India has the last word

The first Test between India and Bangladesh at the Zorur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong, though never being a case of David quelling Goliath, did have its share of intensity and probing questions that cricket is expected to dish out through its five-day format, reports K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

The context lacked edge — the number one Test team taking on Bangladesh. The setting remained gloomy — winter sun, constant fog, delayed starts and early closure.

Yet the first Test between India and Bangladesh at the Zorur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong from January 17 to 21, though never being a case of David quelling Goliath, did have its share of intensity and probing questions that cricket is expected to dish out through its five-day format. In the end, the form-book was respected and India defeated Bangladesh by 113 runs to gain a 1-0 lead in the two-Test series.

‘Man of the Match’ Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir scored centuries, the pace duo of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma had a combined scalp of ten and even leg-spinner Amit Mishra had a match haul of seven despite not being at his best.

However, it was not a tale of simple dominance. The match had its turgid phases and it was the innate quality within the Indian ranks that bailed the team out against a rival keen to prove that it belongs to the big stage.

India went into the match without regular skipper M.S. Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh, as the duo nursed injuries and stand-in captain Virender Sehwag inadvertently stirred up some controversy, as he termed the Bangladesh team, “ordinary”.

Ironically the word seemed to haunt the Indians as the match commenced the next day and once the Sehwag-Gambhir duo were dismissed after their 79-run alliance, wickets tumbled and it was left to Tendulkar (105 not out., 166b, 11x4, 2x6) to lend his weighty presence and guide the visitor to 243.

Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan’s gamble of opting to field on winning the toss had yielded the desired result though all through the match, his team played catch-up before losing its way. An interesting footnote reiterated the pitch’s placid history — Australian speedster Jason Gillespie scored an unbeaten 201 in 2006.

However, this match unveiled a track juiced up by dew and fog and that along with a Bangladesh attack wired up by Sehwag’s comments, meant that there were no easy runs. The track did ease up as the match progressed with the sun making a belated appearance to get rid the moisture.

Tendulkar’s illustrious peers Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman fell cheaply, while for the host, skipper Shakib (five for 62) peddled his left-arm spin with unerring accuracy topped up with guile. Seamer Shahadat Hossain (five for 71) too joined the wicket-taking act while the Indians exhibited poor shot selection, though, Tendulkar operated at a different level. After enjoying a lifeline on 16 thanks to Imrul Kayes’ butter-fingers, the maestro eased past 13,000 runs. On the second day, he reached his well-deserved 44th hundred in a hurry and the tail lasted just about for him to reach his milestone.

“There was some dampness on the pitch and you had to be careful in your range of shots. Wickets were constantly falling and it was important that I stayed,” Tendulkar said. His duels with Shakib were critical and the way he used the odd sweep to unhinge the spinner, was a treat to watch.

India’s expected batting surge may have been nipped but its bowlers did reasonably well to bowl out Bangladesh for 242 and secure a razor’s edge one-run lead. The Indian pace trio of Zaheer, S. Sreesanth and Ishant prised out the top-order. Rhythm and control was evident though Sreesanth was plagued by no-balls and Mishra too gifted some easy runs, points that will keep the newly-appointed bowling consultant Eric Simmons busy for a while.

The host though did not roll over in a jiffy. Mahmudullah (69) and vice-captain Mushfiqur Rahim (44) shared a 108-run seventh-wicket partnership to rescue a wobbly scorecard of 98 for six and even threatened to get past India’s score though a bout of rash shots helped India gain its way back.

The second innings proved to be a partial display of India’s batting riches and the visitor soon grabbed the match by its jugular. Gambhir’s 116 (129b, 10x4, 1x6), his ninth Test ton and fifth in a row, along with Laxman’s unbeaten 69 and night-watchman Amit Mishra’s 50, helped Sehwag press the declaration at 413 for eight on the penultimate day.

Gambhir’s purple patch is reminiscent of earlier dream phases like Tendulkar’s over two decades, Dilip Vengsarkar’s golden run in 1986 and Rahul Dravid’s impregnable 2003. The southpaw can perhaps walk in with a tooth brush and still score his runs.

He played an innings that gathered runs at a nice trot while largely eschewing extravagance though it did shine through when he hoisted Shakib, reached his hundred and stylishly acknowledged the cheers from a happy Indian dressing room. “There was a phase when I thought that I might never get a chance to play for India again,” Gambhir recalled after his hundred set Indian on an assured path towards victory.

Chasing 415, Shakib said: “We want to bat the whole day, we want to win.” Shakib’s optimism and belief sadly did not permeate the rest of his team though Mushfiqur tilted at the windmills and scored his maiden Test century — 101 (114b, 17x4, 1x6). Bangladesh’s dreams of dropping anchor and thwarting India’s bid for victory never fructified after the host lost its top five for 135. Ishant’s morning spell of 7-3-11-2 on the concluding day effectively shut the door on Shakib’s plans of staging a Houdini.

