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Towering performance by Aminul Islam

By Vijay Lokapally

DHAKA, NOV. 11. Some more insight into the depressing state of affairs in Indian cricket was provided at the Bangabandhu National Stadium here on Saturday as Bangladesh extended its glorious batting debut in Test cricket riding on the talents of Aminul Islam.

Short in height but tall in stature after the monumental innings of 145, Islam methodically exposed the pedestrian Indian attack, which was the talking point this day. The body language of the Indians, drooping shoulders and dragging themselves, did little to enhance the impression of a side which allows things to drift inexplicably.

That Bangladesh posted 400 in its first innings was a highly creditable effort, surpassing the expectations of its most faithful fans. India began on a racy note before fumbling in the shape of Shiv Sunder Das' wicket. At close, the visiting side was 81 for one.

Cricket was not at all engaging, unless you happened to be a Bangladesh supporter, but some more painful discoveries for the Indian camp showed that nothing was well with this team. Conceding that the Bangladeshis were very determined, one could not comprehend the reasons for the Indians waiting for things to happen.

The big brother image of India appeared misplaced on the cricket field as Bangladesh, the gallant minnows on the Test scene now, ground the opposition with a highly disciplined show. The innings revolved around the 32-year-old Islam who grew in strength and it was a tired shot that saw him depart. It was a tired catch too at mid-on.

At the end of the day, Islam, in all humility, confided it was sheer hard work in the last six months that helped him attain this position in the team. ``League experience in England was very helpful,'' he said even as he confessed, ``I don't know how I lasted that long in the middle.'' He was also not aware of any batting milestones as a Test debutant. He missed beating Australian Charles Bannerman's 165 against England in 1877 and finished the second highest individual scorer in a country's first Test.

The day's cricket was a telling commentary on the spineless bowling that India possesses. The first session ended barren as the bowlers sprayed the ball and the second session saw the home batsmen making merry with some attacking play.

The Indians were a wholly unpresentable sight. Srinath, cross- armed, and generally disinterested; Saba Karim, dropping the ball and often snatching at it; Murali Kartik sulking at point; Ajit Agarkar being clouted like a spinner; Sunil Joshi adopting a flatter line; and Sachin Tendulkar tackling the growing threat from Mohammad Rafique who looked in ominous nick.

The Indians did not look a Test team. Bangladesh did, every moment of its stay. Islam was the source of strength, and the rest motivated enough to raise their game and carry Bangladesh to a total of 400. The first round had belonged to Bangladesh indeed.

Islam's was a near-flawless performance and a neat execution of the job entrusted to one of the senior members of the side. His display was marred by a chance which he offered at 87 when he edged Agarkar but Karim was not holding on to anything that came his way today too.

It was a performance in keeping with his batting potential and Islam deserved all the credit for producing an innings of rare character. Eight years ago, Dave Houghton had played a similar innings at Harare against the Indians when Zimbabwe made its Test debut. Here, Islam adopted the best tactic of playing the ball on merit and the innings was built in a phased manner but on a sound foundation.

If Islam opted to stay in the background on the first day, playing second fiddle to Habibul Bashar, he had strong reasons for doing so. The key lay in occupying the crease since the pitch did not encourage strokes on the rise and Islam was wise enough to realise it early.

The Bangladesh innings progressed steadily with Islam getting the best out of his mates. This quality to inspire the man at the other end threw light on Islam's maturity and his temperament was known well from the manner in which he paced his innings.

Showing no hurry to dominate, Islam made the attack look so ordinary, blunting it to shield his partners as he kept the strike to himself and then gradually easing his partners to share the stage by playing their natural game.

India's failure to break the overnight pair of Islam and Khaled Masud until after lunch was a reflection on the bowlers' lack of penetration. Srinath never looked like getting a wicket, while Zaheer Khan wasted his energy in trying to pound the ball short. The yorker, which he bowled so regularly in one- day cricket, was shockingly missing here. Agarkar picked up two wickets but was unimpressive, while the spinners came in for some stuck on the second day.

Sunil Joshi bowled bravely to finish with five wickets, not averse to flighting the ball. He was clouted for two sixes by Rafique but he was willing to attack, unlike Kartik, who did not help his cause by adopting a negative line. Kartik is one of the few attacking bowlers in Indian cricket and needs to be protected from indulging in such tactics.

In compiling a century, Islam left his stamp of authority. He was rarely hustled into playing a false shot and it was a memorable moment in Bangladesh cricket when he nicely placed Kartik behind square and scampered for a single that heralded his century.

The value of Islam's innings could be ascertained by the contributions from the lower half. Each man who walked into the middle did precisely what he instructed them to. A little time to gauge the situation and then their natural game. Masud, Rafique and Hasibul Hossain chipped in with handsome contributions by their standards. It was their style of paying tribute to Islam, who created an outstanding innings based on the age old policy of ``runs will come if you are prepared to stay at the crease.''

Islam's innings glowed with shots all around, from the drive to the pull, and he showed no respect for the reputation of the established Srinath or the budding Kartik. His innings remained the most striking aspect of Bangladesh's highly impressive show on the first two days of the contest thus far. India's response was typical. Das, a commendable selection, showed no nerves and played some spirited shots, particularly the punch off the back foot, before misreading the off-spin of Naimur Rahman. He played no shot and lost his wicket, a proof of the youngster's inexperience.

At the other end, S. Ramesh went about his job like a professional. He gathered his runs with some deft placements square of the wicket and looked in excellent form before returning in the company of Kartik as nightwatchman. For the second day running, it was Bangladesh which stole the limelight even as Joshi booked a little corner of glory for himself.

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