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May 21, 1999

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Windies roll over Bangladesh

Prem Panicker

On a cold, blustery morning in Dublin, Bangladesh skipper Aminul Islam won the toss and elected for first strike against West Indies. A surprising decision? Surprising, yes -- but mainly because it revealed an unlooked-for shrewdness from the skipper of a team labelled the minnows of the competition. Islam reckoned that though there might be a bit of life early, the pitch looked the kind to play slower and lower as the game progressed, and as events showed, he got it dead right.

Bangladesh made 182 and set the Windies 183 to win -- a total redolent of history for the West Indies, dating back to the 1983 final at Lord's against India. To get there, the West Indies took all of 46.3 overs -- indication enough that free strokeplay was not particularly easy, and underlining the logic of Islam's insertion.

Had Bangladesh planned its innings better, they could in fact have caused some severe embarassment to the fancied opponents. Bad batting, more than good bowling, saw the backs of Shahryar Hossain, Akram Khan, Aminul Islam and Minajul Abedin. During this phase, the West Indies bowlers, like the curate's egg, were good only in patches -- there were the odd unplayable deliveries which you expect when the likes of Walsh and Dillon are bowling, but there were also a large proportion of extras (25 wides and 5 no balls speaking of an indisciplined bowling performance).

Where the Bangla batsmen failed, especially early on, was in the mind. It was apparent from their play that they had psyched themselves into expecting a fearsome barrage from the Windies quicks, even though Ambrose was being rested, Hendy Bryan making his debut in his place. With this thought in the forefront of their minds, they played predominantly off the back foot even when the length was full, and thus caused problems for themselves. This also meant that when the Windies quicks erred -- and they erred in length and line often enough -- the batsmen were in no position to take advantage.

Mehrab Hossain was the exception. A very compact player, who gets nicely behind the line and doesn't shrink from anything quick. However, with wickets going down at the other end, he went into a shell of sorts, failing to take singles and more than anything else, it was this static nature of the innings that hurt Bangladesh in the end. It was only when Naimur Rehman came in at the fall of the fourth wicket that matters improved. Naimur believes in hitting the ball hard and hitting it often, and his advent got Mehrab's adrenalin pumping as well.

Their batting, with support from Kahled Mahmud, meant that the Bangladesh innings picked up momentum towards the end. Aided and abetted by Hendy Bryan (who appeared incapable of bowling anywhere within range of the stumps, committing the ultimate solecism of being repeatedly wided on the off side) and Phil Simmons, Bangladesh put up a decent total of 182 in their allotted overs.

However, given the way the Windies bowled and fielded on the day -- we counted three direct, straight to the hand, catches going down, and numerous misfields that cost the side a good 20, 30 runs extra -- Bangladesh should have been looking to go over 220, which would have really challenged the West Indies batting lineup.

As it turned out, even 182 was enough to have the one time champions sweating. Hasibul Hussain the right arm medium pacer and Manjural Islam the left arm opening bowler were very impressive in their first outing. Here, they kept up that form -- their big plus being an ability to stay on length and line, over after over, and produce movement off the seam and in the air.

Run scoring thus was a struggle, the Windies managing only 60-odd in 20 overs against the incisive attack and very committed fielding. Campbell and Jacobs both looked to be hitting at the ball too early, and getting increasingly frustrated as the ball wasn't coming on to the bat for their brand of strokeplay.

Both openers got runs under their belt, but theirs were essentially laboured efforts, the odd clean strokes being negated by lots of mighty -- and mightily unproductive -- heaves. Adams, however, looked good the moment he came in -- his off and cover driving, when he is in form, is the best part of his game and he was on song in that department here. And Lara, as in the previous game, seemed intent on finishing things off in a rush, stroking beautifully, seemingly impervious to the slowness of the track, till a hasty off drive at a ball not in the slot put the ball down the throat of mid off.

Chanderpaul and Adams guided the team home, with 3.3 overs to go. Bangladesh bowlers did their best, but where they are hurting is the lack of adequate support for the frontline seamers. Barring Khaled Mahmud who bowls first change, the other bowlers are spinners -- not quite the right prescription for these conditions. Another seamer as good as the lead pair, and this team could, on the field, give some heartaches to higher fancied opponents.

The West Indies finally put some points on the board, but the manner in which they managed it doesn't raise much confidence of the team's ability to go beyond the preliminary phase. Australia and New Zealand loom large in their group, which coupled with the loss to Pakistan mean they have a real job on their hands. The key to their further progress will, judging by indications thus far, lie in two factors -- the bowling of Walsh and Ambrose, and the batting of Lara. If the latter can fire -- and more importantly, find some hitherto hidden vein of patience -- then the erstwhile champions have a chance..

Will he fire?

I suspect that is a question even Lara can't answer, not till he actually goes out there and does it.


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