?s
keeping the strike for tomorrow. With no more recognized batsmen to follow,
it is up to these two to grind down the West Indies even more. An ideal situation
would be to last at least till the end of the first session. The runs will come
along the way and we might reach a defendable score of 320+. And then it will
be our turn to work on the batsmen who would have then have been toiling in
the field for 4 sessions. Perhaps there is a Santa Claus after all.