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Rahim, Mehedi defy India after top order buckle

Wisden India logo Wisden India 11-02-2017
© AP

One of Bangladesh’s explanations, call it excuses if you will, for still struggling to string together a decent run of results in Test cricket is the lack of exposure in the format. That’s not an unfair grouse, but to commit one schoolboy error after another when given a leg up isn’t the best way to get better either.

After silly lapses on the field pegged them back on the first two days, some of their senior batsmen led the way in committing basic errors on the third day of the ongoing one-off Test match in Hyderabad on Saturday (February 11). Not all of them hurt Bangladesh but some did. And when such boo-boos come against a team that has been bulldozing all opposition in recent times, the match can get away from you quite quickly.

It didn’t, fortunately for Bangladesh, and they have Mushfiqur Rahim to thank for it being so.

Scores (Day III): India: 687/6 decl against Bangladesh: 322/6

On a pitch that’s still doing very little, the Indians chipped away, picking up three wickets in the morning, and two more in the afternoon – a couple of them gifts. But though India ended the day still on top, Rahim made sure Bangladesh got into a decent position: 322 for 6 in reply to India’s 687 for 6 declared, the difference between them 365 with two days left in the game.

Rahim had two stands of great import from his team’s point of view, the first with Shakib Al Hasan and then another with Mehedi Hasan, the No. 8. The first stand was worth 107 and then, after Sabbir Rahman came and went, the one for the seventh wicket has so far totalled 87 runs. Rahim ended the day on 81 from 206 balls, made over 273 minutes at the crease with 12 fours. And Mehedi had 51 from 103 with ten fours, marginally more enterprising but equally obdurate. The two made sure India didn’t get a wicket in the final session of the day.

Despite the outstanding application on the part of Rahim, in the main, and Mehedi later on as well as Shakib’s enterprise, one of the key features of the day was the Bangladeshi batters’ propensity to take unnecessary risks, especially in the first session.

The first big error in judgment came from Tamim Iqbal. It was the third over of the morning, from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Mominul Haque played it towards deep square-leg. Having jogged across for the first run, the two batsmen suddenly decided to go for a second and test Umesh Yadav’s arm. Bad idea. A mid-pitch stutter followed, and when the stumps at the bowler’s end went down, Tamim was more than a few yards away.

There was more substandard running, showcased by Rahim himself. Shakib and Rahim had done exceptionally well in lifting Bangladesh from 109 for 4, when they had lost Mominul and Mahmudullah, wasting a review in the process too. India, likewise, backed themselves on the DRS after having pulled one off on the second evening, but ended up frittering away both by the 40th over.

© AP

Another wicket there would have ruined it all for Bangladesh, and they needed a good stand. They got one. But while it could have gone on for longer, it could have ended much sooner too.

The first time, in the 50th over of the innings with the total at 159 for 4, Rahim hesitated before sprinting for a run after Shakib had played R Ashwin to Ravindra Jadeja at mid-off. A direct hit would have done it, but by the time Wriddhiman Saha had dislodged the bails, Rahim’s dive had taken him in, despite the bat having lifted off the ground. Within five overs, Rahim was at it again, trying to steal a third run against Jadeja’s arm again. He was sent back by a disinterested Shakib and only survived because the throw went to the wrong end and took its time reaching Umesh, the bowler. Shakib’s remonstrations showed just how irritated he was with his partner.

Before and after those brain freezes, Shakib and Rahim showed good skills. There were moments of alarm, with Ashwin sending in a few rippers with drift and dip despite the lack of turn on offer, and Umesh at it relentlessly.

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Indeed, the best part of the morning session was Umesh’s bowling. The paceman, once a tearaway who often showed an alarming lack of control for an international cricketer, has over time become a new-ball bowler the Indian team can trust. On the day, he bowled at pace and swung the ball around from on and around off stump with great accuracy. The contest with Shakib made for good viewing, as the best batsman in the Bangladesh team wanted to attack, but between pleasing drives to the off side, he was beaten in every way possible.

Rahim, meanwhile, was steady, and patient, happy to bide his time and wait for the low-hanging fruit. He played a few beautiful strokes too, while also being cut in half by Umesh once, but he didn’t attempt anything extravagant at any stage.

Shakib kept at it, trusting his instincts. A smash down the ground burst through the hands of Jadeja, the bowler, and still had enough on it to rush to the boundary. Fourteen boundaries flowed from his bat as Rahim and he went through unbroken for the first hour after lunch, but when on 82, Shakib’s luck ran out. He had reached his fifty earlier by stepping out and hitting Ashwin down the ground for four. He tried a repeat, but Ashwin pulled back his length. Shakib went through with the shot even though he had to reach for it, and only managed to miscue it to mid-on for Umesh to take the catch. Shakib was particularly good between point and cover with the drive and as long as he was in the middle, Bangladesh had hope of getting some distance towards the Indian total.

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Once Shakib fell, the approach changed to one of playing out time. It’s a natural mode for Rahim to slip into, and he bedded down brilliantly, keeping his bat out of the way of all he could and only scoring when the risk element was non-existent. And in Mehedi, he found a partner willing to do the same.

Mehedi has won Bangladesh a Test match with his offspin but had originally come into prominence as an allrounder. Just 20 runs in eight Test innings prior to this one had raised questioned about his ability with the bat at the highest level. On the day, he shone bright, hitting the pacers through and over the slips for four on occasion but largely dead-batting his way through. He got to a well-deserved half-century, showing tremendous application for a 19-year-old, when he late cut Ashwin for four just before the end of the day’s proceedings.

The dour approach meant that Bangladesh scored just 21 runs in the first hour after tea, including against the second new ball. They upped the mark to 55 for the last hour, but while that was important, what was more crucial was that they didn’t lose a wicket. And they still have Rahim in harness despite a painful knock in the fingers in the last over of the day, bowled by Ishant Sharma, which he responded to by pulling the bowler for four next ball.

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