Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Second Test - Dhaka

Bangladesh v England
Second Test Match - Dhaka


The approach to Dhaka airport was mostly in the clouds this morning and when we landed there was water, quite deep in parts, across the runway. My driver from the airport told me that the rain has only just appeared and that it may be around for a few days. The forecast, however, isn't too bad but for obvious reasons they do know a bit about rain in Bangladesh and we will see.

I don't think that the weather will have played a part in England's team selection. To some extent this two match Test series is a trial for the Five Tests in India - though that rather denigrates the Bangladeshis who could well have won in Chittagong. Top sport is so intensive these days that for team sports a squad system for the top teams is essential. In football Mauricio Pochettino is a believer in this at Tottenham, to good effect, and it looks like England's cricket selectors are doing the same.

Over the next twelve months the England schedule in all forms of the game looks designed to create burn out. A player like Joe Root will barely have time to draw breath if he keeps his fitness and form. For fast bowlers like Anderson or Broad, neither in the first flush of youth (how time passes!), it is essential to have them available for the big games - and that means Test Matches. We are little more than a year away from the first Ashes Test of 2017/18 and my guess is that Stuart and Jimmy will relish one last tilt at the old enemy.

Dhaka is an important Test in its own right though. My first glimpse of cricket in Bangladesh was in a sports ground near my hotel where what looked to be a T20 match between a couple of club sides had drawn a good crowd. Many were watching through a mesh fence around the ground - security I suppose in this city which has had its security scares in recent times. It is the national sport and my street cred as a cricket nut is high with the Bangladeshis I've met so far. "We should have won in Chittagong" - and perhaps they should.

In this match the England eyes will be on Ansari, who deserves his chance. Gareth Batty did fine in the First Test but really it is an admission of failure to see him in the side at all. No disrespect intended but do we really have a cupboard so bare of spinners that we had to turn to a 39-year-old? Lets see how the previously unlucky Ansari fares. Lets also see which Stephen Finn plays. I wouldn't compare Finn to Longfellow's little girl who when she was good she was very, very good - but when she was bad she was horrid. At least I wouldn't to Finny's face. But you're never quite sure what you're going to get are you? The same with Gary Ballance. There's a bit of the Graham Hick about him I fear. He has the talent and started pretty well in Test cricket. But not much for a while and the Jury is out. It would certainly help our Ashes prospects if we could get him secure and performing at four in the order.

So then if I may conclude with a personal remark. Tomorrow I will complete my ambition of having seen England play at least one Test Match in every Test playing country. The game honestly excites and intrigues me as much as it did at my very first Test (v Pakistan at the Oval in 1962) and watching it overseas adds extra piquancy and interest. It's a privilege

First Day report

The Geoffrey Boycott maxim is to always add two wickets to the current score and see what changes. But here in Dhaka we would have needed to add five to the lunch score of 118-1 to predict the tea score of 205-6. Those five wickets fell for 31 runs between the 42nd and the 56th overs. Did the pitch, which had been benign in the morning, suddenly become a minefield? Did lethargic bowlers suddenly become demons? Not really. It was much more that other old maxim - if you can just break a stubborn and productive partnership then more wickets might well come in a rush. England's body language in the morning session was ordinary, between lunch and tea, it changed completely.

In the morning England, having lost the toss, struck early when Imrul Kayes played an expansive cut of Woakes in the third over and Duckett took the catch at point. There followed a partnership of high quality between Tamim Iqbal and Mominul Haque . The score was 171-1 in the 42nd over when Tamim, who had just reached a fine hundred, padded up to Moeen Ali and was out lbw. Mominul followed for 66 four overs later (190-3) and England had a chance with new batsmen at both ends. It was a chance they took so successfully that the remaining batsmen added just 30 runs and the hosts were all out for 220 having lost their last nine wickets for 49 in 22.5 overs. Ali took 5-57 and Stokes 2-13 in 11 miserly overs. Stokes conceded just one boundary. Ansari had an unimpressive first bowl in Test cricket and there was little of note from Finn or Rashid either - though Woakes bowled well for his 3-30. Bangladesh's collapse should not be allowed to take away from how well Tamim and Mominul batted. They scored 22 of Bangladesh's 26 boundaries between them.

Heavy rain was to stop play before the scheduled close but there was time enough for England to lose their customary three wickets (all to failed defensive shots) for not very many (42 in fact). Bangladesh gave the new ball to spin twins Mehedi and Shakib who removed Duckett after just five balls, Cook, who faced twelve and Ballance who lived for 17 before edging Mehedi behind with his feet stuck firmly in the crease. Before the rain came Root and Moeen survived - but once again it will be a rearguard action if England are even to reach parity with Bangladesh's modest first innings total.