Mushfiqur delayed the inevitable for a while, gifted frustration to the seamers and like a boy on the burning deck, played all his cards before sinking along with his team-mates. Bangladesh was bowled out for 301 in its second innings. “I played my natural game,” said Mushfiqur, who is part of a new breed of fearless Bangladeshi cricketers.

For the Indian team, it was time again to savour another victory, that will hopefully be the first of many in 2010.

THE SCORES

First Test, Zorur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, Chittagong, January 17 to 21. India won by 113 runs.

India – 1st innings: G. Gambhir c Mushfiqur b Shahadat 23, V. Sehwag c Tamim b Shakib 52, R. Dravid b Shahadat 4, S. Tendulkar (not out) 105, V.V.S. Laxman st Rahim b Shakib 7, Y. Singh c Rubel b Shakib 12, D. Karthik c Raquibul b Shahadat 0, A. Mishra lbw b Shahadat 14, Zaheer c Raquibul b Shakib 11, Ishant c Mushfiqur b Shahadat 1, S. Sreesanth c Kayes b Shakib 1. Extras (b-1, lb-6, w-1, nb-5): 13. Total 243.

Fall of wickets: 1-79, 2-79, 3-85, 4-107, 5-149, 6-150, 7-182, 8-209, 9-230, 10-243.

Bangladesh bowling: Shafiul 9-1-41-0, Shahadat 18-2-71-5, Rubel 10-0-40-0, Shakib 29.5-10-62-5, Mahmudullah 3-0-17-0, Ashraful 1-0-5-0.

Bangladesh – 1st innings: T. Iqbal b Zaheer 31, Imrul Kayes lbw b Zaheer 23, Shahriar Nafees c Laxman b Ishant 4, Md. Ashraful c Dravid b Ishant 2, Raqibul Hasan c Karthik b Sreesanth 17, Shakib Al Hasan c Sehwag b Zaheer 17, Mushfiqur Rahim c Sehwag b Mishra 44, Mahmudullah c Karthik b Sreesanth 69, Shahadat Hossain c Yuvraj b Mishra 11, Shafiul Islam c Yuvraj b Mishra 6, Rubel Hossain (not out) 0. extras (b-4, lb-1, w-1, nb-12): 18. Total 242.

Fall of wickets: 1-53, 2-58, 3-58, 4-68, 5-89, 6-98, 7-206, 8-228, 9-235, 10-242.

India bowling: Zaheer 20-3-54-3, Sreesanth 11-1-55-2, Ishant 13-3-47-2, Mishra 16.2-2-66-3, Yuvraj 5-1-15-0.

India – 2nd innings: G. Gambhir c Shahriar b Shafiul 116, V. Sehwag c Raqibul b Shakib 45, A. Mishra c Tamim b Mahmudullah 50, R. Dravid (run out) 24, S. Tendulkar lbw b Rubel 16, V.V.S. Laxman (not out) 69, Yuvraj c Ashraful b Shahadat 25, D. Karthik c Rubel b Mahmudullah 27, Zaheer b Shakib 20, Ishant (not out) 7 (14b, 1x4). extras (b-1, lb-5, w-3, nb-5): 14. Total (for eight wkts. decl.): 413.

Fall of wickets: 1-90, 2-188, 3-233, 4-245, 5-272, 6-313, 7-362, 8-394.

Bangladesh bowling: Shafiul 15-0-87-1, Shahadat 16-1-53-1, Rubel 15-0-94-1, Shakib 27-2-112-2, Mahmudullah 13-0-52-2, Ashraful 1-0-9-0.

Bangladesh – 2nd innings: T. Iqbal c Dravid b Sehwag 52, I. Kayes c Karthik b Zaheer 1, S. Nafees c Sehwag b Ishant 21, M. Ashraful c Dravid b Ishant 27, Raqibul lbw b Ishant 13, Shakib c Sehwag b Mishra 17, Mushfiqur c Ojha b Mishra 101, Mahmudullah c Karthik b Zaheer 20, Shahadat b Mishra 24, Shafiul c & b Mishra 8, Rubel (not out) 4, extras (b-4, lb-3, nb-6): 13. Total 301.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-47, 3-79, 4-97, 5-135, 6-145, 7-170, 8-230, 9-258.

India bowling: Zaheer 20-5-90-2, Sreesanth 12.2-0-53-0, Ishant 15-4-48-3, Mishra 22.2-3-92-4, Sehwag 4-1-7-1, Yuvraj 1.4-1-4-0.