Report by Neil Robinson 25/10/03
A determined performance from an improving Bangladesh side forced England to work hard for victory in the opening encounter of this short, two Test series. Showing great spirit and an increasing awareness of the necessities of 5-day cricket, at one point the hosts even looked as if they might inflict an embarrassing defeat upon their illustrious visitors to claim a famous maiden Test scalp.
After restricting England to 295, the lowest score by a Test side visiting Bangladesh, they ended the fourth day with a lead of 153 with four second innings wickets in hand, their opponents tired, frustrated and not a little puzzled. All seemed set for a momentous final day, but in the end professionalism and experience pulled the tourists through. Fine new ball bowling from Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard swept up the Bangladeshi tail with little resistance early on the final morning, before an innings of increasing assurance and vibrancy from captain Michael Vaughan saw England home with seven wickets in hand and time to spare.
In some ways it would be understandable if England had gone into this series thinking that their most difficult opponent might be the weather. Arriving in the country amid the sort of cloudburst which would have made Noah’s Ark a more appropriate vehicle for the journey to the ground than the team bus, only to find the downpour described in the local press the next day as “drizzle”, their early preparations were hit hard by the local climate. The first day of this game also seemed to presage a frustrating series of cloud-watching for the tourists, only four overs being possible before another deluge forced the teams off the pitch. When they returned in late afternoon, only another eleven overs were bowled before the light closed in, but even in that short time Bangladesh found themselves hit by two blows from the ever improving Harmison, Javed Omar and Habibul Bashar both falling to vicious lifters from the tall Durham paceman.
England found the weather more welcoming on day 2, but the home batsmen less so. Nevertheless, two wickets still fell within the first hour, Hannan Sarkar bowled by Hoggard and Rajin Saleh caught behind off Harmison. With both Jimmy Anderson and Andrew Flintoff missing this series through injury, England desperately needed Harmison and Hoggard to gel quickly into a formidable new ball pairing. This was a good start, but with a slow, low pitch and high heat and humidity, there were bound to be long periods when England’s new spearhead was resting or rendered less effective by the conditions. Against Bangladeshi batsmen for whom safety was clearly the first, last and every other priority, England’s back-up bowlers now found the going tough.
Bangladesh have made progress under the experienced eye of coach Dav Whatmore, not least in learning how to bat for time rather than runs. One day, they may even learn to combine the two. But, for now, the yawn-inducing partnership of 60 between Mushfiqur Rahman and Khaled Mashud, which held up England for a full 35 overs after Gareth Batty had removed Alok Kapali with his third ball in Test Cricket, was just what the hosts needed. It was also just the tonic needed by insomniacs struggling to kip in the fierce Bengali humidity, producing a strange combination of lassitude and pride in the watching locals.
In the end, the ageing ball and dry wicket produced sufficient reverse swing for Hoggard to return and trap Rahman lbw. At 132 for 6, England scented a breakthrough, but the home fans still had more to celebrate, captain Mashud bringing up a well-received 50 before he too fell lbw to England’s other debutant, Rikki Clarke, while the screams of joy which greeted the three sixes struck by Mohammad Rafique in his lively 32 could hardly have been louder had they won the match. In the end, the hosts nudged their way to a semi-respectable 203 by the time Harmison returned with the new ball to blast through the tail and claim his first 5-wicket haul for his country.
England finished the day well on the way to a big score at 111 for 0, Marcus Trescothick in particular treating the home bowlers with disdain and striking several brutal boundaries. But they failed to capitalize on this healthy situation on day 3. The opening partnership had moved smoothly enough to 137 when Vaughan, who had spent 35 balls stuck on 1 the previous evening, chose the wrong ball to sweep at and was yorked by Rafique. A leaden-footed Mark Butcher was trapped half forward for a duck by Rahman who then found the edge of Nasser Hussain’s bat in his next over. England had lost 3 wickets for 3 runs.
Graham Thorpe steadied the ship with Trescothick for a while and Trescothick brought up his second consecutive Test century, but this was not to be a repeat of their mammoth stand at The Oval less than two months ago. With the score at 175, Trescothick mis-hit a slog-sweep off the 16 year-old Enamul Haq straight to square-leg. Thereafter there was little to come from England’s batting. Clarke played a quiet cameo of 14 on debut, Read perished for 1, Batty and Giles stuck around for 19 apiece, then Thorpe’s old nemesis, his own failure to concentrate when he seems on top, came back to haunt him in the shape of a surprising short ball from the medium paced Mashrafe Mortaza just before tea.
