The conjuring

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A new era: Tamim Iqbal taking on Zaheer Khan in the 2007 ODI World cup. Image source: 1

It is only fair to say that Bangladesh have moved a step ahead from being a pesky, irritant neighbour in the eyes of the Indian fan who is accustomed to looking at them with a big brotherly attitude. An emerging cricketing power, they have recently cracked the formula of doing well at home in the limited overs formats, the first port of call to cricketing credibility. India shares a rather peculiar love- hate relationship with Bangladesh. Having assisted it in its fight for independence in 1971, India were naturally the first country to play a test match on Bangladeshi soil. However, since then it  has only been lip service as Bangladesh played its first ever match against India on Indian soil only two days ago, a full 16 years after obtaining test status. Their incredible victory vs India at Port of Spain in the 2007 World Cup had wide ramifications for the fate of the associates in the later ODI World cup formats. Just a few years earlier, they beaten Pakistan and Australia in England and got upgraded from cannon fodder to plucky opposition in the shorter formats. They had steadily improved in the limited overs formats since 2009 and turned into proverbial tigers at home but their test match record was still pitiful. After two T20 World cups without a win, they had finally turned a corner with the quarter final appearance in 2015 ODI World cup.

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Leaping with joy: Hardik Pandya celebrates catching Mithun’s lofted shot at the boundary. Image source: 2

When the national anthems (both composed by the Bengali polymath, Rabindranath Tagore) filled the air from the public address system at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore, Bangladesh set out to do what they hadn’t surmounted so far- a victory against India in the T20 format. Bangladesh were facing imminent danger (no, not a Chetan Bhagat tweet invoking Lord Curzon) of getting knocked out by India. They had done admirably well to restrict India to 146 on a venue that averaged 180 in the IPL. Right in the third over, an exuberant celebration by Pandya after catching Mithun had needlessly needled the opposition. There was precedence of previous flashpoints leaving behind a jarring aftertaste. Sehwag calling Bangladesh ordinary hurt their pride; if they wanted, they would have done it themselves by pelting the wrong bus with stones. Who was he to judge them? The no- ball incident at the 2015 World cup snowballed into a diplomatic standoff. There was no further love lost with the Rubel Hossain- Virat Kohli incident and Mustafizur- Dhoni collision, exemplified by the imagery used by Bangladeshi poster makers. Nehra’s words about Mustafizur’s ability went against all this pent up bile. With Sri Lanka in regeneration and Pakistan being Pakistan, Bangladesh had a legitimate shot at being the second best side in Asia in the shorter formats of the game. The joke about the 2015 World cup clash being billed as the battle between the fake and the genuine Aadhar cards may have died down but it showcased what Bangladesh were chasing- legitimacy and a license to ask for more benefits from the system (like regular fixtures against the top sides).

Even though Bangladesh was a “qualifier” the match was hardly a walkover. Instead, they were somewhere in between prodromal symptoms and a mild heart attack in the uneasiness index. India’s batting lineup had been at the dinner table not knowing what to expect having being subjected to global cuisine recently. They had, after all, been found out at home by New Zealand with spin and it took a win against Pakistan to get the feel good factor back. The law of averages had finally caught up with the top order and the middle order was now expected to do the heavy lifting. There would be no Virat Kohli today, the one who would swoop in and save the day yet again. 9 runs from overs 17 & 18 were obfuscated by 23 runs in the last two overs. Surely this would be the day when Bangladesh pulled off the customary underdog heist in the T20 world cup given that England had dodged a massive bullet earlier in the day?

By the end of the ninth over, Bangladesh were coasting to victory with 80 needed in 66 balls. Any pace on the ball was duly punished by the Bangla tigers with Pandya & Bumrah proving to be costly. With the next World cup 3 years away, was this going to be Dhoni’s last? At the time, it was not apparent that Dhoni had some legerdemain up his sleeve. It would only reveal itself upon second viewing, much like the popular program about magician’s biggest secrets. With Shakib still fresh at the crease, he tossed the ball to his not- so- shapely assistant for some bamboozling; three balls later, Sabbir had been led on to a merry dance where he missed the beat. Even a movie script could not have choreographed such a dismissal from a keeper who once stumped Ponting off Irfan Pathan and boasted of one stumping of Usain Boltesque pedigree (0.09 seconds). The other assistants had put on the straightjacket and lowered Dhoni into the box; Ashwin dropped Shakib and was duly punished with two more sixes which got the asking rate down to a measly 6.5 RPO with six wickets in hand. Difference between runs and ball was down to 4, meaning singles all the way through and one six would win it for Bangladesh. It wasn’t looking good for India.

