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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 08:25 GMT
Ashraful poised to reap his potential
By Oliver Brett

Mohammad Ashraful
Mohammad Ashraful has a phenomenal talent for the game

More than three years have passed since a young lad just past his 17th birthday took on a top Sri Lankan side in Colombo in his debut Test match to devastating effect.

He scored a brilliant century, dancing down the track on numerous occasions to the spinners, who included the celebrated Muttiah Muralitharan.

It barely needs to be said that the innings was in a losing cause, because the batsman in question was a Bangladeshi.

But the name Mohammad Ashraful had registered firmly in the conscience of cricket observers.

Finally, 22 Test matches later, he has his second century with his 158 not out against India in Chittagong, an innings described by opposing captain Sourav Ganguly as "one of the best Test knocks I've seen".

In the process, Ashraful registered the highest score ever by a Bangladeshi in Tests.

Clearly, he was not mature in 2001 but he was good, of that there was no doubt.

And it now seems remarkable that he was temporarily out of the side in 2003 early in Dav Whatmore's reign as coach.

Whatmore could argue that his decision has been justified, that after his period on the sidelines Ashraful has returned as a more mature individual.

But when he did drop the wiry little right-hander, he obviously was not thinking of the words of one of his predecessors as coach, Trevor Chappell.

Mohammad Ashraful
Sachin suggested that I should not curb my natural game
Mohammad Ashraful

"His determination, commitment and attention to detail would put a mature and an established person to shame," said the hard-nosed Australian after Ashraful's Colombo century.

"The manner he concentrates on his batting made me believe that the lad is destined to have a long cricketing journey."

He still could have a fine career in the game, and surely now he will be told not to worry about his place in the side.

Clearly, he is dedicated to the game, even if there have been times when, in common with many other Bangladesh batsmen, he has needlessly thrown away his wicket.

The Ashraful dedication was first apparent in the youth World Cup in 2000.

The youngster was laughed at by some of the local scorers after he told them he did not know what he would do if he failed to make the grade as a cricketer.

But Ashraful was made of stern stuff and the insults made him only more determined.

It appears that he has picked up a tip from Sachin Tendulkar, which ironically may mean he continues to frustrate on occasion.

"Sachin suggested that I should not curb my natural game and always play positive," said Ashraful, who is about the same height as Tendulkar, although far slighter of build.

The next opposition on the table for his team are Zimbabwe, whose bowlers presently provide rather less penetration than India's.

After his 158 not out on Sunday, he said in a statement that revealed his confidence is not in short supply: "Another century may come in the first innings of the next Test because I am mature enough now."

Bangladesh captain Habibul Bashar, for long the leading light in his team's notoriously fragile batting order, now concedes Ashraful is the team's best batsman.

That's not a bad accolade for a kid who was first picked for his country as an extra spin bowler.

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