Stunning show

Tamim Iqbal signals the advent of the young Bangladeshi, who plays with refreshing freedom, unfettered by the remnants of a waning inferiority-complex while playing bigger teams. Surely the Sehwag-spirit is contagious among openers these days, notes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

January 23: There is light and joy in the Indian camp on the eve of the second Test. The Sher-e-Bangla Stadium located in Mirpur, a suburb of Dhaka, had the usual pre-match frisson of nerves and anticipation. M. S. Dhoni’s men are busy playing a round of football. Rahul Dravid tells his team-mates: “Hey mark Yuvi yaar, don’t let him get close.” Sachin Tendulkar shows some mean feet, dribbling well and sending one whistling over goalkeeper Sudeep Tya gi’s head. An effort that surely would have made his idol Diego Maradona proud. The maestro however loses his focus whenever V. V. S. Laxman attempts an ungainly tackle. Tendulkar laughs out aloud and Laxman joins in, camaraderie briefly fuses the rival camps before the game’s hard-edge surfaces again. The ball sails wide and yours truly retrieves and with the self-delusion of a being a top-notch footballer, unleashes a mighty kick. The ball goes to the other corner of the field and Virender Sehwag with hands on his hips, is not amused. In a marked contrast, the Bangladesh camp is nursing the wounds of being subjected to an alleged dressing-down from its cricket board officials over the loss at Chittagong. “I don’t want to make any comment on that,” says opener Tamim Iqbal.

January 24: The trip to the stadium from the city centre is fraught with danger. The CNG, as the auto-rickshaws are called here, can even give Michael Schumacher a challenge! Speed is the buzzword here and caution, well that doesn’t exist. Even atheists might mutter prayers as the vehicle veers dangerously through the minimal gap between swanky cars, overloaded mini buses and wheezing cycle-rickshaws. A fellow scribe says, “You can either pray or you can close your eyes.” Chaos surely wakes up the dormant philosopher in us! In the Press box, the Indian team-list triggers a round of speculation. Amit Mishra’s name has been scratched out and Pragyan Ojha has been roped in as the replacement. Conspiracy theorists see it as an off-shoot of the alleged rift between captain Dhoni and his deputy Sehwag. “Break the story, break the story,” screams a feverish television journalist into his cellphone. Later in the night, umpire Marais Erasmus ambles into Bashundara City, a bustling shopping mall. “I like Johny Depp’s films,” he says and buys a clutch of DVDs. “May be Bangladesh will bat better in the second innings. The pitch has a few cracks, might get interesting,” says Erasmus, while an optimistic Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) official nods his head vigourously.

January 25: A fellow-writer logs into YouTube during the drinks break and watches clippings of some of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh’s devastating spells that threatened life and limb. Strangely out there in the middle the Bangladesh seamers scalp Sehwag and Gambhir with bouncers. The threat subsides as Tendulkar and Dravid do what they do best, scoring centuries and lending ballast to the Indian middle-order. The good feeling however fades in the evening. Shahadat Hossain’s bouncer strikes Dravid’s cheekbone. Dravid walks away and the camera zooms in on an avid female fan who breaks down. Later in the night it is a mad rush to the team hotel. Manager Arshad Ayub reads out a prepared text that confirms Dravid’s minor fracture of the cheek-bone. By the time tired journalists get back to their rooms, the BCB has already e-mailed the text of Ayub’s statement. Surely there is a lesson in this for the BCCI on the art of disseminating news.

January 26: Tamim Iqbal plays a stunner. The opener’s century lends weight to the host’s second innings. Tamim signals the advent of the young Bangladeshi, who plays with refreshing freedom, unfettered by the remnants of a waning inferiority-complex while playing bigger teams. “So what did the coach tell you during the break?” asks an Indian scribe. “He asked me to play straight and steady,” Tamim replies. “But you played real quick, exploded with shots after that,” the query continues. “Yeah but the balls were in the slot to be hit and I hit,” Tamim says and laughs. Surely the Sehwag-spirit is contagious among openers these days.

January 27: India seals the series with a 2-0 triumph as Zaheer Khan reverses and ruins Bangladesh’s hopes of resistance. “I am happy with my bowling rhythm but there is still work to be done on my fitness,” Zaheer says. Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan causes heart-burn when he says: “We thought it would be easy out there in the middle. When Shahadat and Ashraful were batting, we thought it is easy and were laughing in the dressing room but it was difficult out there.” An incensed veteran journalist, who has been on the road for 30 years tracking cricket, asks: “How can you say that? You are playing the number one team, this is international cricket and you were laughing, ridiculous!” A rattled Shakib remains downcast and mumbles, “We learnt our lesson.” An early closure forces the travelling contingent of journalists, commentators and television crew to pester their travel agents to reschedule their departure. Some are lucky, some are not.