Sunday, April 15, 2007

The South Asian affliction hits Bangladesh

The disease called Inexplicable Stumblitis that is so prevalent in the subcontinent and has already claimed India and Pakistan made its way to Bangladesh today in the World Cup. They lost handily to Ireland in a game they should have won given their recent run of form. Well, it had to happen sometime – it’s the very nature of topical afflictions.

This was supposed to be the big game between India and Pakistan. Instead, with the bride and bridegroom sullenly back home, the maid of honor and best man came to the party. Droves of fans without a team to root for picked sides quickly. At one point during the game Amir Sohail, the former Pakistani batsman turned TV commentator, observed that the disenfranchised Indian fans were rooting for Ireland and the Pakistani fans had put their lot behind Bangladesh. It was a rather amusing situation, but nothing about the way Bangladesh played must have amused their fans today.

A spectacular gamble
At the start the craggy Irish captain Trent Johnston made a spectacular decision after winning the toss – he chose to take on the juice in the wicket by batting first. Johnston of course was relying on the fact that Bangladesh’s pace attack after subtracting Mashrafe Mortaza, wasn’t exactly fearsome. And he certainly didn’t want to put his batsmen up against a big total and three lurking spinners. Still to bat first took guts.

That bit of bravery made all the difference. To their credit, the Irish made the most of it. They batted cautiously without allowing desperation to infest their ranks. They built their innings around Porterfield’s 136 ball vigil (he scored 85) and waited with wickets in hand for the slog to swell their total. Their reward was 243 – a total that immediately looked like it would challenge even the talented opposition.

Caution to the wind
The Bangla batsmen decided they would deal in big shots. It’s a strategy that is useful when you have a very small total to chase – so that the risk of losing early wickets is tolerable in exchange for putting victory quickly within grasp. Or you do it if you are chasing a very large total – because you have no choice. But chasing a modest total, batsman after batsman perished to shots made with amateurish intent. It looked a little like an affliction.

Nafees gloved a poorly executed hook behind the wicket, Aftab Ahmed lunged at a delivery way too wide to hit with feet rooted to ground, Ashraful skied an ill-judged pull down deep fine leg’s throat, Mushfiqur Rahim yorked himself after already having won the argument with McCallam and Mohammad Rafique decided this was the right stage to invent a shot that can only be called a paddle pull.

A sad wind down to a glorious campaign
The margin of defeat for them was 74 runs – big. But against a team like Ireland - massive. Bangladesh is a team that tug’s at my heartstrings – I want them to do well whenever they take the field and they’ve earned our respect with joyous and bold performances. This loss is a terrible way to wind down a campaign that has been nothing short of historic for them.

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