To their credit, Bangladesh had showed just as much discipline with ball as with bat. Their seamers had persevered with a good line, their young spinners Rafique and Enamul Haq had tested England’s batsmen with flight and turn. But if England’s total was some way below expectations, they still had a lead of 92, a healthy advantage given the gulf in experience and talent between the teams. When Bangladesh came out to bat again, this lead soon looked decisive. Opener Javed Omar was absent through illness and his replacement, Rajin Saleh soon fell victim to the dreadful bounce obtained by Harmison. With England’s pace attack fired up, Bangladesh looked to be in danger of losing more quick wickets. But, in failing light, their reprieve came in the unlikely form of a power cut which affected the floodlights and no other electrical device on the ground. The tourists rightly refused to give credence to any close-of-play suggestions of mischief, but their frustration was plain to see.
It got worse on day 4. Sarkar and Bashar assembled an attractive second wicket partnership of 108, filled with wristy flicks and darted singles against an England attack which lacked the bite of earlier sessions. Harmison, troubled by a sore hip, failed to find his rhythm and bowled too many short balls which the diminutive batsmen managed to avoid with ease. England’s spin attack of Batty and Giles could not extract any life from the slow pitch and posed a lesser threat than their Bangladeshi counterparts. That said, both claimed a wicket in the end, Batty ending Bashar’s resistance with a looping delivery which the disappointed batsman could only edge to slip, Giles, who had reverted to his old over-the-wicket tactic, forcing Khaled Mashud to prod to silly point.
Bangladesh’s second innings was a similar affair to their first, long periods of resistance causing England’s bowlers to scratch their heads and kick the dust in frustration. But the home side have not yet learned how to turn a good start into a match-winning knock and yet again their leading batsmen fell soon after passing fifty. Sarkar and Bashar did well to occupy the crease for 205 and 153 minutes respectively, but their returns of 59 and 58 should have been more. In fact, only two of Bangladesh’s batsmen failed to last an hour on the fourth day, Alok Kapali falling to a mis-hit pull of Harmison for 12 after 20 minutes, Khaled Mashud battling 50 minutes for 7 before his dismissal at the hands of Ashley Giles. In an endurance test for both batsmen and bowlers, most credit should go to Matthew Hoggard, who continued to charge in irrespective of heat, dust, a wearing ball and a wearying workload, and to Mushfiqur Rahman who stuck to the crease like a cockroach to a glue -trap. To his long vigil, which took him to an undefeated 43 from 149 balls by the close, Bangladesh owed their position of strength going into the final day.
Sadly, for them, it was not to last. Only three runs had been added to their overnight 245 for 6 when Harmison, charging in with renewed vigour, produced a full, straight delivery which struck Khaled Mahmud in front of middle stump. Soon afterwards, the tall paceman found Rafique’s edge and Read took a good low catch. It was Harmison’s 9th wicket of the match, and he must surely have claimed a 10 wicket haul if Hoggard had not wrapped up the innings at the other end before he got the chance. It was a classic one-two which did it, an away-swinger to claim Mashrafe Mortaza at slip, then a sharp nip-backer which trapped Enamul Haq plumb in front. With ruthless efficiency, England had finished off the hosts in 42 minutes at a cost of just 10 runs. Rahman remained undefeated on 46.
All thoughts of humiliation now banished, England needed just 164 to win from 93 overs. An openeing partnership worth 64 set them well on the way before Trescothick was stumped giving Rafique the charge. Butcher and Hussain fell cheaply again, Butcher perhaps unlucky with a ball which kept low, but by now Vaughan was in full flow and on his way to his highest score as England captain. A handsome pull off Rahman was the first of 12 classical boundaries which took him to an unbeaten 81 and, perhaps, an improved run of form. Thorpe stood firm for 18 not out.
The game ended as many would have expected it to proceed from beginning to end, with England rampant and Bangladesh looking outclassed. But in truth it was not like that at all. The tourists were made to work hard for their win and the final margin of victory probably flattered them. Bangladesh will be disappointed not to have competed more strongly from their position of strength after day 4. But joining the Test club comes with a long learning curve, until recently they would have been satisfied to have reached the final day at all. Perhaps it still remains a day too far.
The weaknesses in their middle order will concern England going into Wednesday’s Second Test at Chittagong, as will the back-up bowling. They will no doubt consider bringing in an extra seamer in place of one of their spinners. The man to make way would probably be Ashley Giles, whose brand of pressure and control posed little threat to batsmen set firmly on defence. But the presence of two spinners in the side here allowed England to keep their seam attack fresh for the times when it would be most effective, when the new ball was hard or when the old ball was reversing. A more sensible change might be to bring in Paul Collingwood in place of Clarke, who blotted his copybook seriously on day 4 with a half-witted outburst against the obdurate Rahman and has been fined 50% of his match fee in consequence. Such a display of ill-discipline is unlikely to have found much sympathy from a strict coach like Duncan Fletcher.
Bangladesh 203 (Khaled Mashud 51, Harmison 5-35) & 255 (Hannan Sarkar 59, Habibul Bashar 58, Mushfiqur Rahman 46*, Harmison 4-44, Hoggard 4-48)
England 295 (Trescothick 113, Thorpe 64) & 164-3 (Vaughan 81*)
England won by 7 wickets.
Man of the Match: