Mohammad Ashraful - Masterful Cricket Leads To Bangladesh Win Against South Africa
7th April, 11:30 pm IST: This innings had it all: pacing, authority, skill, art, precision, audacity, conquest of adversity and giant killing. Mohammad Ashraful of Bangladesh has arrived yet again and his sublime 87 in the Bangla-RSA Super Eight match is the most attractive innings of World Cup 2007 so far, or whatever I saw of it.
When Ashraful effortlessly glided Kallis' full delivery on leg stump to the mid wicket boundary to open his account no one would have imagined the adequately decent stroke to qualitatively rank second last in an innings studded with 12 boundaries. A streaky four over the keeper's head to a gloved pull, played typically too early in his innings by the outrageously impulsive talent, was all that his fans and detractors got to hold against him today. It was his second four, and then there were none below the 'breathtaking' mark.
Mohammad Ashraful played three picture perfect lobs over the head of short fine leg against fast bowlers' off stump deliveries, reminding one of Ravi Bopara's similar ice-cool four against Dilhara in that heart stopping final over in the very last World Cup match we saw. If some of Ashraful's boundaryward shots stunned you for their audacity, the others stole your heart with their pristine orthodoxy. Poetry and madness never co-existed better than in this little big knock from the Bangladeshi number five.
His innings was a lesson in middle order batsmanship of the highest order. The bowling monotony of South Africans, their biggest threat to a semi final spot, certainly helped him plan his final assault better but a good deal of homework and mental preparation for this formidable opposition showed in near-flawless execution of the varied choices he made over the innings.
Ashraful's Sophia Gardens heroics in 2005 helped his team turn a corner in the ODI's but over the 20-plus months since that match I had gone back to rating him as the second most wasteful batting talent of today's game, overshadowed only by the inexplicable tragedy of West Indian Ricardo Powell.
I mean, upon fair assessment of underachievement of potential at this moment Ashraful is expected to handsomely outrun Ramnaresh Sarwan, Mohammad Sami, Marlon Samuels and even Azhar Mahmood. But just like that 2005 innings against Australia this Ashraful special rekindles an anticipation of watching this exceptionally gifted batsman bloom into an aggressive yet consistent performer, a player quite like the Sachin Tendulkar of yore.
Oh - that reminds me of something that Barry Richards exclaimed at the commentary box when Ashraful played a bloody beauty of a lofted cover drive to Langevelt in the 49th over. "There was a bit of Sachin about it." Yeah Barry, we know which cric-tattoo was playing back on your mindscape as you said that. If you watched Sachin pile up those straight sixes off Mike Kasprowicz en route his twin tons at Sharjah'98 you will surely be reminded of him whenever a high quality right handed batsman plays a pulsating lofted drive to a medium pacer exhibiting exemplary bat trajectory.
Today Mohammad Ashraful gave his bowlers a platform to put a price tag on South Africa's semi final berth. He will have to keep leading the batting efforts of his team thus by notching up good knocks on these lines for the next decade or so. He looks so good whenever he bats without losing his head that his big scores almost always add to the self belief of his team and inspire them to noticeably greater heights.
When his time arrives Mohammad Ashraful can seriously be amongst the best batsmen on the planet. He has been endowed with great powers but as ole Spidey said, with great power comes great responsibility. Ashraful is the best player to have come out of Bangladesh till date and he needs to assume the lead responsibility in delivering his team from mediocrity to quality and so book a page in Bangladesh's cricketing history. But he can only chase that schoolboy dream AFTER he hauls himself to the lofty level he is blessed to attain, one where he can see any batsman of any international team eye to eye and feel equal with or superior to him.
From his varying batting slots, his effable manner and the delight he derives from his mates' achievements Ashraful looks the quintessential team man ready to fit himself into the larger gameplan. Consistency is the vital missing element in his brand of batsmanship and the ongoing high-class exposure at cricket's Big Event should teach him a few invaluable lessons in holding back his instincts during periods of play when the brain is better allowed to dominate the heart. He can have a chat with India's Sunil Gavaskar, Pakistan's Javed Miandad and Sri Lanka's Aravinda de Silva on how to go about his sacred mission.
Ashraful's transition will be helped significantly if Habibul Bashar, in his capacity as the Bangla captain, can borrow a few pages from Arjuna Ranatunga's amazing big fat book, for the latter had no mean contribution in Aravinda's transition from Mad Max to the Max Man, a key factor in the coming of age of Sri Lankan cricket during the 90's.
Update: Bangladesh beat South Africa by 67 runs. Yet another Ashraful-inspired win against an ODI superpower. That 'giant killing' bit from the first line is looking increasingly out of place with The Tigers.