Born on September 8, 2001, Mohammad Ashraful — a 17-year-old prodigy displayed his precocious talent by scoring a century on Test debut for Bangladesh. In the process, he also became the youngest centurion in the history of Test cricket and wrote his name in the record books. Sarang Bhalerao looks back at the day Ashraful announced his arrival.
It all started with a dream — which was about Brian Lara’s epic 375. What the dreamer also saw was himself scoring a century. Innocently, the 17-year-old went up to his captain and told him about the dream. What Bangladesh captain Naimur Rehman told the young Mohammad Ashraful was to play positively and achieve this dream. And yes, dreams do come true!
At the Asian Test championship in 2001, Bangladesh were the proverbial David against the Goliaths — Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh suffered an innings defeat against Pakistan. Against Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) Ground, Colombo, the hosts were expected to win when the game began on September 6. The events of Day One were disappointing for Bangladesh. In a matter of 36.4 overs, Bangladesh meekly surrendered to the might of the Sri Lankans and amassed only 90 runs. The top-scorer was teenager Ashraful with 26 runs. It was a walk in the park for the smiling assassin Muttiah Muralitharan who snared five for only 13.
Leather chasing awaited Bangladesh. The Sri Lankan batsmen made merry. At the end of Day One, Sri Lanka scored 246 for the loss of Sanath Jayasuriya — who scored a scintillating 56 balls 89. He batted in the fifth gear right from the outset. Marvan Atapattu was unbeaten on 99 while Kumar Sangakkara was batting on 49. The lead of 156 on the first day emphasised the huge gulf between the two teams.
On Day Two, Sangakkara fell for 56. But that was hardly any respite for the Bangladesh bowlers. At No 4, Mahela Jayawardene started playing his shots — some elegant, some brutal. The lead was growing with each passing minute. Jayawardene took 115 balls to score 150. Atapattu scored 201 and he was piling on the agony, but against the run of play he was called back by his captain Jayasuriya. For the first time in 124 years, a batsman was “retired out“. Reminiscing about it later, Atapattu was quoted saying to ESPNCricinfo: “There was the chance to get a 300, but didn’t realize how important it can be after a couple of years. When Bangladesh improve it wouldn’t look as bad as it looks now. We never thought about it and I definitely missed a chance there.”
At 555 for five, Sri Lanka had had enough. The Test match so far had been a cul de sac. Bangladesh were already trailing by 465 runs and it was only Day Two. Bangladesh lost four wickets before stumps on Day Two. So far, there was no streak of inspiration for them. But one man was batting on four at stumps on Day Two. Fate had scripted something special for him. Ashraful, at 17, was going to be cynosure of all eyes.
A world record
Muralitharan bamboozling the batsman was not a rare sight in international cricket. But what was rarerly seen was someone dominating him, not just in terms of hitting him all-round the park but also playing him confidently. Ashraful was positive against Muralitharan. He used his feet adroitly; the deliveries bowled by the champion off-spinner were being picked from the hand. The length ball was either slog-swept or driven with élan. The practitioner of the art was a tyro giving a tough fight to the master. It made sport look glorious. The short ball was either cut ferociously or he had executed it so late, only to show his deft touch.
When asked about the secret of success against the champion off-spinner, Ashraful told ESPNCricinfo: “I have practiced against a bowler with a Muralitharan-like straighter ball back home and I had no trouble picking him.” Such was his confidence and foresight. It was truly commendable.
According to Ashraful’s passport he was a few days shy of his 17th birthday, so scoring a century was an incredible feat. But later there was confirmation that Ashraful’s birthday was not on September 9 but it was July 7. Nevertheless, when Ashraful got to his century he displaced Pakistan’s Mushtaq Mohammad from the top. Mushtaq had scored a century at 17 years and 81 days against India in Delhi in 1961-62. Ashraful beat him by 18 days. Not only that, but he also broke Zimbabwean Hamilton Masakadza’s record of the youngest to score a century on Test debut. Masakadza enjoyed the milestone for a little over a month as he notched his ton on July 29 against the West Indies. He was 17 years and 354 days old.
Ashraful’s stay of over four hours ended when he was dismissed for 114, caught and bowled by Ruchira Parera. Bangladesh folded up soon. Ashraful century was the lone consolation in what was a disastrous performance for the tourists. They lost the game by an innings and 137 runs.
Captain Naimur said after that he had the gut feeling that the match would belong to Ashraful. Boy, didn’t the teenager vindicate captain’s confidence. Naimur said “I always thought this was going to be his match, but Ashraful’s innings was extraordinary – he played liked an experienced champion.”
Bangladesh were still novices in Test cricket and were learning every day. What Bangladesh learnt was they had huge chunks of talent. It was just a matter of time they channelised their potential at the stage where they were akin to toddlers. Ashraful’s exploits were a step in the right direction.
Although Bangladesh lost, they discovered Ashraful — the promise shown made everyone believe that he would be the torchbearer of country’s batting line up. The career did not go as per expected lines. That’s another compelling case study, but what happened in Colombo on Day Three was a high point in Bangladesh cricket history.
A star was just born.
Bangladesh 90 (Muttiah Muralitharan 5 for 13, Chaminda Vaas 3 for 47) and 328 (Mohammad Ashraful 114; Muttiah Muralitharan 5 for 98, Ruchira Parera 3 for 40) lost to Sri Lanka 555 for 5 decl. (Marvan Atapattu 201, Mahela Jayawardene 150) by an innings and 137 runs.
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)