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Saturday, November 11, 2000

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The day belongs to Habibul Bashar and Aminul Islam

By Vijay Lokapally

DHAKA, NOV. 10. They refused to recognise his prowess until he earned this opportunity the hard way. Not picked in the original squad, Habibul Bashar, when given the break, chose the right stage and left the National selectors red faced with a quality innings as Bangladesh cricket entered a new era with Test baptism at the Bangabandhu Stadium here on Friday.

There were a few embarrassing moments for the Indians too - in the awful performance by wicket-keeper Saba Karim and of course the tardy attack which showed the Indian bowling strength in a poor light.

At the end of the first day of the contest, as Bangladesh retired for the night with a respectable and healthy score of 239 for six, it was hard to believe it was a side making a Test debut with literally no experience of even four-day cricket.

Bashar showed the way and Aminul Islam picked the cue with a disciplined knock which exposed the limitations of the Indian bowlers.

That Bangladesh lasted the day was indeed creditable following doubts being raised about its ability to graft. The strokeful essay of Bashar and the sheet-anchor role performed by Islam heralded Bangladesh's entry into the big league on a high note.

The positive attitude of electing to bat reflected Bangladesh's preparation for the event.

The early moisture in the pitch was a threat but it made sense to avoid any pressures on the bowlers, the weak link in the home team's calibre to match its opposition.

A sedate first session gave Bangladesh the confidence to increase the tempo in the afternoon with the batsmen playing far more freely. By the time the Indians gathered their composure, the home team was firmly on road to notch up a decent score.

Character on display

There was character in Bangladesh's performance as each man who walked out to the middle was assigned a specific role to play. If a few individuals failed it was not allowed to affect the morale by the two stalwarts of Bangladesh cricket - Bashar and Islam. The day belonged to them all the way.

Bangladesh had placed faith in its batsmen and for the right reasons too. It lacked the bite in its attack. What of the Indians, who were pedestrian in bowling and fielding!

The bowlers presented a poor sight with their aimless stuff after Bangladesh had lost two early wickets.

Javagal Srinath, elated to be back in the side, impressed with his figures and not the bowling. He hardly made the batsmen play in the first spell. Zaheer Khan, making his debut, made a dent with an away going, harmless ball, which the batsmen slashed at from his one-day instincts.

The two early wickets may have given the Indians wrong signals as the bowlers came up with a shoddy line and length and allowed Bangladesh to breathe freely in the second session.

Even as the bowlers struggled, with the exception of left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi, wicket-keeper Karim had a miserable day, conceding 12 byes, clearly not in a position to sight the ball properly, due to the newly acquired contact lenses.

The selectors would do well to remember this example the next time skipper Sourav Ganguly makes a demand of them.

A packed audience cheered their little heroes against the giants from across the border. It may not have been a gripping contest but it comprised a neat package for the locals. There was anguish at the early slide but plenty to cheer on a day when Bangladesh cricket came face to face with a few realities.

Mehrab Hossain, preferred to Javed Omar, was guilty of indiscretion while Shahriar Hossain was foxed by the turn as the ball kissed the edge and nestled in Ganguly's palms at first slip.

Bashar was joined by Islam and the two gave shape to the Bangladesh innings by playing contrasting roles. Islam was happy blunting the attack while Bashar came down on anything loose and short. It was the most crucial and entertaining phase for the crowd.

Classy stuff

Bashar likes to play his shots and this day he indulged in some classy stuff too. The drives were placed precisely in the gaps and he was not averse to take on the bowlers when they bounced.

It was a most challenging period for this modest cricketer who has been treated shabbily by the selectors from the time he made his one-day debut five years ago.

A knock of 143 against the visiting England `A' team last year should have established Bashar in the side but a poor showing on the recent tour of South Africa resulted in his exclusion for this match.

An uproar in the media brought him back into the reckoning and he did express his gratitude with a wonderful innings under severe pressure today.

A compulsive strokemaker, Bashar showed no discomfort in his entertaining knock.

He revelled in playing the square-cut and was quick to pull with disdain to maintain his domination at the crease. The first edged shot from his blade carried him to the half-century mark and he sure looked set for a bigger honour when he succumbed to one of his productive shots - the pull. On this occasion, however, Bashar was poorly positioned to execute the shot and the edge was taken comfortably at mid-on.

Bashar returned to a standing ovation and he deserved every moment of the crowd's adulation. Another strokemaker replaced Bashar and the Indian attack looked ordinary as former skipper Akram Khan took charge.

A flurry of boundaries from Akram left the Indians dazed as Ganguly erred in taking off left-arm skipper Murali Kartik with a new batsman at the crease. Srinath and Zaheer bowled three spells each while Agarkar, despite a wicket to his credit, struggled to find his rhythm. It was only some sustained work by Joshi that gave Bangladesh the jolts as he induced Akram Khan into playing a horrendous swipe and then lured skipper Naimur Rahman into a prod which ended up at silly point.

Akram had looked in ominous form with his meaty hits to the boundary, including a straight six off Joshi.

Al Shahriar and skipper Naimur Rahman provided brief support to Islam, who was a picture of discipline. Sacrificing his penchant to play the shots, Islam, skipper of the side before the ICC Knockout tournament in Nairobi, guided the side like a thorough professional.

Islam shall not remain unsung in this narration. He did a perfect job of what he was asked to by sealing one end with his sensible approach. His knock was second to none in its value and it was fitting that he returned unconquered.

A fresh assault on the second morning from Islam should not be out of tune at all as he demonstrated his abilities well today.

Bangladesh's first day in office as a Test team was laudable indeed, even as the Indians came up with a typically average and inconsistent show, beginning with the poor spell by a rusty Srinath and trickling down to Zaheer, Kartik and Agarkar.

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