Bangladesh vs England: Series Review

England’s defeat yesterday was the most disgraceful thing ever to befall the national team.  Losing to a side who had only previously beaten a much weakened West Indies and Zimbabwe is a new nadir in the national fortunes, for which there is no excuse.

Actually, Bangladesh are an improving side and will trouble most teams at home these days.

It was the spinners’ fault – especially that batting collapse.

Gary Ballance was at fault throughout.

It’s fair to say that there’s been no universal response to the result yesterday, and an awful lot of tiptoeing around the wider issues for the England team as they move on to face India in a five match series where they are very definitely the underdogs. Some of it goes beyond legitimate criticism about particular performances and moves on to existing prejudices in some instances, and what can only be seen as blatant attempts at deflection in others.

There are some things that can be safely said – that England do deserve credit for going in the first place, for a second tour after Australia’s aborted one cancelled for security reasons (even if justified) would have crippled Bangladeshi cricket possibly beyond repair.  Amid the joy of victory, it was notable that a significant number of home supporters made a point of thanking England for coming in the first place.  That it passed off without incident doesn’t in itself justify the decision to go, but it does mean we are able to talk about the cricket itself, and able to revel in the pleasure given to a country that doesn’t exactly get its fair share of good news stories.

It can also be safely said that Bangladesh are a much improved side.  Whatever the shortcomings of England, they will give many teams a hard time in their own conditions – particularly the non-Asian sides.  Cook deserves credit for rejecting an invitation to wallow in the excuse that the surfaces were difficult by brusquely saying “Why wouldn’t you?” in response to a question about the wickets suiting the spinners.  As it turned out, rather than being low and boring in an attempt to scrape a draw, the groundsmen produced result pitches.  And well done them, we had two exceptionally entertaining matches.  Rather obviously, Bangladesh’s bowling strength is in their spin attack, and while Mehedi Hasan’s glorious start in Test cricket is no more a guide to his longevity than Bob Massie’s early matches, it showed that they have the attack to put sides under serious pressure when conditions allow.  That means little when they go away from home, for not a single fast bowler took a wicket for them in this short series, and the prospect of the hard tracks of Australia or South Africa, or the green seamers of England or New Zealand would likely mean they were overwhelmed, but all sides have to begin somewhere, and winning at home is that somewhere.

It’s not just the bowling either; Tamim Iqbal may well love batting against England in particular, but he is a very good player full stop, as is Imrul Kayes, while Shakib Al Hasan is a potent all rounder.  The lower order was too often blown away, but there is plenty to work with here.  They are improving, and all they need is the opportunity to improve further.  If there were to be one good thing to come out of this England tour, then it would be that teams play them more often – for this was their first Test series in over a year.  Too long and simply not fair.

Perhaps in advance of the series there was a degree of underestimation about where they were as a side, although given the lack of cricket, and Test cricket in particular, it’s not too surprising that most observers were short of detailed knowledge.  That they had better players than in the past was known, but it didn’t mean that there was any kind of expectation they would draw the series.  It doesn’t alter the truth that having watched them play this time, there is a recognition that they aren’t a bad side at all now, and that they thoroughly, completely deserved what they got, indeed they perhaps should have won 2-0.  Having lost the first game it would have surprised no one if they’d been badly beaten in the second, a narrow defeat is always hard to take.  That they went after England with a vengeance instead was wonderful to watch.

That doesn’t necessarily let England off the hook for the result, and while it is true that England were beaten by the better side in Dhaka, it’s reasonable to ask whether Bangladesh should have been the better team, even with all their improvements.  It therefore comes down to a question of what England did wrong, how much was forced by Bangladesh, how much was their own shortcomings as players, and how much was underperformance.

What can certainly be said is that by agreeing to play 7 Tests in 8 weeks, and skipping a warm up fixture in India to boot, they brought some of their problems on themselves.  This is the ECB’s responsibility rather than the captain or the coach, for they do their masters’ bidding in terms of the itineraries.  But with no match between this second Test and the opener in India, they were certainly forced to treat this one at least to some extent as a warm up match for India.  That meant resting Broad and bringing in Finn for one of his periodical appearances on surfaces for which he couldn’t be more unsuited.  Whether that made all the difference is neither here nor there; Broad didn’t have an exceptional first Test, but he is an exceptional bowler, and dropping him did weaken the side, no matter how necessary that decision might have been, and how wise it might turn out to have been over the next month and a bit.

