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Thursday, 03 January 2008

Bangladesh In search of Test inspirationDUNEDIN: Each of the five destinations the Bangladesh team have traveled to on this tour so far have been different in character. In the penultimate leg of their journey the Tigers find themselves in New Zealand’s heritage city.

When the team arrived here yesterday after a 5-hour hop on bus across more fascinating landscapes it was the eerily quiet streets, closed shops and restaurants and a gloomy cloud cover that first met the eyes. This was quite a contrast to Queenstown where holidaying revelers had kept the town abuzz with energy.

Dunedin has that unmistakable British touch, Scottish to be more precise due to the influence of the settlers who started coming here in search of gold in the middle of 19th century. Victorian and Edwardian architectural marvels abound this city of 123,000 and many of these heritage sites are within walking distance of the Bangladesh team’s hotel which is in the city centre. The weather at the moment is a pleasant 14-16 degrees but the ‘English’ drizzle from time to time just keeps you on the edge.

The barrenness of the city can be explained by the fact that one fifth of Dunedin’s population is not in these days and they do not return until February. This is also the university capital of New Zealand and house some 25,000 students who form the heart of Dunedin’s active lifestyle. When they are away during the holiday season the city literally sleeps.

The colour of cricket has also changed for the tourists. The white balls have been packed and put away and replaced by the red ones in training. In a day’s time the Bangladesh players will put on the whites to appear in the country’s 50th Test and it will be another very hard test of their mettle.

“My New Year’s resolution revolves around seeing the team better its Test record and become more competitive in this form of the game. It’s fair to admit that we haven’t improved as expected in Tests in the last eight years,” said captain Mohammad Ashraful. Four draws and a solitary win in 49 appearances is reason enough for Ashraful’s anxiety to get a move on.

Ashraful and his mates had their first look at the University Oval this afternoon. As far as scenic ambiences go this ground located at Logan Park should rank right up there among the top few. It is nothing like the contemporary cricket arenas that are being erected around the world and rather a throw back to the age of the game’s romantics, quite interesting considering the fact that it will hold its opening Test come Friday as New Zealand Cricket breaks away from the traditional venue Carisbrook which will be one of stadiums for the next Rugby World Cup.

With the historic grandstand at the southern end that has the members area, the Otago Cricket Association and the University of Otago Rugby Football Club offices, the players’ changing rooms and a gallery for spectators it is a small, homely venue and two lush embankments shaded by tall trees lined up are a sight straight from the British village greens.
Owned by the Dunedin City Council the Oval was originally the University of Otago’s but ownership was transferred to the Council when a redevelopment programme was completed in the early 2000s. Now it is the home of both the Otago Cricket Association and the University of Otago Rugby Football Club and also used as a training base for the Highlanders Rugby Football team.

The facilities here conform to all international requirements. A media complex is situated at the northern end of the ground and it also has an electronic scoreboard, players’ viewing areas, medical room, kitchens, umpires’ rooms, canteen and shop, media rooms and storage rooms. The practice area, a full-fledged cricket ground itself, is adjacent to the main venue and well equipped to handle the necessities of international teams.

Recently however, the Oval made headlines for the wrong reasons. The ground hosted a State Championship first class match between Otago and Auckland that finished within two days as 34 wickets tumbled in no time with the pace bowlers having a ball. Naturally there will be concerns until the first day had passed about whether a suitable pitch had been prepared since based on a review by New Zealand Cricket and recommendations on how the curators could ensure the ground was ready for its first Test.

If the practice wickets offered any hints the pitch might aid the seam bowlers a little more than Hamilton, Auckland, Napier and Queenstown. The Bangladeshi batsmen concentrated on getting the balance between stroke-playing and leaving the balls and with the Mashrafe Mortaza and Sajedul Islam in particular swinging the ball both ways and the one-day habits popping out of the blue every now and then, the task wasn’t easy.

“Today it was more a case of getting used to the wicket and playing out the deliveries. The ball tends to stop a little and doesn’t come on to the bat at pace. Playing in the V is probably a better option on this wicket,” said Shahriar Nafees Ahmed, one of the three players to have flown in as reinforcement for the Test side.

The tourists would surely be facing a barrage of short-pitched deliveries also and Habibul Bashar, with a reputation to uphold as an accomplished player of the short ball, knows that all too well.

“You can’t help it if they keep bowling short. You smack it if you can or you leave it alone, that’s my philosophy. But I guess the balls pitched up are more difficult to face than the short ones,” said Bashar.

Bangladesh seek inspiration, especially after the dreadful capitulation at Queenstown and it is time for some people to stand up and be counted. The first Test just might be the most important examination of the Tigers’ inner strength in a while.

Source: Tigercricket.com 

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