Jeff Crowe stood somber, his head bowed. Players from both teams lined up to observe two-minutes silence. Everyone on the field wore a black armband. The Sher-e-Bangla Stadium wore a cloak of gloom. They were mourning the untimely passing away of a legend, Martin Crowe, and the contest on the field was too facile and lopsided to lift the gloom.
Earlier, there had been some confusion over Jeff Crowe continuing as the match referee for the tournament. Martin’s elder brother, however, decided to discharge his duty, at least for this game.
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As far as the game was concerned, from an Indian perspective, the only positive was that they could test their bench strength. Three changes were made to the playing XI with Pawan Negi making his international debut and Harbhajan Singh returning for the first time since October last year, as R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were rested. Ashish Nehra, replaced by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, too got an opportunity to cool his heels MS Dhoni walked the talk. He rotated his players.
It was a much-needed break for the squad players ahead of the T20 World Cup, but UAE were too lightweight a side to allow a proper assessment of their form. They won the toss and decided to bat but were soon reduced to 2/2 inside four overs. Kumar’s first over was a maiden. The first three balls of his next over also accounted for nothing. Nine dot balls put pressure on Swapnil Patil, who tried to play across the line and offered a return catch to the bowler. Kumar finished the over without conceding a run – good comeback from someone who wouldn’t have been in the squad but for Mohammed Shami’s injury.
Confidence begets confidence and Kumar bowled a lovely outswinger in his third over. He seemed to have lost his swing of late, searching for a few extra yards. But that one swung in the air to induce an outside edge from Rohan Mustafa. It, however, flew out of Suresh Raina’s reach at the first slip to the boundary. Soon Jasprit Bumrah dismissed Mohammad Shahzad with a quick delivery and Hardik Pandya provided the customary breakthrough, coming first change.
The focus soon shifted to the two spinners after the Uttar Pradesh seamer gave a good account of himself. Against a batting line-up almost callow at this level, Harbhajan enjoyed himself. He sustained a lovely loop and made the ball to drift in. He removed UAE captain Amjad Javed, beating him in the air as the batsman lobbed a catch to midwicket. Overall, the senior offie seemed to be in fine rhythm.
Debutant Negi was understandably a little tense to start with, bowling flatter and missing his line on a couple of occasions. He was a tad lucky to get his first international wicket with Muhammad Usman hitting a full-toss straight to Harbhajan at long-off. But the success allowed him to settle down. In the end, 1/16 in three overs was a decent performance. UAE stuttered to 81/9 in 20 overs, as Only two batsmen managed double figures. Shaiman Anwar, however, was impressive and confident en route his 43 off 48 balls.
It wasn’t half a daunting task for India’s batsmen. But Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan haven’t had a profitable tournament, the reason perhaps the Indian team management stuck to them and overlooked Ajinkya Rahane. They made a reasonable fist of it, putting on 43 runs- their highest in this Asia Cup so far. However, the left-hander didn’t look convincing. Dhawan, who appeared tentative with his foot-work, survived a confident caught behind appeal off Mohammad Naveed on one. An unbeaten 16, albeit off 20 balls, will add to the credit though.
Rohit, at the other end, was playing more freely, his strokes replete with a lazy elegance. Two fours and a six in a Javed over confirmed his authority. Qadeer Ahmed, too, was hit for a couple of boundaries before Rohit, in a flush of over confidence, top-edged a half-tracker from the medium pacer to Naveed at third man.
Yuvraj Singh was promoted to No 3 and he remained unbeaten on 25 off 14 balls with four fours and a six. Another good show with the bat should help him ahead of the title clash. Thus India extended their winning streak to six in a row and four in as many matches in the Asia Cup. But Indian cricketer would rather relate this the match to the day a cricket legend left the earth after a brave innings off the pitch.