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Tigers roaring once again
22 Feb 2006
By: Matt Pitt

The most talented player ever to play for his country. An experienced old head, respected by fellow players and fans alike. An inspirational and dynamic leader. All of these are things that Bangladesh's Aftab Ahmed is not. After today, however, his legacy to Bangladeshi cricket may be looked back on as nothing less than monumental.

Having eight months ago been the man who launched Jason Gillespie into the Sophia Gardens stands to clinch the Tigers' historic victory against Australia, Ahmed was there once again today to guide his team to another outstanding triumph over Sri Lanka. He struck an unbeaten 32 from only 21 balls in the late overs, keeping a remarkably cool head in striking Ruchira Perera for six with 19 runs still needed.

Bangladesh had earlier bowled out Sri Lanka for 212, in a game reduced to 49 overs because of a delayed start. Sanath Jayasuriya struck a fluent 96 from 110 balls, but some accurate bowling from the Bangladeshi attack meant that only two other Sri Lankans passed twenty. New-ball pairing Syed Rasel and Mashrafe Mortaza showed up well, left-armer Rasel bowling his ten overs for 28 runs, in only his fifth ODI.

Rasel was the first bowler to strike, removing Jehan Mubarak for a scratchy two in only the fourth over. The dismissal was a contentious one, however, with the ball appearing to bounce just in front of wicketkeeper Khaled Mashud. Kumar Sangakkara was the next man in, and he was uncharacteristically edgy in making 23 from 54 balls. His innings was brought to an end by a second strike from Rasel, who persuaded the Sri Lankan keeper-batsman to nick one down the leg side, resulting in a sharp take from Mashud.

The rest of the Sri Lankan innings saw wickets falling at regular intervals, with Jayasuriya forced to withdraw into his shell somewhat after an assault on inexperienced seamer Nazmul Hossain. He began running out of partners as the likes of Alok Kapali and Mohammad Rafique tied down the batsmen, resulting in some rash shots and some disappointing dismissals.

Jayasuriya remained undettered by the clatter of wickets around him, however, and progressed to 96 with few alarms. He displayed all the know-how and calmness under pressure that one would expect from a veteran of 356 ODIs - attacking the expensive Hossain, then controlling the pace of the innings with singles against the economical slower bowlers. It was a surprise when he fell four short of his century, beaten by a quicker one from Mohammad Rafique.

It was a credit to the Bangladeshi bowlers that it was only through some late-order hitting from Farveez Maharoof and Dilhara Fernando, that Sri Lanka were able to reach anything resembling a challenging total. The variation of Rafique, Kapali and Ahmed, coupled with the control and movement achieved by Rasel and Mortaza, gave Bangladesh cause for optimism heading into the innings break - captain Habibul Bashar's decision to field first had been vindicated.

Bangladesh's run-chase got off to a solid start, with Javed Omar his usual resilient self at the top of the order. He and Shahriar Nafees got the Tigers to 38 without loss in the eighth over with some confident front-foot strokeplay, until the opening stand was broken when Nafees fished at a delivery from Dilhara Fernando. SuperSub Rajin Saleh was gone as quickly as he had arrived, meaning the hero of Cardiff, Mohammad Ashraful, joined the experienced Omar at the crease.

Ashraful began watchfully, taking his time to play himself in. Gone was the uninhibited, fearless aggression which had seen the likes of McGrath, Gillespie and Kasprowicz dispatched to all corners of the ground last summer. Here was a new Ashraful, one prepared to play the percentages of a situation until the game panned out how he intended. He lifted Malinga Bandara over cover for four early on, but was content to push singles and keep the rate at four an over for the majority of the middle overs.

With the score on 90 for 2, however, he lost his partner - Omar was trapped leg-before by Malinga Bandara, despite appearing to be hit outside the line of off-stump. Captain Bashar then joined the young Ashraful at the wicket, with the batsmen still content to push singles and allow the required rate to rise steadily, all the while maintaining control of the game. The Sri Lankan bowlers, lacking Muttiah Muralitharan, were also lacking in attacking options.

Ashraful progressed to a hard-earned fifty off 68 balls, with only four boundaries, a stark contrast to his scintillating effort back in Cardiff. Bashar could not emulate him, however, and perished trying to loft the ball over long-on. Ashraful then confirmed that he is not yet quite the finished article, by playing an ungainly hoick to a delivery from Hasantha Fernando and being caught at long-leg. Suddenly Sri Lanka had an opportunity to seize the initiative, with two new batsmen at the crease.

One of these batsmen, however, was the ice-cool Aftab Ahmed, who along with Alok Kapali, guided his team home. The pair were united with the required run rate standing at over five an over, and while Kapali chipped in with a valuable 18 before falling to Dilhara Fernando, it was Ahmed who struck the three hammer blows that ended Sri Lanka's hopes.

Content to work singles at first, he then unleashed a mighty blow for six off Ruchira Perera, followed by another four through third man two balls later. These two boundaries helped bring the target down from 23 to seven in the space of one over - from then on, Bangladesh's four-wicket victory was a formality.

There was still time for one final glorious flourish from Man-of-the-Match Ahmed, however, as he drove Dilhara Fernando imperiously through mid-off for four with only five runs needed to win. It was left to Khaled Mashud to hit the winning run, but there was no doubt that once again it was Ahmed who, just as he had done last June, kept his cool at a crucial time. He showed remarkable confidence and responsibility for a 20-year-old, and if he continues in this vein, will be a big part of the future of Bangladeshi cricket as well as its history.

This victory was Bangladesh's first ever against Sri Lanka, and it could ultimately prove almost as significant as their victory over Australia. With Ricky Ponting's recent words of criticism ringing in their ears, Bangladesh produced a stunningly professional all-round performance against a strong side. One victory for the current Bangladesh side over a major nation could be dismissed as a fluke - not so two of them. With their Under-19 side finishing 5th in the recent World Cup, and their senior side continuing to add to their list of high-profile scalps, it would appear that Bangladeshi cricket is - thankfully - here to stay.

Sri Lanka 212 all out (49 overs)
Jayasuriya 96; Rasel 2-28, Kapali 2-29

Bangladesh 213-6 (47 overs)
Ashraful 51, Omar 40, Bashar 33, Ahmed 32*; CRD Fernando 2-48

Cricket Web Man of the Match
Aftab Ahmed - 32*(21b, 2x4 1x6) & 6-0-24-1

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