Report By Neil Robinson 15/11/03
The welcome ruthless streak displayed by Michael Vaughan’s England side during their 2-0 demolition of Bangladesh in the Test series was further extended as they brought a successful tour to a close with a 3-0 clean sweep in the one-day internationals. The last thing a demoralised Bangladesh needed after their supine display in the second Test at Chittagong was to face an England side strengthened and refreshed by the return from injury of key men James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff, and indeed it was Flintoff who proved once more to be the pivotal figure in three impressive performances from the Englishmen. Miserly with the ball and showing an insatiable appetite for destruction with the bat to power his way to three unbeaten fifties, the Preston colossus bullied and bossed the overwhelmed Bangladeshis into submission and shot himself to the top of the one-day world rankings for all-rounders. There were plenty of other pleasing signs for England to take with them to Sri Lanka this week, but really it was as close as you could get to watching one man defeat eleven single-handedly.
In truth, there was little to distinguish the pattern of one game from the next. Each time Bangladesh batted first, found themselves restricted to a total well below par, perked up at the fall of one or two early wickets, then cowered and quailed at the sight of the awesome Flintoff striding out with the bat-swinging belligerence of Botham and unflappable inner-calm of Viv Richards. By the final match of the series, it would have surprised no-one if they had turned tail and fled at the very sight of him.
But it was Flintoff the bowler who earned the tourists’ first real stranglehold of the series with a fine spell of back-of-a-length discipline to take 4-14 in the first match at Chittagong. Having lost Nafis Iqbal to a slip catch off Anderson for 9, Hannan Sarkar and Habibul Bashar had taken the score on to 50 when Bashar edged a short ball from Flintoff to Read. It was the catalyst for a flurry of wickets in which a revitalised Ashley Giles also caused severe damage. Unable to score anything of Flintoff’s stock length, jittery whenever he dropped it shorter, and unsure of their footwork against Giles, the hosts lost 6 wickets for 16 runs in less time than it takes to return some of Flintoff’s bigger shots from the car park. Their recovery from 66 for 7 to 143 all out showed guts, but the cause was still hopeless.
Despite losing Solanki, Vaughan and Trescothick with only 55 on the board, England were always in control of the pursuit, and once Flintoff came out to join the improving Collingwood control became command. Flintoff thrilled with his strokeplay, Collingwood scurried and scampered before finishing things off with three consecutive square cut boundaries off Alok Kapali. It must have been tempting for England to think that there was little they could have done better, but fortunately, captain Vaughan was having none of it. Speaking after the match he said, “If I wanted to be ultra-critical, we had them at 66 for 7 and maybe we could have got them out for under a hundred.” A little more of that sort of thinking a few months back when Australia were seven down at Port Elizabeth and England might have had a very different World Cup.
A return to Dhaka for game two provided little respite for the hosts. Winning the toss and batting again, this time they lost their first four wickets for only seven runs and only a fourth wicket partnership of 53 between Rajin Saleh and Mushfiqur Rahman spared some of their blushes. All the England bowlers performed well, Flintoff again to the fore with a stingy 1-17, Anderson returning to something like his best with 2-17 and Richard Johnson weighing in with 3-22. Mohammad Rafique and Tapash Baisya managed to add an unbeaten 22 for the last wicket, but the final total of 134 for 9 was never going to trouble England.
All the same, the tourists did suffer a little wobble at the start of their innings when they found the ball nipping about a bit under the lights as the evening dew took hold. Some day soon, the ICC are going to have to concede that there are some circumstances in which floodlit cricket simply doesn’t work, perhaps the clearest example being three years ago when England and Pakistan managed to swallow virtually every airborne insect in the Punjab during one sweaty, unpleasant encounter. Losing Trescothick, Solanki and Collingwood, the last two to a fine spell from Tapash Baisya, England looked as if they might lose their nerve. They might well have done so had not the calm authority of Vaughan and the inevitability of Flintoff seen them through, or if Flintoff hadn’t been granted an extra life by an atrocious drop when he was just 25. Otherwise, his undefeated 70 was an object lesson in controlled and directed power.
There can have been few people outside the England dressing room who would have begrudged Bangladesh their slightly improved batting display in the final match at Dhaka. Recovering from the early loss of Moniruzzaman to a return catch from Anderson, only three of their batsmen failed to reach double figures. Sadly, a statement like that, in a match where their top scorer made 36, shows exactly how hopeless their situation has become in world cricket. Nevertheless, their total of 182 set England a target which might not have been entirely straightforward under lights. But no sooner did Bangladesh manage to up their game than England did too.
Despite losing Solanki to his third low score of the series, England raced to the target for the loss of just three wickets with more than ten overs to spare. Trescothick and Vaughan put on 61 for the second wicket, then Collingwood helped Trescothick put on another 36 for the third before again playing a supporting role in another beautifully balanced stand of 83 with Flintoff. Flintoff’s 52 not out took his aggregate from his last six ODIs to 284 for once out. During the course of it he powered past Ian Botham’s record of 44 sixes in ODIs for England, and in little more than half the number of games. Put that together with a combined bowling analysis from this series of 29.4- 9-63-7 and you have a man finally beginning to make the most of his wonderful ability.
England went into the final match of this series knowing that a far greater challenge in Sri Lanka lay less than a week ahead. Their comfortable 3-0 win will have given them great confidence for that, without tiring them out too much. The form of Flintoff and the rest of the bowlers will reassure them about their strength for the task ahead, as will the increasing assurance of Paul Collingwood in the middle-order, but they will know too that more must be forthcoming from the top three batsmen against stronger opposition. Both Vaughan and Trescothick played well enough here without really hitting their straps, but the wisdom of batting Vaughan at three has yet to be justified. Meanwhile, the fabulously talented Vikram Solanki has done himself no favours with three single-figure dismissals here and by the extravagant manner of each downfall. His place looks to be increasingly under threat from the impressive Middlesex captain Andrew Strauss.
Bangladesh, however, have a good three months in which to prepare themselves for their tour of Zimbabwe. The battle for Test cricket’s wooden spoon might seem to offer them their best hope for a long awaited win, but Zimbabwe’s recent good form against a resurgent West Indies would suggest that this is a forlorn hope. Yet to record their first Test win, they have also lost every completed ODI they have played since that famous shock defeat of Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup. Their spirit and willingness to improve are to be commended, and they are bound to make strides under such a shrewd coach as Dav Whatmore. But the fact remains that, with their Test status a reward for one victory at ODI level, if progress in the shorter form of the game is a suitable reason for gaining honours in the longer, the chance to become the 10th member of the Test club really should have gone to Kenya.
Game 1, Chittagong, 7/11/2003
Bangladesh 143 (44.4 overs) (Flintoff 4-14, Giles 3-29)
England 146 for 3 (25.3 overs) (Flintoff 55*, Collingwood 36*)
England won by 7 wickets
Game 2, Dhaka, 10/11/2003 (day/night)
Bangladesh 134 for 9 (Rajin Saleh 37, Johnson 3-22)
England 137 for 3 (Flintoff 70*, Vaughan 37*)
England won by 7 wickets
Game 3, Dhaka, 12/11/2003 (day/night)
Bangladesh 182 (49.1 overs) (Mushfiqur Rahman 36)
England 185 for 3 (39.3 overs) (Flintoff 52*, Trescothick 50, Collingwood 46*)
England won by 7 wickets
Man of the series (and of every match)