Saturday, 26 February 2011

Shafiul secures Bangladesh vital victory

Mohammad Ashraful celebrated extravagantly after his wickets, Bangladesh v Ireland, World Cup 2011, Mirpur, February 25, 2010

Bangladesh's bowlers held their nerve to atone for the failures of their batsman, as the pluck of the Irish proved insufficient to overcome the most fervent atmosphere of the World Cup so far. In a gripping, low-scoring encounter at Mirpur, Bangladesh flirted with disaster as they squandered a flying start from

Tamim Iqbal to crash to 205 all out, and when Ireland reached 93 for 3 at the halfway mark of their reply, they were well on course for a hugely deserved victory. However, six wickets for the Bangladeshi spin quartet set the stage for a flying finish from Shafiul Islam, who claimed 4 for 21 in eight hostile and reverse-swinging overs, to seal a wildly acclaimed victory by 27 runs with five overs to spare.

The result was tough on the Irish who, like the Netherlands earlier in the week, gave the match their all and deserved a Test-playing scalp as their reward. But the belief and unity of the Bangladeshis had to be seen to be believed, as they dusted themselves down after a chastising performance with the bat, and set about defending their meagre total with skill, tenacity and some sublime commitment in the field. Mohammad Ashraful, whose mercurial batting once again let him down when the heat was on, proved a revelation with the ball, as his spin-bowling all-sorts picked up two vital wickets inside the first 19 overs, and whose subsequent celebrations imbued both his team-mates - and perhaps more crucially, a rammed and expectant Mirpur crowd - with belief.

There will be many higher-profile fixtures than this in the coming weeks, but few could prove as pivotal to the fortunes of two teams who exceeded expectations four years ago in reaching the Super Eights in the Caribbean. Ireland's hopes of playing in the 2015 tournament hinge on their ability to produce this sort of performance in each of their next five matches, to convince the ICC that they deserve their place at the top table. But more immediately, Bangladesh's victory gives them a real chance of pushing for a quarter-final place that their form in home internationals suggests could be attainable.

After winning the toss and choosing to bat, Bangladesh started the match with the same aplomb with which they finished, bringing their fans to their feet in a thrilling first four overs, in which Tamim's blistering volley of strokeplay lifted the score to an imposing 41 for 0. However, Ireland are a more resourceful side than meets the eye, and the early decision to reduce the pace on the ball slowly but surely changed the tide of the contest. Trent Johnston and John Mooney drew the sting of the innings with their unrelenting line and length, but it was left to the teenaged spinner George Dockrell to inflict the telling blows.

Dockrell twirled straight through his ten overs, claiming 2 for 23 with a performance brimful of guile. His agonisingly slow pace through the air left all the batsmen groping in their defences, scared of taking on the long straight boundary for fear of being beaten in flight, and his two dismissals were carbon-copies of one another - a crease-bound Mushfiqur Rahim paddle-swept to Andrew White at short backward leg to end a doughty innings of 36, before Ashraful followed suit for 1 in the very next over.

Ireland's commitment in the field was unstinting. Ed Joyce and White pulled off a direct-hit run-out apiece, the first to remove Junaid Siddique for 3 - a dismissal which undermined Bangladesh's early momentum following the loss of the opener Imrul Kayes to an expert leg-side stumping from Niall O'Brien - and the latter to extract Raqibul Hasan for 38, at precisely the moment he looked set to guide the tail to a comfortable 200-plus total. But the one telling shortcoming was the performance of their quickest bowler, Boyd Rankin. His nine overs went for 62 - the most expensive analysis of the day - including a poor final over that went for 11.

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