A script that overwhelmingly favours India took on a mild twist when Mahmudullah Riyad partially sealed the cracks amidst batting ruins. The all-rounder’s unbeaten 96 helped Bangladesh score 233. It is a modest total, but even that had seemed impossible at one stage when the host struggled at 51 for five in the second Test that commenced at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium here on Sunday.
At close on the opening day, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir batted with fluidity and force to help India score 69 for no loss in 13 overs.
Mahumudullah (96 n.o., 156b, 13x4) walked in when the Indian pace combine of Zaheer Khan (three for 62) and Ishant Sharma (four for 66) were striking in tandem and finding allies in the frozen feet and the fidgety bats of the Bangladesh batsmen. Eventually, when he walked away after an unvanquished vigil that lasted 156 minutes, Harbhajan Singh and Murali Vijay patted him warmly for a fine effort that sadly stayed four runs short of what would have been a well-deserved maiden hundred.
Mahmudullah’s effort was the lone lifeline that came Bangladesh’s way after its skipper Shakib Al Hasan won the toss and opted to bat.
Shakib was back at the centre-square within an hour while his team gasped at 44 for four. The first breach was a piece of fortuitous luck as Ishant’s delivery down the leg-side tickled Imrul Kayes thigh-pad and nestled in Indian skipper M.S. Dhonis gloves. The reflex-appeal found instant approval from Billy Bowden.
At the other end, Zaheer Khan’s probing first over left Tamim Iqbal’s feet in a tangle. The opener, tempted to play but hesitant to stride forward, kept leaning hard on his back foot. In Zaheer’s next over, Tamim went further back and was bowled as the ball rapped his pads and deflected onto his stumps.
The two openers were dismissed for a blob and worse was to follow.
Junaid Siddique, who replaced Shahriar Nafees in the playing eleven, and Raqibul Hasan played loose shots against the incisive Indian pace-duo and paid the price. Mohammad Ashraful (39) then played a brief interlude of defiance while the knives were out as the Bangladesh Cricket Board president Mustafa Kamal reportedly wanted the out-of-form middle-order batsman to be dropped ahead of the match.
A besieged Ashraful struck the days first four, clipping Zaheer and played with the desperation of a drowning man. Ashraful, after doing the hard yards of settling down, stepped out with a wild heave against left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who replaced Amit Mishra in the Indian team. Dhoni whipped the bails off while Shakib watched the meltdown from across 22 yards.
Shakib (34) and his deputy Mushfiqur Rahim (30) paused the free-fall in a 55-run partnership for the sixth wicket. Shakib played effortlessly through the off-side while Mushfiqur, fresh from his maiden Test century scored at Chittagong, was alive to scoring opportunities.
Mushfiqur struck the first ball after lunch for four off Ishant and continued his rasping cuts before the impressive speedster got one to hold its line and trap the Bangladesh vice-captain.
Shakib, who stayed measured and confident in his approach, inexplicably lost his concentration and chased Zaheer’s wide delivery.
And once Shahadat Hossain waited for eternity for bad news from the third umpire over a stumping appeal, Bangladesh drew succour through Mahmudullah’s aggressive bat.
The tall all-rounder played his shots against everyone and even tried to unhinge a restrictive Harbhajan Singh with a reverse sweep that raced past sweeper cover.
The off-spinner bowled well but strangely had just one wicket to show.
Mahmudullah offered some cheer to the sparse crowd, spanking Yuvraj Singh to reach his fifty and displayed more ability and gumption than his peers up the order.
The manner in which he dug out Zaheer’s yorker without losing his poise, was a lesson to the rest cooling their heels inside the dressing room.
Along with the tail, he dragged the Bangladesh score past 200.
It was small consolation for the host on a day when India dominated and fancied its chances of extending its 1-0 lead in the series.