News by Neil Robinson 08/06/2005
As at Lordís, so at the Riverside. Bangladeshís second humiliation at the hands of England proceeded much as the first had, with the hosts forcing an innings victory just 17 minutes into the third day. An improved bowling performance from England had left Bangladesh facing an even stiffer task in avoiding a two-day defeat, and the inexperienced tourists can take considerable pride in the resistance they put up to take the game into a third day, Javed Omar, Habibul Bashar and Aftab Ahmed all passing 50. But the fact that simply avoiding defeat in two days while still going down by an innings can be counted as some form of success shows the true gulf between the sides, a gulf greater than ought to be compatible with Test status.
The true measure of the match could be seen in Englandís batting, especially that of Marcus Trescothick and Ian Bell, both of whom batted with utter disdain for the bowling once they passed 100. Trescothick hit out in a way more suited to an exhibition game where hogging the crease for too long might be considered selfish, strokes which would have been outrageous against any other first-class opposition lighting up the first day. Bell and Graham Thorpe, neither regarded as a big hitter, smashed 178 in the morning session on the second day, Bell himself scoring more than a hundred in the session, matching Trescothickís achievement the day before.
The use of the term ďfirst-classĒ in the previous paragraph is certainly misleading, for while runs scored against the Bangladesh attack might count in the first-class averages, the term itself is not an adequate description of the touristsí bowling. The 178 plundered by Bell and Thorpe came largely from long hops sent down by mdeium paced bowlers with little idea of line and length, and Bellís nascent Test average of 297 ought to be placed in the context of a similar average boasted by South Africaís Jacques Rudolph when he arrived in England two years ago after a debut series against Bangladesh. Rudolph went on to have a poor series, and while Bell appears to have all the attributes necessary for a long Test career, no-one is reading too much into his current record.
It is only fair to Bangladesh to point out that they coped better with the England attack and English conditions in their final innings of the series. It does not necessarily justify their status, but their capacity to learn and adapt to foreign conditions must be the basis for their future planning. More tours away from the comfort of their own patch must be arranged, and they should not worry too much whether Test matches are a part of the itinerary.
What England can take from this series is more debatable. It is unlikely that the players have experienced a higher standard of cricket than they would have done had they stayed with their counties over the last two weeks, quite the reverse. But the series may have had a function in generating team morale for the long summer ahead, and formulating their strategies for taking on Australia. The debate over Kevin Pietersen will no doubt rage again once the one-day series begins, but for now it looks as though Englandís team for the first Ashes Test at Lordís on July 21st will show only one change from this side, assuming Ashley Giles recovers from his hip injury in time to reclaim his place from Gareth Batty. The surprising news that Graham Thorpe is to play in New South Wales next winter does not look as though it will affect his place in the team. The sight of a Thorpe unfocused and uncommitted is a familiar one to English cricket fans, it has not been seen in this series, and his new role at short leg, where he has claimed a couple of fine catches, solves the problem of hiding him in the field.
So, how much can be read into Englandís performances in this series? Not much. It is hard to award much value to runs scored against such a toothless attack, but it was pleasing to see the increasing fluency and judgement displayed by Michael Vaughan as the two matches wore on. Wicket-keeper Geraint Jonesís glovework was much improved and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff is fit and firing well. In the first innings here Steve Harmison bowled near his best to take 5-38, but it was the sight of Simon Jones which inspired the most hope.
Almost every series since his return from the terrible knee injury suffered at Brisbane has seen some slight change in Jonesís action, but now he looks like the finished article. The old ambling approach to the wicket has gone, replaced by a straight, rhythmical run-up which brings him into an explosive delivery stride close to the stumps. The arm comes over high and fast and the end result is accurate off-stump bowling with regular late outswing. That, combined with his established command of reverse swing with the old ball, could make him a formidable opponent during the Ashes
Were it not for the worry over Giles, England would, I am sure, like to go straight into the Ashes series without delay. All the pieces are in place, form and confidence are good, and their chances are higher than at any time since 1987. Instead we have the distraction of six weeks of one-day cricket, a form of the game at which England have much more ground to make up if they are to challenge Australia. Much of the psychological battle could be won by Australia before the Ashes even start. As for Bangladeshís part in the affair, bearing in mind their record of just two vicories over Zimbabwe since their remarkable win against Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup, they are unlikely to distract the two main players for long.
Bangladesh 104 (Harmison 5-38) & 316 (Javed Omar 71, Habibul Bashar 63, Aftab Ahmed 82*, Hoggard, 5-73)
England 447 for 3 (Trescothick 151, Vaughan 44, Bell 162*, Thorpe 66*)
England won by an innings and 27 runs.
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