The other change was dropping Gareth Batty for Zafar Ansari, and it is here we get to the thorny question of the England spin bowling.  England played Moeen Ali, Batty, Ansari and Adil Rashid across the two matches.  Ansari was on debut, and allowances have to be made for that, while the others have been the recipients of exceptionally strong criticism for their performances.  This is grotesquely unfair for a number of reasons.  Their returns were not bad at all overall, Moeen averaged 22 with the ball, while Batty and Rashid were a touch under 30.  They’re not fantastic figures of course, and certainly nothing like the wicket-taking levels of Hasan or Shakib, but it has to be asked what is expected here.  Bangladesh should be expected to have better spinners than England, in the same way that England can expect to have much better fast bowlers than Bangladesh (which they do).  Likewise, when they get to India, they’ll be facing better spin bowlers than they possess themselves – this is normal and to be expected.  Complaining about it is akin to wishing for golden elephants.  The last time England toured India they had the best spinner England have had in 40 years bowling from one end, and another who in another era would have been a fixture in the team for being the best we had by a distance.  Indeed, a fit and healthy Panesar right now would be a major upgrade on all of the alternatives.  England does not often produce quality spin bowling, and while that is a criticism of the coaching and structure that can and should be made, whining about the positioning of the deckchairs on the Titanic is what it always has been – pointless.

Therefore the only option is to work with what is there.  Rashid is a leg spinner; they have always been prone to bowling a bad ball an over, it tends to be in the nature of them with the rare exception of the very best like Shane Warne.  Even one as good as Stuart MacGill was relatively expensive.  That isn’t to defend his performances, but it is to make the point that if a legspinner is going to be selected in the first place, then some understanding of how to manage that legspinner is needed, plus a decent and realistic level of expectation about what they can and can’t do.  You simply don’t pick a leg spinner if the aim is to dry up the runs, it’s not going to happen.  Cook has shown little sign of understanding how to captain Rashid, who should be considered a wicket taking weapon, who will go for some runs (rather like Finn come to that).  Betraying a complete lack of confidence by having as at one stage six players on the boundary hardly helps the bowler or the team and removes the whole point of having a leggie in the side in the first place.

This is a common attitude problem in the English game, one that goes all the way down to Sunday village cricket, where a seam bowler who gets smashed around the park comes back for another spell later – a spinner suffering the same is lucky to get another bowl three weeks afterwards.  It takes an astute and clever captain, sympathetic to his bowlers to manage it and to make the best use of their assets.  Cook, unfortunately, is not the man to do that.

Moeen overall bowled passably well – he is what he is, a batsman and part time off spinner converted into being the senior slow bowler.  He does let the odd bad ball go down, but the truth of the matter is that people need to deal with that, he’s quite probably the best England have, and is someone who is doing relatively well given where he’s come from bowling wise.  Batty’s recall was frowned upon or approved of depending on perspective, and while he didn’t bowl as well as he might have hoped, even at his best he simply isn’t going to run through an Asian side in Asian conditions.  These players are very used to facing spin – something else that hasn’t been taken into account when berating the bowlers for not being better than they are, while imagining that left at home is a miracle worker who would have repeated Laker’s feat.

If that reads like an extended defence of the spinners, it’s only partially meant that way. They could certainly have bowled better, they unquestionably could have been captained better, but they are players limited by their English upbringing and learning.  The truth is that those who don’t play find their reputations enhanced by virtue of missing a defeat; whoever England select would not change things dramatically, and complaining that they aren’t Graeme Swann is as futile as the years Australia spent discarding spinner after spinner for the crime of not being Shane Warne.