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On a knife edge: Ashwin induces an edge from Shakib’s forward defensive push which is caugth by Raina, leaving the match in balance. Image source: 3

With Mortaza’s wicket, out came Mahmadullah, who was in a rich vein of form. Widely criticized for holding him back in the Asia cup final, he was surely not late to the wicket this time. Shakib found Jadeja’s bowling all too simple to handle and it was Bangladesh’s match to lose. How about some away spin? Time for another assistant to slip in the trick handcuffs on Dhoni; Ashwin bowled the perfect off spinner’s delivery which was eagerly gobbled up by Raina at slip. Soumya Sarkar was bamboozled four times in a row with the ball just evading the outside edge. Difference between runs and balls was back up to 9. Two more quiet overs from Jadeja and Nehra pushed the difference to 13 with 5 overs to go- Bangladesh would need 3 big hits to seal this; after all, a matter of one good over.

One big hit was mustered by Soumya Sarkar who found the fence with four overs to go. Given Dhoni’s penchant for the fast bowler at the death, would he go for a new trick or a familiar ending? With 7 tense runs coming off Bumrah’s homing missiles, his long walk to redemption had just begun. The next over was mixed though- A full toss got Nehra a freebie wicket whereas two boundaries eased things out- difference down to 5. Mahmadullah had Mushfiqur for company, the Mushfiqur who resigned rather emotionally three years ago. These were the moments when India truly missed Ravi Shastri’s booming voice in the commentary box. Guess he was probably commentating out of the box playing karaoke with the match visuals in the dressing room. Bumrah finished his quota with another set of darts towards the stumps. All down to 11 to win from the last over- matter of one six or two boundaries. And guess what, Pandya would be bowling to Mushfiqur. He wasn’t going to let Pandya forget his youthful transgression on the boundary rope after catching Mithun, would he?

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Premature celebration: Mushfiqur getting back at Pandya having scored two boundaries off successive balls. Image source: 4

Having watched the final over unfold, one could have easily mistaken it for a penalty shootout. A left field, rookie choice in the mould of Joginder Sharma from 2007 was selected to step up to the plate. Except, when India had nothing to lose in 2007, Dhoni trusted his man to come up with the goods; here,  each passing ball was subjected to the time dilation of Indo- Pak secretary level talks. He even had the gall to admit factoring in the last over exemptions from over- rate calculations. One ball, one run- par for the course. Talk about dragging on the anticipation from the crowd with a drumroll replete with possibilities. All of that vanished with the next two balls when the stick of dynamite was lit and the box was hoisted up in the air. Boom! The second ball raced to the covers off a badly bowled slower one. A scoop off the third ball scurried to the boundary as well- Game over. Mushfiqur doesn’t restrain himself with his exaggerated celebration, having just paid Pandya back in the same coin. Just a formality of 2 off 3 now. I could see the headlines with Dhoni having taken responsibility for the defeat mouthing off half a dozen excuses.

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Out of line: Dhoni catches Mustafizur short after a sprint to the striker’s end. Image source: 5

Suddenly, smoke shrouded the box with shimmering fireworks all around. After a hypnotic gesture, the fourth ball was heaved to the leg side down the throat of Dhawan. The crowd suddenly found its voice but things were still looking bleak for India considering that they didn’t have a credible super over player. On cue, Mahmadullah carted a full toss to Jadeja as if it were a choreographed sequence- Jadeja had been placed there for this ball; the crowd suddenly turned delirious and alive with possibility. There was an air of inevitability about the last ball, a hat- tip to the Aussies in the 1999 semi- final. The assistants danced around the box one last time as Dhoni took off his glove to get the overhand throw going for stolen bye. Pandya took ages to bowl- nails have regrown and men have grown a four-o clock shadow. A short ball outside off stump is missed and Mustafizur Rehman made a mad dash; three options remain- a direct hit to the near end which had a risk, a throw to the far end which could be messed up and, third, a competitive dash to the striker’s end which was the fail- safe option. In a split second, the locks came off and the straightjacket was removed. With the dynamite close to blowing up the box, the magician appeared on a nearby balcony having completed the impossible escape having gotten the scalp (!) of Mustafizur. The board and the town were painted red. The magician now bowed to the gallery, milking the applause.

It took a really calm head amongst the chaos to resurrect a dead match and drag the result in India’s corner. Make no mistake, even though India had played under par and had been fortuitous with getting wickets off bad balls, this was Dhoni’s victory as he shepherded a young team to a much fabled result. The Indian fan in me acknowledged how much the Bangladesh fan must have been gutted by this loss. After all, I’ve watched when we were agonizingly short in the 1992 World cup against Australia, against Zimbabwe in 1999, twin defeats against England at home and most famously, the making of Javed Miandad’s legend. I mean it when I say I felt your pain that night. If it’s any consolation, many of my neighbours lit some fireworks that night, acknowledging the close margins of the match and importance of the win. Crackers were hitherto reserved for a victory only against a big team; these were burst more out of relief that their hero had delivered a backs to the wall victory after having painted themselves into a corner. In all these years, I guess this is the closest that India has come to acknowledging that Bangladesh have their respect.

Disclaimer: Some images used are not property of this blog. The copyright, if any, rests with the respective owners.

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