10 October 2008

A notable first for Bangladesh

(Pic: AFP)

Today in Dhaka, Bangladesh triumphed in the first of three one-day internationals against New Zealand, registering its first international win against New Zealand, which had been expected to win the series in a clean sweep. Now the only nation yet to be defeated by lowly ninth-ranked Bangladesh is England, which has only played eight ODIs against Bangladesh since 2000, compared with New Zealand's 12 matches as of today.

In the leadup to this series the Bangladesh team was rocked with the defection of 14 players to the rebel ICL, seeking financial security. When the defectors were banned from playing for Bangladesh for a remarkable ten years each, onlookers wondered if this enforced depletion might send Bangladesh cricket spiralling even lower. But despite the number of defectors being substantial, it's worth pointing out that many of the defectors were players at the end of their career, who were not in the front line team. Indeed, the 14-man Bangladesh squad named for the New Zealand ODI series boasted a total of 532 one-day caps between them despite including three uncapped players. On game day Bangladesh was able to field an experienced side, choosing to include Naeem Islam as the only uncapped member of the playing 11. Indeed, given the inexperience of the New Zealand batting lineup, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Bangladesh took the most experienced and suitable batting lineup into the match.

On a low and slow wicket Bangladesh won the toss and asked New Zealand to bat first. This proved to be the right decision, as the top order batsmen failed to cope with the Bangladesh bowlers. The right arm fast-medium pace of opening bowler Mashrafe Mortaza (10-3-44-4) accounted for the New Zealand top three of Ryder, McCullum and How, along with dangerous tail-ender Kyle Mills. But it was the run-rate constriction applied by the trio of spinners, Shakib Al Hasan, Abdur Razzaq and Naeem Islam that killed off New Zealand's innings most effectively: each bowled ten overs for less than 35 runs. From the feeble depths of 79-6 in the 21st over, it took the usual lower order batting revival to drag New Zealand to an acceptable total. Jacob Oram managed some clean hitting on his way to 57 from 89 balls, while captain Daniel Vettori contibuted a valuable 30 from 57 before a useful cameo by Tim Southee at the close, who finished unbeaten on 19 from 14, having struck two fours and a six. New Zealand finished its 50 overs on 201-9.

Optimists in the New Zealand camp would have immediately looked back to Bangladesh's last ODI against Australia in Darwin on 6 September, in which they restricted the world champions to 198-5 but still managed to slump to a hefty loss due to an inept chase. But while New Zealand has a reasonable bowling attack, it doesn't compare with Australia's firepower. Bangladesh's run chase in Darwin was marred by an inability to construct prolific partnerships aside from the 60-run stand for the fourth wicket between Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan. In addition, they were batting with only ten men, as bowler Shahadat Hossain was absent injured.

Still, with 201 on the board and a chase at four runs per over required, New Zealand would've fancied its chances to stage an Australian-style fightback - Bangladesh are known for their jittery approach to chases. Unfortunately for New Zealand, the modest total meant that Bangladesh could pace their innings and avoid the dangerous stroke-play that has undermined their efforts in the past. While opener Tamim Iqbal fell for a run-a-ball 12, the rest of the Bangladesh top order showed more stickability, knitting together two match-winning partnerships: 67 for the second wicket and 109 for the third, the latter of which is a record for the third wicket in ODIs between the two countries. The two star performers in that partnership were the young opener Junaid Siddique, whose 85 from 137 balls was his first half-century for Bangladesh and earned him the man of the match award, and the experienced captain Mohammad Ashraful, whose blistering 60 not out from 56 balls included five fours and a six to seal the chase. At no stage were New Zealand's bowlers able to clamp down on the Bangladesh innings.

So, Bangladesh's much deserved first win against New Zealand ended up being a comprehensive seven wicket victory with 27 balls remaining. Coming into the match New Zealand was hoping for a clean sweep to secure a number 2 world ranking. Now New Zealand has a single day to regroup and remind itself that a series defeat against Bangladesh would undermine much of the progress made in the one-day game over the past few years. The second ODI will be held on the same ground on Saturday, with Bangladesh pressing for another upset victory. Good luck to them!
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