More to the point, if the spinners were average but not appalling – in other words pretty much what could be expected of them, then the attempt to blame them for the match loss and the drawn series is downright peculiar.  It certainly wasn’t the cause of collapsing from 100-0 to 164 all out in little more than 20 overs.  The pundits have a real habit of demanding the heads of the bowlers for batting problems, and it’s much more realistic to point to the batting failures as being key to England not winning this series.  Not one of the top 5 averaged even 30 and they managed just four fifties between them in the series from a combined 20 attempts, with a top score of 68 from Moeen Ali as he and Bairstow attempted to rescue the team from the wreckage of the first morning of the first Test.  Only Woakes, Bairstow and Stokes managed to even score 100 runs over the four innings,while just behind those three in the averages was Adil Rashid, who with Woakes performed another recovery act from the shambles of the upper order.

Put simply, blaming the bowling is simply an attempt to project from the reality of where England went badly wrong – the top order batting.  Cook was poor, Duckett was brand new, Ballance was lucky to be in the team and was extremely poor, Root was poor.  Not many sides can handle the core of their batting malfunctioning repeatedly and go on to win.  And here is the problem for India, for it is hardly a shock to anyone to know that they have superior spinners, but for England to have a chance they need in particular for Cook and Root to step up and score runs – and lots and lots of them.  They are more than capable of course, Root is a fine player and Cook is an exceptionally good player of spin, and for an opener a phenomenal one.  But they could and should be feeling particularly uncomfortable with the way the spinners are getting the blame for not winning a series that was fundamentally about the inability of the England batting to reach 300 in any innings – and only once getting close because the middle and lower order got them there.

Furthermore, of the England players Ben Stokes is the one who can really hold his head up, his bowling was outstanding and his batting was good enough to score more runs than anyone else.  Yet the comment about him largely concerns his behaviour in getting into a spat with opponents.  Stokes is a fiery character alright, but it is peculiar to say the least that this gets attention and criticism ahead of the failures of those above him.  This blog has expressed concern on a number of occasions that a few media types are waiting for him to fail so they can properly put the boot in – nothing has happened which changes that worry, for we know all too well that it has happened before.

Bangladesh can bask in the glow of a successful short series, while England go to India with a lot of questions to answer.  It is to be hoped that some spend time on the questions that matter rather than wishing things were different than they are.  That is nothing but carping.  Whinging.  And if it’s unfair on some of the England players, it’s more than just unfair when it comes to the Bangladesh ones – it’s disrespectful.  This was an enjoyable and hard fought series, and one where a deciding Test would be just perfect.  Bangladesh would be quite strongly fancied to win it.

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Bangladesh vs. England, 2nd Test – Day 2

So advantage Bangladesh. The fact that they were able to quickly score against the new ball has in all likelihood put them in the driving seat to win this Test. Despite Ansari getting rid of Mahmudullah at stumps, England will need a number of quick wickets in the morning to give them any hope of winning the game, as I feel that anything above 220 on this pitch is likely to be too much. Whereas England tried to be positive against the new ball and got out, Tamim in particular, showed why it is such a pity that we don’t get to see him bat more in Test matches. There is a skill in taking on the opposition opening bowlers on a pitch that as an understatement, is conducive to spin and whilst he may have only made 40 odd in this innings, what he did do was wrestle any momentum away from England.

To be fair to the England team, that we even got past the Bangladesh 1st innings is an achievement in itself. With the team hovering on the wrong end of another bating collapse at 144-8, Woakes and Rashid showed the top order how it’s done by producing a partnership with a lot of guts and no little skill to get England to what we hoped was a priceless first innings lead. The fact that Rashid, despite batting quite beautifully, was still the target of a number of MSM snipes clearly shows there is still very much an agenda:

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Now it’s fair to say that Rashid hasn’t come on as we hoped he would have, he can bowl brilliant wicket taking deliveries but amongst those, he is likely to bowl some dross and half trackers along the way; however we’re not exactly enamored in the spin bowling department at the moment, so the criticism that has been aimed at him during his Test career so far is far from helpful. One can only look back at this piece of gold, from our favourite ex-Chief Cricket Correspondent to work out that Adil Rashid is not likely to be getting a seat at the Alastair Cook table anytime soon:

“Rashid, though, is sailing close to the wind with his club and career: there are sceptics about, some with a greater depth of knowledge than most, and his card has been marked.”

