A brilliant all-round performance by Mashrafe Mortaza saved the blushes of Bangladesh as they averted the follow-on on the fourth day of the first Test at Chittagong Divisional Stadium on Monday.
After taking 4 wickets with ball which is his premium duty, Mashrafe struck a brilliant 79 off 91 balls to lift Bangladesh from a tottering 122/7. Mashrafe found his new ball partner Shahadat Hossain as perfect company in his rescue act, and they shared an invaluable 77 run partnership in the 9th wicket to keep India at bay. Shahadat scored a career best 31 off 55 balls with 5 boundaries.
It was Mortaza, who started the fight back as Bangladesh top order batsmen hurried to the pavilion with rash shots and poor judgments. He forced Indian think-tank to change the game plan as he was equally aggressive against both spinners and pace bowlers. He started with a huge hit over mid-wicket for maximum and continued his breathtaking display of shots to guide Bangladesh towards safety. In his career best 79 which is also his maiden half century in test cricket, Mortaza hammered seven boundaries and three huge sixes.
Earlier, India decided to bat on as play resumed after a frustrating wash-out on the third day. India failed to capitalize on the decision, as Bangladesh picked two quick wickets which forced India to declare at 387/8, adding only 3 runs with their overnight score.
Anil Kumble was ill and didn?t turn up to bat, and Zaheer Khan perished in the third ball he faced nicking Shahadat Hossain to wicketkeeper Khaled Mashud without disturbing the scoreboard. Dhoni followed immediately, as he tried force on a delivery off Mashrafe Mortaza that pitched just outside the off stump and Javed Omar took a simple catch at point.
Bangladesh made a stuttering start as they lost two quick wickets early on in their innings. Javed Omar was first to go, as he was adjudged LBW to a delivery that clearly pitched outside the leg stump. RP Singh was the lucky bowler to get the nod from umpire Billy Doctrove.
Captain Habibul Bashar added further misery to his batting form, and played a reckless shot to get himself out for a duck in the third ball he faced. Sachin Tendulkar took a nice reflex catch in the first slip as Bashar edged an away delivery off Zaheer Khan without moving his feet. After the dismissal of Bashar, Bangladesh tried to repair the damage and Shahriar Nafees shared a 27 run partnership with Rajin Saleh with ease. Unfortunately for Bangladesh, when things were looking good, Shahriar Nafees lost his cool and edged one straight delivery of Zaheer Khan to Tendulkar at first slip. Nafees, who scored 32 with two boundaries, was again guilty of playing away from the body.
The misery continued after lunch, newly appointed Bangladesh vice-captain, Mohammad Ashraful played a nothing shot, as he glided a delivery to gully to the safe hands of Dinesh Karthik., leaving Bangladesh tottering at 58-4. Debutant Shakib Al Hasan paired with Rajin Saleh and started to repair the innings with some positive but cautious stroke play. The pair shared a useful 56 run partnership before Indian bowlers picked them up. Shakib was first to go, a rising delivery from VRV Singh clipped the inside edge of his bat on to the stumps and Bangladesh middle order collapsed in a space of 7 overs. Saleh followed him almost immediately after making a polished 41, when he tried to cut a Ramesh Powar delivery against the spin, only finding Sourav Ganguly at point.
Bangladesh collapsed to 122/7 from 114/4, and follow on looked inevitable, as Khaled Mashud was unlucky to be given LBW to a delivery that would have missed leg stump, and also took a faint edge before hitting the pad. At that point India were on top, and expected to wrap Bangladesh innings within 150, Mashrafe Mortaza started his fight back.
At first, he shared a 27 run partnership with Mohammad Rafique to guide Bangladesh to close to the follow-on target, and then he formed the best partnership of the day with his new ball partner Shahadat Hossain. The pair played positive cricket shots all over the park and Indian attack looked ordinary for that part of the match. Indian skipper Rahul Dravid rotated his attack but failed to break the partnership.
Shahadat started slowly but started to cut loose as Bangladesh were approaching to the follow-on mark. A googly from Sachin Tendulkar returned him to the pavilion, but only after Bangladesh averted the follow-on. Mashrafe continued his stroke play after losing the partner and was finally denied by an over pitched delivery from RP Singh that kept low. Bangladesh were finally all-out for 238 conceding a 149 run deficit in the first innings.
The spirited performance of the Bangladeshi pacers with bat continued with ball, and Shahadat Hossain picked two quick wickets to reduce India to 6/2. Wasim Jaffer got a pair in the match as his mistimed pull shot found Habibul Bashar at mid-off and an acrobatic catch by Rajin Saleh returned Dravid to the pavilion.
Sachin Tendulkar and Dinesh Karthik prevented any further damage and India finished day 4 on 44 for 2, taking an overall lead of 193 runs. If weather permits a full days of play on fifth and final day, an exciting finish might be on the cards in Chittagong tomorrow.