Monday, April 10, 2006

Remembering Sophia Gardens

The Fatullah Cricket Stadium in Narayangunj District near Dhaka is about a quarter of the globe away from Sophia Gardens cricket stadium in the British Isles. But the events of this 1st day of the Test series between Australia and Bangladesh have reminded cricket followers of a particular match played between the same sides at the Welsh ground. Bangladesh supporters will hope that today’s proceedings at the Fatullah has the same impact on Test cricket in Bangladesh that that Natwest league match of 18th June 2005 had on their one-day outfit.

Ever since winning the cliffhanger of a final against Kenya at Kuala Lumpur in the 1997 edition of ICC trophy Bangladesh have always shown this ability to surprise big sides in international cricket whenever taken lightly. In one day cricket they have recorded knockout punches against each of their sub-continental big brothers and have occasionally scared a few other traditional Test sides rated as semi-Goliaths to Bangla’s David. The crowning glory was the in-your-face victory over Australians at Sophia Gardens last year that set the tone for the Antipodeans’ Ashes misfortunes later that summer.

Ability, therefore, was not a concern for the fledgling team. The bowling remains thin but that is no shame in this phase of early growth. Over the years though, Bangladesh supporters were let down by recurring non-performances from an unmistakably potent top order batting. For nearly a decade the Bangla batsmen betrayed a reluctance to do it the hard way, which is often the only way in international sport. Aftab Ahmed appeared to exorcise a limpet of a demon with that sixer off Jason Gillespie to seal the Sophia Gardens match. A spurt in Bangla’s one day performances indicates some truth about that take. Bangladesh have won only 15 of the 120 one day matches they played. Of the 15 wins though, no less than 6 have come in a remarkable period starting 18th June 2005.

Bangladesh appears to relish the opportunity to play against the Australians. They first took this formidable opposition by surprise when they batted admirably at Cairns during the second Test of their Down Under tour in 2003. And interestingly that match too had marked an upswing in Bangla’s performances in Test matches. One win and three draws in 22 matches (starting from the Cairns Test) is certainly no renaissance worthy of note. But no wins and a solitary draw in 20 matches till that point perhaps provides....well, an adequate perspective.

Dav Whatmore, serving as Bangladesh coach for three years, has valuable experience of a similar team-building job from his stint with the struggling young Sri Lankan side in the mid 90’s. But success, when it comes, in his present assignment of removing the ‘minnow’ tag from all future references to the Bangladesh team should rank higher than even the 1996 World Cup triumph.

For millions of fans in a nation where cricket is the number one sport the past year or so has been like a generous helping of apple pie after the bitter pills swallowed along the learning curve. They are hoping for the best and urging their team on to another step up the ladder. With that kind of history against the top team in cricket world their prayers may not remain unanswered for long.

That the Bangladesh players have broken their record for best all-wicket partnership and rewritten the record for most runs scored in a day for the second time in a month on this remarkable day is truly of secondary significance. After all the pitch played to the home team’s strengths, the spinners were ineffective on a first day wicket and a left-right partnership did Australian bowlers in on a hot n’ humid afternoon. Notwithstanding all that and a few critical lapses in concentration by the batsmen, the calculated audacity exuded by the team and an abiding picture of batsmen collectively striving to bat the team to a position of ascendancy were the primary gains for Bangladesh during their 88 overs of emancipation.

May Fatullah be the next Sophia Gardens, and much more. And the one person who will not have anything to complain about that is Muttiah Muralitharan.
[cross posted at Differrent Strokes]

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