Of course having a captain that accepts that he will go for runs but take wickets if you give him the support and field that he needs would be nice. Unfortunately the ‘bowl dry’ mentality of past eras still is at the forefront of English cricket’s mindset. The fact that he came on so late for a bowl in the 2nd innings today shows quite clearly that Cook has either no faith in him or simply has no idea how to utilize him.

As for the batting, it was the same old story. The top order has failed more times than a Southeastern train at rush hour and yet again it was the lower order that tried to dig them out of a hole. Gary Ballance is the man getting the most heat from our beloved national press at the moment, and on this occasion I can’t really disagree with the MSM here, as his technique against all forms of bowling looks all over the place. I was surprised they picked him for the subcontinent tour as he looked all at sea against an admittedly world class spinner in Yasir Shah in England over the summer. However the fact the Ballance keeps failing with the bat nicely takes the heat away from another batsman who has struggled for form over an even longer period. 4 tons in the last 42 Tests is a pretty damning statistic for any batsman who is proclaimed to be world class, and you could guarantee that if this was for example Ian Bell, the MSM would be queuing up to demand that he is dropped; however this is not Ian Bell, this is captain fantastic and I have yet to see even a murmur questioning Alastair Cook’s form. The thing with Cook is that unless he is contributing with the bat, then he isn’t contributing at all. His captaincy is a mixture of conservatism combined with an inherent streak of stubbornness and inflexibility. Unless England are able to get a first innings lead and then squeeze the opposition, he seems completely lost. There is no plan B apart from hoping that Stokes, Anderson or Broad suddenly deliver a world-class spell out of nowhere. I’ve occasionally commented that the Investec Zebra would be more proactive in the field and certainly in conditions that don’t favour our seam attack, this seems like a fairer and fairer reflection of Cook’s tenure. A funky Captain he is not.

Of course, many will counter this argument by pointing out the number of runs that Cook has scored over the course of his England career and he does indeed have an impressive record; however the Cook of pre-2010 and the Cook of post 2010 are two completely different animals. He has been worked out by opposition bowlers, they know where to bowl at him and how to keep the pressure on him, there simply is no fear from the opposition side when he comes out to bat. The MSM will continue to laud him as the great new hope, the leader of our group of up and coming band of warriors and there is absolutely no chance that he will dropped until after the next Ashes series (and even then it is likely to be a polite ask as to whether he would care to step aside); however Cook to most unbiased observers, seems to be slightly lucky that we simply have no other options at the top of the order. It all reminds me of Mark Taylor when he was coming to the end of his career (except Taylor was a better captain), a very good player once, but one that was struggling to justify a place in the team on his batting alone.

The clocks go back tonight, so who knows what time Day 3 is likely to start in the UK tomorrow but I can guarantee that I’m likely to be in bed for most of the action. For those that are far more committed than me, please post any comments on Day 3 below before another cretin appears on Twitter or WordPress try to shut us down again:

Bangladesh v England – 2nd Test, Day 1

Good evening. We’re back online. Apologies for the inconvenience caused.

HDWLIA is now closed again. I thought I might keep it up and running for a bit, but someone decided to ruin it. I’ll say no more than that as I don’t want to give the cretin more publicity than he/she deserves, but hopefully they’ll get bored soon.

Today there were lots of early runs, then very many wickets. Then England lost some wickets too. The game is “evenly poised”. That’s all you are getting. I’m knackered.

Comments on tomorrow’s play below.

Those of you with memories of February 9, 2015…..I’ll leave it there.

Bangladesh vs England: 2nd Test Preview

What might have been.  England could easily have been preparing for this Test on the back of defeat, with a side displaying manifest weaknesses, and with a tour of India around the corner having failed to arrange any practice matches before the first Test.  Resting players, rotating the seamers and giving debuts to the next bright young things would have been the last thing on the minds of captain and coach, as they sought desperately to avoid an embarrassing series defeat against one of the weakest (but improving) sides in world cricket.

