Following a winless run of 10 consecutive matches, Bangladesh felt the unfamiliar taste of victory in the first ODI against Sri Lanka. Against a callow-looking side, the hosts ran out winners by 33 runs. It was by no means a flawless performance, but handy contributions from the veteran wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim and Mehidy Hasan Miraz were enough to see off a menacing cameo by Hasaranga.
The false positives
The fact that the first game between these two familiar foes was played at all was something of an achievement. There was serious doubt cast on proceedings due to the return of positive Covid-19 tests for three of the Sri Lankan camp, and even up to an hour or so before the first ball was due to be bowled, the situation was far from clear. Eventually news filtered through that re-tests had shown two false positives originating from the initial tests. However, Chaminda Vaas, the legendary Sri Lankan left arm quick-turned-bowling-coach, returned another positive test. This was apparently excused on account of him having recently contracted the coronavirus and the scheduled start of the game was confirmed.
The incident demonstrates the fragile and anxiety fuelled nature of contemporary cricket tours, where even the slightest breach of bio secure protocols is enough to end a series and disrupt future ones, England’s curtailed tour of South Africa being one such example. Sri Lanka undoubtedly have one eye on their forthcoming tour of England and will be keen to avoid jeopardising a relatively lucrative assignment.
More broadly, it’s mildly surprising that the series is being played as it stands. The pandemic shows little sign of abating in South Asia and the suspension of both the IPL and PSL indicates the gravity of the situation. Bangladesh are currently the exception in terms of hosting cricket in the region; indeed, largely successful bio bubble tours by West Indies, Ireland Wolves and South Africa Emerging Women, show that the country is open for business. Whether it can sustain such a position will be of interest to many, not least England who are due to tour the country in late September.
Mushfiqur centre stage
The confusion surrounding the start of the game appeared to influence the Bangladesh batsman, as they laboured in the early stages. After choosing to bat, Tamim would have hoped for a sprightlier beginning. In truth the Dhaka pitch did its best to prevent fluent strokeplay, the sluggish nature of the wicket making it difficult to confidently find the middle of the bat. There was an element of the slow pitch contributing to Shakib’s downfall, although, restored to his favoured No 3 berth, he tamely chipped to long-on for 15, unable to generate the required pace to beat the fielder. Earlier Liton Das’s struggles in recent ODIs continued; he edged to first slip off Chameera without scoring. His tally now stands at 76 runs for the last 10 ODIs he’s played.
Mushfiqur came to the crease in the 13th over and immediately set about accumulating runs in his trademark industrious manner. He manipulated the field with his deft nudges and nurdles, forming effective partnerships firstly with Tamim and then tellingly with Mahmudullah. The fifth-wicket partnership of 109 off 122 balls was the backbone of the innings, providing impetus when a sub-par total might have ensued. Mushifqur’s consistency, in a career spanning almost two decades, is highlighted by the fact that since his ODI debut, only two other wicketkeepers have more scores of fifty and above when playing as designated keepers; Kumar Sangakkara and MS Dhoni. It’s the kind of company in which he very much belongs.
But despite the 84 runs he scored from 87 balls, it was behind the stumps that Mushfiqur really comes alive. Courtesy of a stump mic that seemed to be turned up to maximum volume, TV viewers gained an incredible insight into the mind of the diminutive keeper. Almost every ball bowled was commented on, for the most part in an encouraging way. Fielding positions were meticulously conveyed, and fielders were told to “be ready”, the occasional wayward throw being met with audible anguish. And every appeal was screeched piercingly towards the umpires. He has received criticism for the quality of his glovework in past months, so much so that his captain was compelled to offer his support before the series, but on this performance his role as the heartbeat of the team remains unrivalled.
Two wickets in two
At 98 for two things looked comfortable for the hosts, less so moments later when Dhananjaya de Silva claimed two wickets with consecutive balls, both lbws. Firstly, Tamim tried to make space or perhaps upset the bowler’s rhythm by moving outside the leg stump, but it was counter-productive as he was trapped in front of the stumps. It was another patient fifty from Tamim, he quickly judged the pace of the pitch and adjusted to it but yet again he was unable to bat deep into the innings. Mithun was out the next ball, attempting a paddle sweep.
The worst aspect of both wickets was the request of a DRS review by the batsmen, thereby losing the team quota for the innings in the 23rd over. Both lbws were obvious in direction and replays confirmed no bat was involved in either case. To make matters worse, Bangladesh lost both of their bowling DRS reviews inside the 19th over. Shakib used up one of the reviews on an lbw shout, where the ball landed well outside the keg stump. On another day, burning reviews with such alacrity will cost the team dear.
Sri Lanka were unable to capitalise on the double breakthrough as Bangladesh recovered from 99 for four to eventually post 257 for six – a competitive score on a ground where the average first innings score is 30 runs fewer, but by no means an insurmountable one
Hasaranga runs out of gas
Sri Lanka began the chase under lights convincingly, the openers feasting on Taskin’s over-pitched deliveries. However, their effort was undermined by the loss of regular top order wickets, the main beneficiary being Mehidy Hasan Miraz. The sight of stumps flying out of the ground are synonymous with fast bowling but Miraz achieved the feat twice, most notably when he ripped out Kusal Perera’s off stump followed by Bandara’s middle stump. He finished with a deserved four for 30. Mustafzur also chimed in with three wickets despite suffering with cramp towards the end of the innings.
At 149 for seven in the 35th over, when Sri Lanka looked on course for a slow death, Hasaranga’s innings seemed to be no more than an amusing distraction. He looks every inch the modern superstar cricketer, with the requisite blonde highlights, bulging biceps and gold chains. He might have fallen victim to Shakib early in his innings, the ball beating the swing of his bat and narrowly missing the stumps. But his sense of adventure was refreshing as he showed little regard for the vaunted Bangladesh spinners and slog swept brutally. His lofted sixes down the ground hinted at someone with a certain amount of polish as well as brute strength.
With 53 needed from seven overs, the chances of registering a famous win were real for the visitors. But for the heat and humidity of the Dhaka evening, it might have come to pass. Instead Hasaranga was visibly fatigued by the conditions, his soft dismissal symptomatic of his weariness. His tenacious 74 off 60 balls showed his team what can be achieved when the pressure of the chase is put to one side and bodes well for the rest of the series. For their part, Bangladesh will be pleased to register a much-needed victory while reflecting on an imperfect performance.