It was a remarkably sunny afternoon. Hot but not too humid, with a steady wind blowing. There cannot be a better day in the month of June to play international cricket in this country. It was in such fine weather that Mashrafe Mortaza elected to bat in the first of the three-match ODI series. Soon, amid loud cheers, Tamim Iqbal and Soumya Sarkar walked out. At the same time, a big section of the crowd started singing “mauka mauka” — the Indians too had come out of their dugout.
There are a few grudges Bangladesh has been nursing against India since the World Cup. The aforementioned ad campaign was considered demeaning, there was ‘no ball-gate’ in the quarterfinal and then Mustafa Kamal, ICC’s Bangladeshi president, resigned rather dramatically after he was allegedly ignored during the trophy handover at the MCG on March 29.
Bangladeshis are a fiercely proud people. You cannot escape this impression that they will not easily forgive or forget even the slightest of slights committed against them, intentionally or otherwise, on a cricket field or off it. Between then and now, the Rubel Hossain-Rohit Sharma no-ball incident has become Bangladesh’s ‘Hand-of-God’ incident. It crops up in every press conference, despite cricketers from both sides trying to play it down.
‘Protishodh’, the Bangla word for revenge, too is always lurking on the lips of this journo and the tip of that fan’s tongue. In fact, you have heard it more often in your second week in the country than before the Fatullah Test when you were fresh off the plane. The thing is, Bangladesh are a much better team in the ODIs than they have been in the longer format.
The same could be said of many other teams — at time, it could be said of India — but this difference is more pronounced in Bangladesh’s case.
Over five days, they are expected to roll over and die, but in fifty overs they can hold their own against the best. In fact, they can give it back. And Mortaza made the intention clear when he revealed at the toss that Bangladesh were going in with four specialist quicks. For the first time in their history.
It wasn’t empty aggression. After their batsman scored 307, the pacers charged out with a sense of mission.
They hustled India with bouncers and words. Debutant Mustafizur Rahman took five wickets after Taskin Ahmed had given a double breakthrough as Bangladesh defeated India by 79 runs, only their fourth win against the big brother.
The stadium was hardly half full when Iqbal and Sarkar opened the innings. But at all entry points, there were serpentine queues of fans clad in green and red outside the stadium, waiting patiently to get past the security.
A very many of them would make it to their seats only after the batting powerplay, by which time they would have missed out on possibly the finest display of attacking batting by Bangladesh against India.
In their last ODI, Sarkar and Iqbal had added 145 runs against Pakistan in 25 overs to set up the famous ‘Banglawash’. But against a significantly better Indian attack, the left-handed duo raised their game by a few notches.
After a few play-and-misses, the two Tigers tore into the Indian attack: Iqbal savagely; the 22-year-old Sarkar elegantly, as Bangladesh reached fifty in the seventh over and 100 in the 14th, when Sarkar cheekily upper-cut Mohit Sharma past the third-man boundary. In the process, he brought up his half-century in 38 balls.
Knowing the duo’s penchant for big runs — Sarkar had made 127 in the last match, while Iqbal had hit back to back centuries against Pakistan — it must have been difficult for Bangladesh’s supporters to not get too far ahead of themselves. They must have begun to think big: 330, 350…
But two lucky breaks helped India come back into the game. First, Sarkar was run out after backing up too far. Then rain intervened, with Bangladesh 119/1 in 15.4 overs. When the match resumed after an hour long interruption, Iqbal perished attempting an ill-advised slog against Ravichandran Ashwin.
The off-spinner took two more wickets to rattle Bangladesh’s middle order, but a Shakib Al Hasan half-century and useful contributions from Nasir Hossain, Sabbir Rahman and Mashrafe Mortaza took the team past 300 for the first time against India in 30 games.
Three hundred. In the last one decade, this number has lost the respect it once commanded, thanks to shorter boundaries, thicker bats and the advent of T20. It has looked especially vulnerable this week, as even bigger targets are being attempted and chased down with considerable ease in the concurrent series between England and New Zealand.
Considering that, had Bangladesh fallen short by 20-30 runs after a promising start — especially given the batting firepower India possess in the ranks?
In a surprise move, Mashrafe Mortaza didn’t open the bowling himself but threw the new ball at Mustafizur. The left-arm pacer brought the very first ball in to rap Rohit Sharma’s pads. He turned around and appealed, long and hard, as did his teammates, the journalists in the press box and the whole of stadium.
There was a faint inside-edge onto the pads, the umpire was unmoved. But that collective primal roar must have made the Tigers and their fans believe in themselves. And it would have unsettled each and everyone of those wearing India’s blue. They were facing not only a charged up Bangladesh team, but a beast they haven’t faced in a long while: a hostile crowd.
Getting under the skin
This Indian team has gotten used to having a wall of sound backing them wherever they play: Bangalore or Birmingham; Delhi or Durban. Now the tables were turned; they were facing one.
After a few fiery overs by Mustafizur and Taskin Ahmed, Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan looked to have found their feet and beginning to grow in confidence.
By the 15th over, in fact, they had shaved off a little less than one-third from the target. But Bangladesh didn’t give up. After dropping Shikhar Dhawan twice, they finally got their man when he edged a short ball to the wicketkeeper.
Before the umpire could adjudge if it was an edge, Dhawan walked. That wicket reinvigorated the hosts. Taskin again banged one short in the next over, and this time Virat Kohli tried to chase the ball to the same result as Dhawan. 101/2. Game on.
Three overs and four runs later, the curtain began to come down slowly on India’s chase after Mustafizur lured Rohit Sharma, who had raced away to a fluent half century, playing one to Mortaza at mid-off.
Bangladesh, meanwhile, were not only bowling well, they were also getting under India’s skin with repeated skirmishes. Mustafizur came in the batsmen’s way often, and in one case Dhoni gave him a shoulder charge, forcing the umpire to intervene. It probably left Dhoni rattled as he soon fell to Shakib, edging him behind the wicket.
Bangladesh erupted, on the field and the stands. As he walked back, you could hear the sound of knives sharpening. It was only the 26th over, and Bangladesh were already cruising towards a famous win. And a small measure of revenge.