But they won.  And that’s ultimately the point, for hard luck stories and what might have beens are always the refuge of the desperate.  Bangladesh will – or at least should – feel they missed a real opportunity to beat England.  Whether they can raise themselves to put in a similar display will perhaps be the biggest question of this match, and it would not be a surprise if England were to win comfortably given the narrow escape at Chittagong, even though there’s no reason to suppose so based on the performances.

It seems likely that the hosts will look to prepare a result pitch, not least because the weather forecast for Dhaka is iffy with a cyclone heading towards the city. It would be an immense shame if weather denied Bangladesh at least the opportunity of putting England under the same kind of pressure as they did first time round.

The ECB will deny it of course (don’t they always?) but this second Test was clearly intended to be a warm up fixture for the India series.  The lack of any intervening practice matches between tours made that clear, and the rumours verging on fact from the press that changes will be made to the side make it abundantly clear where the priorities lie.  Given the schedule, it’s understandable to do that, but Bangladesh can be forgiven if they feel a little slighted.

Zafar Ansari seems likely to be given a debut, probably at the expense of Gareth Batty, while the word is that Stuart Broad will make way for Steven Finn.  The batting appears likely to remain unchanged, despite the status of Gary Ballance as the whipping boy of the media these days.  England won despite the lack of contributions from Cook and Root, and however unfair it might be that Ballance copped the bulk of the stick, those two are the ones who will need to perform in India for England to have a chance.  Jos Buttler it appears will have to wait for his chance.

Bangladesh are likely to be unchanged, with the requirement that they perform better all round than in the first match.  Their batting line up is a decent one these days and plenty of them got starts in both innings.  Converting that into substantial scores remains their biggest challenge, for they have the bowling to trouble anyone at home.

Chittagong was a terrific Test match, if we can have something similar this time, then it’ll be required viewing.

Day One Comments Below

Canis Lupus On Chittagong

If you have come here looking for marks out of ten, then you have come to the wrong place. If you have come here to look for a tale of derring do, of great escapes, of wondrous times, then I suggest you log on to the Twelfth Man, or whatever the Tufty Club is that is approved by the ECB (or is that All Out Cricket?). If it is grumpiness, tetchiness and a completely egregious mention of Kevin Pietersen, then this might be for you.

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England have completed a 22 run victory over Bangladesh in a tight, absorbing test match, with lots of good entertainment and a tense, taut ending. What this was not was a good England performance. Just like 18 months ago in Grenada, where the Jimmy Anderson show won England a test, Chittagong was Ben Stokes saving our hides. This may, or may not, be a portent of things to come, but remember, after Grenada came Bridgetown, and defeat to a team we would probably all believe would struggle against Bangladesh if played now, and who are living down to Costcutter Charlie’s description of “Mediocre”.

Let’s focus on the good stuff first. It was a top test match to watch. How many actually did in this country will be interesting to note – I wonder how ITV4 did for viewers, for instance – but those that missed this because it was “only Bangladesh” will have missed a contest that ebbed and flowed. BBC Sport were busy this morning lauding England for an “unlikely victory”, which is a bit of nonsense because for the vast majority of this test England had their noses slightly in front. After Day 1 we thought it was a competitive score on the board; after Day 2 with the late wicket we thought it was honours even, but Bangladesh had to bat last; at the end of Day 3, after another reliable top order subsidence, England had “enough runs” and were firm favourites; and on Day 4, England had two tail order wickets to take at the end of it, looking really shaky when Rahim and Sabbir were in partnership. It’s not exactly Botham’s Ashes or Adelaide 2006.

England won because of more experience, probably – and it’s hard to dispute that when the team you are up against haven’t played a test for 14 months – and they had the most influential performer on either side, Ben Stokes. For the Durham man this was a test match he can look on with great pride. He saved England’s bacon in the second innings with a mature, composed, and very clinical 85 which should take pride of place in his collection of batting performances. I ignore the Aussie with the constantly changing moniker, and his lame attempts to belittle the output of Stokes. He was magnificent. 6 wickets in the match to add to his runs made him a slam dunk man of the match.

