February 13, 2017 12:52:46 am
These aren’t good times to be Mushfiqur Rahim. It feels absurd to say that about a batsman who soaked up pressure for 381 minutes and hit a fine hundred to push the game to the final day. However, the noose is slowly tightening for Rahim, the captain, and Rahim, the wicketkeeper. It’s past mere murmurs now. A Bangladesh newspaper has even quoted the BCB president Nazmul Hassan as saying his “time is up”. It’s one of those reports that other journalists are wary to touch and run away with, but it won’t be a surprise if a mutual decision from the board and Rahim emerges soon. On Monday, when he would walk out, it might be one of the last times he captains Bangladesh.
A gusty skilful batsman, an emotional and proud man, a ‘keeper struggling with fitness issues, and a captain whose tactical nous is rapidly under fire, will have to come up with a special knock to save Bangladesh, who have 7 wickets intact and a day to survive. On Saturday, when The Indian Express asked the board president Hassan about Rahim, he didn’t offer support to the captain. Instead, he said that the captaincy was definitely in the radar and would be decided soon.
The crux of the problem can be put thus: Rahim is too good a batsman to bat so low down the order. His finger-injuries aren’t making his job as a wicket keeper any easier. His captaincy skills – read tactical nous – too are under the scanner.
Is he under too much pressure to don all the roles? The BCB thinks it’s not necessary to do all the three roles. Left to himself, it’s clear that he wants all the three. Shakib Al Hasan said as much the other day. “He still wants to keep, that’s his positive thinking. I think whatever he is doing at the moment, keeping batting and captaincy it’s obviously very difficult for him, but he is someone who likes to do that stuff. He likes to get involved with everything. I think that’s a good way for him and the way he is going, he can certainly stay as it is.”
However, it’s likely that the decision might be beyond Rahim or Shakib.
No one can question his batting, though. And no one does. Courage? Tick. Shot-making? Tick. Defence? Tick. For 381 minutes, he went on and on. It’s quite a sight to watch him. There have been many short-statured batsmen before but with Rahim, the bat actually looks too long for him. He has to not only hold it loose but push the bat away wider off him to keep it on the ground; for if he kept it any closer — like behind his right foot as most batsmen do — it would pop up abnormally high. Or so it seems.
A heart of steel
The bowlers gun for his head. It’s feels almost silly not to do. In the recent times, New Zealanders went about it with great gusto. In an hour, Rahim, already batting with injured fingers in both hands, took nearly 20 blows on his body. He carried on. Until Tim Southee settled the issue, moving the immovable with a snorter that crashed against the helmet and put him in the hospital. The Indians too tried for the last two days — not as much, but enough. The ball jammed Rahim’s fingers. He took treatment and slapped the next ball — a bouncer — to the boundary.
On Sunday, he swayed away expertly from a few, and pulled one over fine-leg for a six. He ran down the track to hit R Ashwin’s deliveries to midwicket boundary. In between, he would lean forward to push, prod and nurdle it around. Mehedi Hasan left early in the morning but Rahim hung on, dragging Bangladesh along with him. When India realised they couldn’t go through Rahim, they went around him. Bhuvneshwar Kumar cracked through Hasan’s defences with a reverse-seaming delivery to leave the stumps in disarray. Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma kept hammering in the bouncers against Taijul Islam who tried to weave out of the way but finding it increasingly hard to do so.
A digression here to note the attitudinal change. India weren’t always this bumper-happy against tailenders in the past. It could have been argued that they were a bit soft as well. Times, they are changing. And so when Yadav and Ishant kept peppering in the bouncers, only the watchers from previous generation would have been surprised. Eventually, Islam fell to a Umesh bouncer – the ball evaded the bat offered as a face shield and brushed the gloves enroute to Wriddhiman Saha.
Finally, Rahim fell, becoming R Ashwin’s 250 Test wicket. It’s difficult to believe that the quickest to 250 wickets is an offspinner. For someone whose art isn’t wristy as Muttiah Muralitharan’s was, and is a more of a finger-spinner, this is quite a stunning achievement. It was apt that he had a good scalp in Rahim to get to the landmark. Rahim tried to sweep it, but it bobbed off the gloves to Saha.
The rest of the day went according to the script. Of the Indians that is. They got a lead of 458-runs lead after bashing around for a session — the highlight was Cheteshwar Pujara hooking Taskin Ahmed for a six — and gave themselves a session and a day to bowl out Bangladesh. Bangladesh resisted for a while but Ashwin came on his own on a pitch that finally showed some signs of turn.
He had Tamim Iqbal groping forward in defence but the ball caught the inside edge and ricocheted off the pad to Virat Kohli at first slip. He then slipped in a ripper to get rid of Mominul Haque. Tossed up around the leg and middle, it spun sharply to take the wood off the forward prod and was swallowed in slips. In between, Ajinkya Rahane showed, as he has done for a while now, that he is the new Rahul Dravid in the slips. He stayed low and thrust his right hand out in a flash to hold on a tough chance offered by Soumya Sarkar off Ravindra Jadeja.
With the pressure closing in on him, Shakib Al Hasan did what he does – counterattacked his way out of trouble, enough for the journalists to question his approach and enough for the batting coach Thilan Samaraweera, whose batting couldn’t have been anymore different, to giggle. A popular newspaper in Bangladesh Protom Alo had carried a big photo of Shakib and plastered words of a poet that meant: “My wish is to die”, hinting at the self-destructive ways of his batting. Harsh, but Bangladesh as a cricketing country wants to quickly shed the ‘amaetureish’ tag in Test cricket. Sometimes, the cricketers don’t quite match up to the emotional demands.
The other interesting character in the team, and one who would walk out to bat with Shakib on Monday morning, is Mahmudullah, called Riyadh by the team-mates and fans. In ideal world, he would have been the frontrunner to take over the Test captaincy from Rahim. But he has been going through a lean patch. However, he has shown some gumption in this Test. In the first innings, he battled through the wonderful reverse-swinging spell from Umesh, but it remains to be seen how he would fare on the last day of the Test. If he falls, Rahim would come out and at the moment it seems, even a match-saving ton might not save him from losing his captaincy. In fact, it might even hasten the hands of the board.
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