Bangladesh impress again

Having first become the youngest man to score a Test century aged just 16, and having driven his country to an amazing ODI victory over Australia last summer, Mohammad Ashraful wrote another chapter in his fairytale career today. Against a Sri Lankan attack featuring Muttiah Muralitharan, playing his 100th Test match, Ashraful struck a glorious 136, carrying his team to a respectable total of 315-9 at the close of the first day’s play.

Things had not always looked so promising for the home side, as they slipped to 81 for 3 just before lunch. Ashraful then rebuilt the innings, adding 65 with Shahriar Nafees, followed by 64 with Khaled Mashud. He departed shortly before the end of the day, however, to leave tailenders Shahadat Hossain and Enamul Haque Jr hanging on overnight.

The day had begun with the recalled Lasith Malinga dismissing opener Javed Omar with only the fifth delivery of the match, as the 29-year-old guided one straight into the hands of Thilan Samaraweera at slip. This could easily have brought on one of Bangladesh’s familiar collapses, but captain Habibul Bashar and Nafees Iqbal knuckled down, getting their side to 76-1 shortly before lunch when the second wicket fell.

Iqbal had played carefully and precisely for 108 balls, notching up a calm 34, before he had an idea which cannot rank among his best. He premeditated a slog-sweep off promising leg-spinner Malinga Bandara, but was deceived by a quicker, flatter delivery, which left his stumps looking a mess. The shot was badly chosen and badly executed – indeed, it resembled one played by this reporter in the nets not 72 hours ago, and had the same result: flying bails, and an embarrassed batsman.

This was the first of two wickets in quick succession for Bandara – in his next over he persuaded Bashar to play down the wrong line, trapping him lbw. The captain’s dismissal brought Ashraful to the crease, and he was soon into his stride. Using his feet with great expertise to negate Muralitharan’s vicious off-breaks, and managing to pick the doosra with relative ease, he played calmly and professionally throughout the afternoon session, accompanied by the watchful Shahriar Nafees.

A combination of accurate bowling and a poor footwork accounted for Shahriar, however, as he played onto his stumps in trying to cut Farveez Maharoof. Maharoof swung the ball, but was not as impressive as Malinga, who finished the day with three wickets, and would have had another had Mahela Jayawardene held onto a relatively easy chance when Nafees Iqbal had only 10 to his name.

Shahriar’s dismissal was the cue for Ashraful to up the tempo, which became necessary as Khaled Mashud brought a new meaning to the word “obdurate” at the other end. While Ashraful hoisted sixes, reverse-swept Muralitharan and punished anything loose, Mashud prodded, blocked, and prodded some more. He eventually departed for just six, made from fifty balls. This led to Ashraful striking up useful partnerships with both Alok Kapali and Mohammad Rafique, and bringing up a fantastic third Test century midway through the evening session.

Ashraful departed soon after the score reached 300 – the first time Bangladesh had ever scored 300 runs in a single day’s Test cricket – top-edging Muralitharan to deep midwicket, giving the spinner his 998th international wicket, and his third of the day. Murali and Malinga combined to rip out most of the Bangladeshi tail late in the day, and were the two standout bowlers on a day dominated by the bat of the Ashraful, finishing with 3-55 and 3-85 respectively.

One of them will surely add to that tally tomorrow, as tailenders Shahadat Hossain and Enamul Haque Jr were left hanging on overnight – but however quickly Bangladesh’s resistance is ended tomorrow, they have once again stood up and been counted today. They might not be winning Test matches just yet, but in Ashraful, they have a star capable of lighting up the biggest stages just like any other.

Stumps, Day One
Bangladesh 315-9
Mohammad Ashraful 136; Lasith Malinga 3-55, Muttiah Muralitharan 3-85

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