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Not To Be Trusted

Much has been said about how Cook only trusted his seamers (Stokes and Broad in particular) at the end of the game. Much was also said last night about the lion-hearted Broad “doing it again when it counted”. I must be watching a different game to these people. I saw tons of criticism of the spin-bowling allowing them to get that close (and not the top order batting for collapsing like wet cardboard, AGAIN). The top six in the Bangladesh batting order, the six you needed to get rid of, were all dismissed by spinners in the second innings. Yes. You wouldn’t know that from the reports, the tut-tutting online, the nonsense from Newman. The quicker bowlers knocked over the tail, the top order eked out by the spinners. I’m not saying the garden is rosy, I’m not saying we’ve found our spinning solution, and I’m not saying that this will work in India, but you’d have thought they’d all gone 1/120 the way people are going on. They weren’t Murali, or even Swann, but they were decent bowlers, maybe not quite test class, doing a job for England. In this mad rush to anoint a team as its greatest ever, you need to realise that not every generation is blessed with the tools to do so. I remember real dead losses like Richard Dawson and Ian Blackwell given a go.

Broad the Lionheart got rid of numbers 8 and 9. This wasn’t Trent Bridge, Jo’burg or even Oval 2009, but we do go overboard. That I’ve realised only too greatly since the 2013/14 epiphany. I hope we’ve learned from the past that we have a doughty, resilient side, with a long batting order, a decent, if limited bowling attack, and that there will be pains and losses along the way. We should realise that we have a flaky top order, a limited captain, and a propensity to alarming slumps when the intensity goes from their game. We are a little too reliant on super-performances to pull out matches, which isn’t the recipe for reliability. We are quite an enjoyable team to watch, but what we are not, and what this team should never be proposed as, is a great team, a team worthy of World #1. You might think that this is just the same old same old from me (and I’m reluctant to use too many personal pro-nouns), but I’ve not exactly been given a reason to hold those words back, have I? Thankfully, the response to this win has been more restrained than Grenada, for instance.

So let’s run through the team performance.

Cook – Returned with great fanfare from the attendant hordes, rejoicing in his return, and getting DDC some hits. Didn’t produce the runs we will eventually need from him, and his leadership was conservative. I think he should trust his spinners more, but that’s really easy for me to say. Now it is four test centuries in 42 test matches, if you are counting.

Duckett – A nondescript debut. Not having his technique demolished after two low scores could be an indicator that he’s in the chosen group of players who the media might give a chance to. See my comments on an earlier post about how not making 20 in your first test match is not a portent of great times unless you are Gooch or Hutton (and a couple of others).

Root – A quiet test match, which means he isn’t the heartbeat of the team for this test match. A massive contribution in the next, and a quiet test from Stokes will mean the clichés will be reversed. Perception here is he may have gone off the boil a little, which is understandable given he didn’t play the ODIs, and also he’s played a ton of cricket. That balance isn’t always easy. Which leads me to…

Ballance – Ballance is in that room where no-one wants to be. The “next one the media want out” room. I love how we are accused on here of not backing our players, but within ten minutes of a dismissal the journos are tweeting “he has to be gone”. I’d like to see them work on that basis, and perform their best. Ballance has made four test hundreds, and is derided for his technique. Cook can go months (and yes, him again) and all that the media care about is falling over themselves to say “he’s back to his best” after some flaky runs. Lord knows what they’d say about Tres, for example, now. Ballance had a poor game. Only he is on the hot seat.

Ali – Very useful runs in the first innings, part of the problem in the second. Five wickets in the match, but because he didn’t run through them, and bowled his usual assortment, he’s part of the problem. That five of them were top order batsmen (and left handers) is his fault. Seemed a pretty usual Mooen match to me, does things well in parts, does things not so well. Having made 7 or 8 his home, and effectively so, he’s back up the order.

