At the start of the World Cup, Ricky Ponting was pacing down the corridor of the team hotel at midnight when he heard a continuous thud from one room— like someone knocking heavily on the doors. For a fleeting second, he thought it was some kind of a ghost — the former Australia skipper would recollect his spooked-out colleague Shane Watson in a medieval-castle-turned-hotel in Durham during the 2005 Ashes tour. Later, as he neared the room, he recognised the familiarity of the noise, someone was knocking a cricket ball around. It turned out to be Steve Smith’s room, and Ponting left without bothering to disturb him. However, the next day, a story swirled around that Smith was practising cover drives in the shower, triggering banter. Coach Justin Langer even jokingly conveyed this to the media, much to Smith’s amusement. He quipped back “I don’t know how he’s spying on me in the shower! Good on him. Yeah, I’m known to play a few shots here and there.”
Steve Smith’s batting obsession has gone to another level 😳 pic.twitter.com/4WKP8rjbPC
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) 17 June 2019
But on a serious note, Smith says he can’t sleep without a bat in his room. “I always have a bat in my room and Ricky was actually rooming about 10 rooms up from me the other day and said, ‘Were you batting at seven o’clock this morning?’ He could hear me tapping on the ground. I said, ‘Yeah, I was actually.’”
Smith’s quest for perfection has left some of the team management worried, in terms of him over-doing the stuff. Smith quells the fear: “It’s been spoken about a little bit, but I think at the same time you’ve got to trust people’s preparation. I’ve been around quite a while now and I’ve played a lot of cricket and you’ve got to trust the individual’s preparation and what they are trying to do. It’s fun.” he says. But it wouldn’t be quite as much fun for his neighbours.
Ashton is Agar Beaver
Discarded left-arm spinner Ashton Agar, until last year Australia No. 1 spinner in limited-overs cricket, was warming up for a few practice games before the limited-over A tour in Northampton when he got an SOS from Aaron Finch. “Ash, we need you at the nets tomorrow.”
It was quite late in the night, but Finch and his colleagues woke up to Agar’s beaming face in the morning. He was promptly given the brief: “Mate, we want you to bowl like Shakib (al-Hasan) at the nets to our batsmen.” Agar replied: “You want me to bowl like Shane Warne? I will do that.”
Earlier, Agar couldn’t hide his excitement at the unexpected call. He hardly slept that night and took the first train out of Northampton, 70-odd miles from Trent Bridge, where Australia will duel Bangladesh. “I was really excited to be back with them, to get that World Cup feel. I was disappointed to be not in the side. But at least, now I’m in the camp with some of my best friends,” he told The Age.
Apparently, at the nets, he has done his best to impersonate Shakib, aping his hurried run-up to the crease and bowling faster and flatter. However, his sudden net appearance had the Aussie media sniffing conspiracies, some even conjuring that the Aussie think tank is quite bored with the ineffective Adam Zampa and is planning to replace him with Agar.
Bring on Australia
He who bats is a ba-ta (young male). Reality dawned on Bangladeshi artist and cartoonist Rafiqun Nabi, as Chris Gayle got out at Taunton. Narrating his experience of watching Bangladesh’s victory over West Indies, Nabi wrote in Prothom Alo: “I missed the first hour because of an important meeting. As I was heading home, I couldn’t take the car off the main road because of roadwork. I alighted from the car, hit the footpath and saw a large gathering in front of a TV store.
“I asked someone about the match situation. He gave an overexcited reply: ‘khali chhoy mara ba-ta Gayle ta shunyo run e out hoyeche (that Gayle bugger, who only hits sixes, departed for a duck)’. Another man standing next to him wasn’t impressed. ‘Ba-ta kao keno (why do you call him a young male)?’ The first one smiled and said: ‘aare asubidha ki, je bat kore sei toh ba-ta (what’s the problem, he who bats is a ba-ta)’.” Gayle, by the way, is 39 years old and will hang up his ODI boots after the World Cup. Nabi has opined that the way Bangladesh chased down a 300-plus total against West Indies will put all their upcoming opponents under pressure. “The next match is against Australia. We have to face big players like Smith and Warner. No worries. Australia are title contenders, which puts them under pressure. Our boys are not bogged down by pressure. The biggest thing is that Bangladesh have nothing to lose.”
Merry Men in Nottingham
Natwest evokes Yuvraj-Kaif and an unsavoury helicopter shot on the Lord’s balcony with a shirt. But Bangladesh’s own version of a Natwest upset involved the 2005 tripping of Australia – they take on the defending champions at Nottingham. Habibul Bashar and Mohammad Ashraful helped Bangladesh chase down 249. At the 2007 World Cup – a doomed one for India — a 5-wicket win for the Tigers in a calm chase. Bangladesh have also beaten England in the last two World Cups, but for the former minnows, now semifinals contenders, the first big Cup upset came 20 years ago. On May 31, 1999, in Northampton, Wasim Akram won the toss for Pakistan and elected to field. There’s nothing wrong with that until you consider what had transpired till that day. Pakistan had played four group stage matches, batted first in all of them and remained undefeated. They were already through to the ‘Super Six’ stage of the competition, so the match against Bangladesh, who were yet to achieve Test status, was to be a mere formality. Yet Akram’s decision to field first in a dead match — perhaps to check how his team would fare outside its comfort zone – was the first instance in a series of unprecedented events.
Be it Bangladesh skipper Akram Khan’s careful batting against the pace and swing of Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Akram himself, or Khaled Mahmud’s solid bowling performance against the 1992 world champions, Bangladesh’s successful defence of a target of 224 by 62 runs shocked the cricketing world. Perhaps the only unsurprising element to that match was Inzamam-Ul-Haq being involved in another teammate getting run-out – Saeed Anwar being the casualty this time.
The historic win would push Bangladesh’s case, and a year later, the country would secure Test status. ens