In the Press Conference Moeen Ali expressed pleasure at bowling Bangladesh out so cheaply after they had been 171-1 and whilst happy with his five wickets said modestly that he wants to bowl more maidens and be more consistent and that he is still "nowhere near where he wants to be as a spinner". He was full of praise for Tamim who "hits the ball everywhere" but felt that England "...didn't bowl too well in the first session". Stokes bowled tightly with "good control and pace". The match overnight is "50/50".

Test cricket has days like these - perhaps more of them in the past few years than before. It was entertaining and surprising in equal measure. I think that one or two good innings will win this match. It may be that we have already seen them from Tamim and Mominul. Or maybe tomorrow Root, or Moeen or Bairstow will turn the match in England's favour. As at Chittagong it's intriguing stuff.

Second Day report
One of the oddities of the First Test Match between Bangladesh and England in Chittagong was that all four completed innings were in the 200s. The Second Test in Dhaka could well be following the same pattern. The first day brought 270 runs and 13 wickets and the second very entertaining day 346 for 8. England were indebted to an excellent partnership of 99 between Woakes and Rashid which gave them a slender first innings lead of 22 and then Imrul Kayes and Mahmadullah put on 86 before the latter was dismissed playing a very unwise and ill-executed sweep to what became the last ball of the day. The importance of partnerships to the batting side cannot be overstated – and the fillip that comes to the bowling side when they are broken is equally evident. Chris Woakes said that picking up a wicket in the final over was crucial and that it “Gives a bit of momentum going into tomorrow”.

The Kayes/Mahmadullah third wicket partnership had taken only 107 balls – a run rate of nearly five an over. They attacked from the start and this does seem to be the Bangladesh way. It is as calculated as it is effective. Two wickets down with a lead of only 44 was perilous. To end having extended that lead to 130 is much more promising for the home side.

England had had only one partnership over 30 before Woakes and Adil Rashid came together for the 9th wicket. The benefit of having ten or eleven players all of whom can bat was never more evident. If Woakes is a number 9 he must be one of the best ever! He said that if they had gone into the third innings 80-100 runs behind then “…the game’s almost out of our hands”. Instead to begin bowling with a lead was a big fillip for the team.

The issue of “reverse swing” was again in the forefront in the post match debates. Woakes felt that the ball did not reverse as much today as it had on the first day but he said that “hopefully tomorrow we can get working on the ball and get it reversing again”. “The game”, he said, is “in the balance”.
If England can dismiss Bangladesh for the addition of, say, 100 runs then a target of 230 in the fourth innings will be tough on a turning pitch, but gettable. Much over that and the pendulum would have swung very much in the home side’s favour

Bangladesh has won just seven of their 95 Test matches – five against Zimbabwe and two in 2009 against a very poor West Indies side. To beat England would confirm the progress they have recently made. The first session tomorrow is the key.

Third Day report

After 23 Overs of their Second Innings, at the tea interval, England openers had put on 100 runs together chasing 273 to win. Duckett was playing a One Day type innings, 56 off 63 balls, whilst Cook was a tad more circumspect with 39 off 75. Bangladesh had gone on the defensive around the 16th Over with only two close fielders. England had adopted the aggressive tactics which worked for Bangladesh in their second innings - the hosts had been 113/2 at the same point. (They went on to reach 296 at a run rate of 4.42 an over with Tamim top scoring with 78).

The chat at tea was that "all" England needed to do was press on. There seemed nothing particularly threatening in the pitch and the Bangladeshi heads had been a bit down before the interval. Then this:


That's 64/10 in 135 balls. Let's kill the canard that the pitch was to blame. It was the same pitch that England had just prospered on for 138 balls and Bangladesh earlier. It was entirely a matter of confidence. As the wickets began to fall in the final session Bangladesh's bowlers grew in confidence and England's batsmen collapsed and lost it. Root was clearly out-of-sorts but for Ballance there could be no excuse - a horrible shot to a long hop from Mehedi. Once Cook had gone for 59 in the 34th over there was no further resistance to a bowling attack that was transformed from the first afternoon session.

So a five day Test match finishes in three days - not for the first time in recent times for England away. Another interesting Stat is that in England's last ten series home and away their record in the final Test of the series has been Played 10; Won 1; Drawn 1; Lost 8. Whatever the reason for this oddity if you claim to be a top side you need to keep your foot down even if a series has been won, and especially if, as here in Bangladesh, it is in the balance.

The general view among the "experts" around is that England will be slaughtered in India because they can't play spin. I disagree I think they can play spin - here Root, Woakes, Rashid, Cook and Duckett all played decent innings and at Chittagong Root, Ali, Bairstow, Woakes and Stokes had done the same. If they go out thinking they will fail then they will fail - as we saw in sharp relief today. But if they think that can play - which we saw at times in both matches they can - then they probably will.

My own rather curtailed cricket experience in Bangladesh has been a delight - the people have been wonderfully welcoming and it was been intriguing.

আচ্ছা বাংলাদেশ সম্পন্ন !