Stokes – A terrific performance, with his second innings 85 a really top notch performance. With the ball he was our main weapon, snagging six wickets, and getting the vital blow of Rahim late on Day 2 to perhaps turn the match (given the tail subsided the following day). Interesting point raised by Nick Knight (yes, stick with me), that it seems as though Cook leans on Stokes for advice (said on Day 4) and that his views are quite widely respected in the team. He’s the heartbeat (or at least until Joe Root makes runs) of the team. Clearly man of the match.

Bairstow – Jonny is now a team fixture, and the debate as to whether he or Buttler should be the keeper is pretty much closed in my eyes (and I’m a Buttler fan). Again he came to our rescue, with 99 runs across two innings, both in key alliances to dig England out of a hole. It is a role he is becoming used to, but I feel we rely on too much. He dropped a big chance last night, that to this untrained keeper’s eye looked like a horrible one to take (Chris might opine), and copped a Hollywood strop for his troubles. Dunno, but I reached right for KP – the Autobiography at that point. Otherwise, on a difficult surface his improvement was there to see.

Woakes – A nothing game really with the ball, yet another 50+ runs with the bat at number 8. They are vital runs, coming in at 194/6 in the first and sticking around for another 60 or so and in at 189/6 in the 2nd and being there at the end for another 50 runs. 0/15 and 0/10 in two seven over efforts with the ball, keeping it tight, but not getting wickets.

Rashid – I can say that I didn’t see a lot of his bowling in this match, but I tend not to listen to what I’m being told by people who have made up their mind about him long before he reached the test team. He’s going to be a “when it clicks” it bowler. A sort of spin equivalent to Devon Malcolm. Is this a long-term recipe for a team that aspires to greatness? Probably not, because we are all about containment rather than attack. He didn’t have a great game. He knows that. Should we jack him in? Well, you’ve either made up your mind and wild horses wouldn’t make you do it, or you think, perhaps he is that weapon we might, one day, need.

Broad – He’s going to be called Hollywood from now on. (Interesting only to me, I call Neil Warnock “Hollywood” in football). Hollywood is the man to win you the game. He can bowl unplayable spells, He can also average 143 in India. Broad nicked out two late wickets last night to put England in control, but in context, it was “just” the numbers 8 or 9. No-one else was going to get the Hollywood glare if they’d done it (perhaps Stokes). Two double figure scores should not be overlooked, scratching out vital runs, and yet having us pine for the man capable of 169 v Pakistan.

Batty – Again, didn’t see a lot, but the one spell I did saw him bowl well, look dangerous, and having the batsmen taking risks to score. But then it’s really fashionable in cricket circles to slag off Batty. True, he’s 39. Newman uses him as a reason to bemoan England spin bowling (I’ll bet if Cook is still playing with England in his late 30s we won’t be seeing the same). But Batty took a few wickets, including the key breakthrough of Rahim to end the menacing 6th wicket partnership, and still the people moan. Again, what it is it about us not backing our players? I’ve read the slamming verdicts on him, and note that, yet again, we are the ones with the agenda.

To the other question / debate that has been posed. How should Bangladesh treat this performance and how should England fans approach it? First of all this wasn’t Bangladesh’s first chance to push a top team to the limit. Last year in Chittagong they took a decent first innings lead on South Africa before the rains came to ruin the match. This should, if Bangladesh are approaching this the right way, a pleasure in being a plucky loser to a world power, but a real case of “we probably should have won this”. To have chased down 280-odd would have been magnificent. I’m not having the “moral winner” stuff, because England made it hard work (and because Bangladesh made them work hard), but I probably would like to judge this off the back of the second test back in Dhaka later this week. England, after all, looked like world-beaters in the 1997 first Ashes test, but subsided. Bangladesh need to maintain the intensity.

As for whether England fans should cheer on Bangladesh, well you know our site’s views on that. You should be free to choose who you want to win without admonishment. I don’t necessarily cheer on the oppo, but I also don’t get as mad about England as I used to which I think allows me to take a more dispassionate view on proceedings. It certainly helps in not losing my temper at the latest move I disagree with. It also allows me to laugh when the pants on fire enthusiasts stretch their latest (il)logical leaps of faith. I might have a dispassionate view on England, but I’m not about to reduce the passion for the game. This test match was a cracker. It deserves 2000+ words on it as an Ashes test might. It had great storylines, it had great drama and importantly it had a great test match wicket. So many of us were thinking it wasn’t going to be up to five days play, but the surface played its part in this absorbing contest. Let’s hope Dhaka brings us a repeat.

