Op-Ed

Tigers in the new era
Mohammad Isam
24 Jul,2015

For several years, Bangladesh batsmen struggled against the short ball. Then, one day, Soumya Sarkar ramped a bouncer over the keeper's head and forever changed the definition of Bangladesh's periscope.

In the sixth over of Bangladesh's 302-run chase, Al Sahariar turned his back on a Makhaya Ntini bouncer with his bat hanging out vertically. The ball struck the bat and spooned up. Jacques Kallis ran back from slip to complete a superb one-handed diving catch. Bangladesh were 12 for 2, slipped to 43 for 6, and ended up losing by 168 runs.

Commentators described Sahariar's dangling bat over his head as a "periscope". At the time, Bangladesh were not even into their second year as a Test-playing nation, their progress emanating suspicion. Handling the short ball was a prerequisite to playing against top teams, but despite high-billing locally, many like Sahariar were at sea. His dismissal in Potchefstroom symbolised inadequacy.

Thirteen years later, in their third tour of Bangladesh, South Africa encountered another periscope. This time it was Soumya Sarkar's dangling bat, but unlike Sahariar's periscope, this was deliberate. On Wednesday in the third ODI, Soumya was on 67 in the 19th over when he leaned back and ramped a Kyle Abbott bouncer high over the head of wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, landing just short of the rope. Soumya's periscope symbolised Bangladesh's audacity.

It was not even the first time he had tried the shot. In the second T20, Soumya attempted it against same bowler but failed to connect. The following day, the ICC tweeted a photo of the shot: "MS Dhoni's renowned for 'the helicopter' - will Soumya Sarkar be renowned for 'the periscope'? #ShotOfTheDay"

 


The shot seems to be born out of his dismissal against England in the World Cup. Off a Chris Jordan bouncer, Soumya ducked poorly and gloved the ball to the wicketkeeper, ending a promising 40. In the third ODI against Pakistan, he tried the shot for the first time, against Wahab Riaz. He missed an attempted ramp against a 141kph delivery. He tried it a second time against India, in the first ODI. The bowler, Mohit Sharma, bumped one at him from around the wicket and without flinching, Soumya tipped it over MS Dhoni's head to reach 50.

After Wednesday's game against South Africa, Soumya said it made him happy that the shot now has a name, and that it is associated with him.

"I think the ICC gave the name to that shot," Soumya said. "I just play it to the right delivery. But I made that six. It actually feels good to know that a shot I played has been given a name. I don't think many people know it, but when they do, it would feel better."

It is not the only perception about Bangladesh that has changed in Soumya's generation. Scrutinised for not capitalising on starts in his first eight months in international cricket, Soumya made it a point to remain unbeaten in the second ODI. He was close in the third ODI too, giving a soft catch to cover with 16 runs left to chase. Tamim Iqbal was also not out, for the third time in 80 innings batting second for Bangladesh. Soumya has done it twice in three innings and said he would have been happy to finish the chase himself.

"There is happiness but I am feeling a little bad as I could not finish the game by being not out. It isn't about the century, but it would have been great to win by 10 wickets. Hundreds will come later but a win by that margin would have been great," he said.

When asked what he would like to achieve in his career, the answer was another reminder of how much the perception of Bangladesh cricketers had changed over the years. It may sound a far-fetched statement, but Soumya said he wanted big teams to play more regularly against Bangladesh.

"I have heard that bigger teams didn't want to play against Bangladesh. I don't know where Bangladesh want to go, but I would like all teams want to play against Bangladesh, in any format. I want them to invite us more regularly."

It would be unwise to place too much emphasis on what he is saying about finishing chases and a better tour programme. He is young and has not even completed one year in international cricket. But through the expression of his natural ability on the field, Soumya reflects the changing times in Bangladesh cricket.

He can earn full credit for changing the definition of Bangladesh's periscope.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent.

-ESPNcricinfo