A bite out of the bum

A few minutes after Sachin Tendulkar and Ishant Sharma walked off the field taking advantage of the offer of ‘bad light’, an Indian batsman [what with ads taking up half the screen and a giant graphic occupying most of the remaining real estate, I couldn’t make out who] walked out towards the practice area for a bit of a knock. At the same time, Shakib Al-Hasan, with a wry grin on his face and with his eyes slitted against the glare of the evening sun, walked slowly out of the park.

Technology is good – but where in the manual is it written that a light meter should replace common sense?

An hour or more had already been lost in the morning; surely the umpires could have used their minds, and their eyes, to figure that the light was more than good enough for play to continue rather than bank on that silly little gadget? An ICC that wants Test cricket to survive doesn’t do much for that cause when it encourages its officials to abandon play on such laughable pretexts. Surely umpires need to rely on the naked eye, not the light meter, to tell them when conditions are dangerous for play to continue — the meter can merely confirm the evidence of their own senses, not replace it.

As to the play itself, Bangladesh coach Jaimie Siddons was way off the mark when he said Sehwag’s comments about the toothlessness of the Bangla bowling attack could “bite him on the bum in a few years time” – it only took 12 hours.

The way the game unfolded notwithstanding, I’m personally convinced that Shakib Al-Hasan’s ploy of asking India to bat first was a defensive measure. The home team was not, IMHO, betting the bank on its bowlers as much as it was shielding its batsmen from the task of facing India’s 3-seam attack on a wicket with some juice in it [conditions, in fact, that prompted Sehwag to comment at the toss that he would have chosen to bowl, had he called the coin right].

Motivations don’t show up on scoreboards, though – only results do. And Shakib and his men did themselves proud on a day when the vaunted Indian batting lineup was reduced to rubble by a bowling lineup packed not with stars but with a bunch of disciplined youngsters who stuck to their briefs and throughout, remained unfazed by the reputations of the opposition.

India seemed to have fallen victim to its own press. The “world’s number one Test side” apparently forgot that all it really takes is one good ball or one bad shot – and as it turned out, there was enough quality bowling from Bangladesh and silly cricket from the batsmen to make for a disastrous post-lunch session [a missed catch off Tendulkar at 16 being the difference between disastrous and fatal].

Sehwag and Gambhir looked – as they always do – capable of decimating the opposition. But once the stand-in captain got out, playing a push-drive without his usual authority and giving the ball just enough air for Tamim Iqbal at a shortish cover to hang on to, the wheels came off in totally unexpected fashion.

Gambhir flailed at a ball too wide for the square drive that is his bread and butter shot; Dravid got a high quality delivery from Shahadat – yorker-length, late curve through the air and perfectly pitched; VVS looked patchy; Yuvraj Singh [whose franchise recently relieved him of his captaincy so he could ‘concentrate on his batting’] has, except for the first innings he played after his return to the ranks, sleep-walked through his batting assignments and continued to do so in this innings…

If not for Tendulkar’s ability to lock himself into a world of his making and play his own game irrespective, India’s embarrassment could have been monumental – and due credit for that goes to skipper Shakib.

Prior to the game, Shakib set expectations low when he said his goal was a draw in the first Test, but there was nothing defensive about his captaincy on the day. Except against Sehwag once the opener had the bit between his teeth, the field placings remained consistently aggressive and always calculated to give his bowlers the chance to attack; his rotation of the bowling resources was fairly thoughtful, and he was consistently good in the way he harnessed his pace and spin options to optimum effect.

The highlight for me was his bowling to Sehwag in the post-lunch session, when he repeatedly foxed the Indian captain with subtle variations of flight, line, length and direction, eventually forcing the tentative miscue. Not too many spinners can boast of having tied Sehwag up and forced him to play the get out shot — Shakib, despite being hit for a first ball four, made the dismissal look almost inevitable. VVS, too, is a master of the art of playing spin but on the day, the Bangladesh captain made him look a rank amateur, tormenting the stylist with almost every one of the 17 balls he bowled to him before finally claiming his wicket when Laxman, a modern master of playing inside out, got bat and legs into an awful tangle and yielded a simple stumping chance.

Shakib led the bowling effort with 25 overs of sustained cunning. The Bangla captain comes across as someone clearly aware of his bowling limitations and willing to work within the limitations of his own craft; his marathon spell of 25 unchanged overs proved decisive in pushing India to the wall.

Equally notable was young Shahadat Hussain, who bowled in sharp, hostile bursts. The tall young lad, who served notice that he was one to watch a couple of years ago with a 6-for-27 spell against South Africa, has the height and smooth run up of a genuine pace bowler; his slightly open-chested delivery allows him to get the natural angle away from right handers and to use the rare one coming in as a surprise weapon — vide the lovely late-inswinging yorker to castle Dravid.

The image of the day for me was Shahadat’s celebration after the fall of Dinesh Karthik’s wicket — the youngster raced down the pitch and, when in proximity to the departing batsman, put his finger to his lips in a ‘talk less, play more’ gesture that the team, and its stand-in captain, surely begged for with the dismissive remarks of yesterday.

Hopefully, the message of that gesture — and of the scoreboard, which reads an underwhelming 213/8 in just 63 overs — has gotten across. Had fog and bad light not delayed the start of play and the umpires not abruptly truncated it with a little under half an hour yet to go, India could have suffered the huge embarrassment of being bowled out inside a day’s play by a team ranked 8 places below it.

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