Happy to hear your thoughts. I’ll have some other takes tomorrow, if I have the time.

Bangladesh v England, 1st Test, Day Three

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This is a compelling test match. We can discuss the quality of the surface, we can discuss the lack of crowds, we can discuss the quality of our spin bowling, or we can discuss who is in the comms box. But as a game of cricket this is a really good one, and the match has turned towards England because of the contributions of Ben Stokes in particular. Stokes will score centuries, has scored centuries, that will not be anywhere near as vital as this 85 here. That would have been enough for one person alone, but this was allied to a bowling spell this morning that limited Bangladesh to just 248 when the hosts could have been expected to take a lead given their overnight position.

I’m strangely neutral on Ben Stokes. It might be the product of the environment that he is in, or the rush to appoint him the new Flintoff/Botham. He’s not in their bowling class, but he’s a much better bat than Freddie, and probably around Botham’s class in my view. But there’s something about the abrasive personality that doesn’t wash with me. But that hardly matters. I wasn’t ever starting the Graham Gooch fan club, but loved every one of his runs when made for England. Stokes is someone I want in my team, rather than against me. In watching his innings today the big shock was when he got out. He’d looked supreme from the time I’d started to watch, and Jonny Bairstow was, once again, his partner in solidity. Stokes was simply superb, and while Ian Watd has called him the “heartbeat” of the team (which usually happens when Joe Root fails), it’s more that he’s our fireman at the moment. Getting us out of sticky situations, with his fellow officer Bairstow.

I’m a bit awry with sleep patterns at the moment, so missed most of the first two sessions, which is where the crux of the action seemed to take place. Sky have not as yet shown me the highlights, so I can’t comment on it, but once again England’s top order collapsed. The fact we have a very long batting line-up (Batty, at 11, had a first class hundred just a few months ago), doesn’t excuse the fact this is happening far too often. Stokes is a top player, so is Bairstow, but you can’t keep relying on this to happen. We go to India next, we go to Australia next year, and we are 80 for 5, it’ll take some stones for Stokes and Bairstow or Ali to keep us above the water. So when James Taylor said, as he just has on Sky, that this day has gone according to plan, he’s talking out of his hat. Cook, for all the plaudits he gets, is needed more than ever, so it may be impertinent of me to comment that he has one century in his last 14 test matches. Cook’s 263 last year may be a once in a lifetime Asian condition monolithic innings, but we need him to really stand up. Odds were stacked against him in this test, coming out with hardly any match practice. Hopefully he needed the run out. Duckett has not made a case yet, but of course he needs time before he starts getting the James Vince treatment. That is being reserved for Gary Ballance, who the media cohorts could not wait to turn on when he dismissed, with the tweets flying (Stocks in an early reprise of his Compton campaign, perhaps?). Joe Root had a failure, which seems to be magnified when he’s at three for some reason.

The cognoscenti believe we have enough. The line to take has been set. Lose this and we will be undertaking a post-mortem on English spin bowling. That there is an obvious deficiency in that department has not come a surprise. It is not Batty or Rashid’s fault they have been selected. Broad can go games without looking like a bowling terror, but that seems fine. However, if you are a spin bowler not running through “only Bangladesh” then there are serious questions to be asked. Swann covered up a multitude of sins when he was in his pomp, and we had an able deputy in Monty (who would walk into this team if he were anywhere near where he was 10 years ago). Now we have what we have. As I said, it’s not their fault they’ve been selected. That Rashid doesn’t seem to be able to have a bad hour without some piling in who should know better is symptomatic of where we are now.

OK, enough from me. Comments on today’s play here, and also for thoughts during the 4th, and possibly final, day from Chittagong. It has been a compelling game, and it may yet have a sting in the tail. I don’t think, despite Jonny’s confidence, that it is in the bag yet, but yes, England are most certainly favourites.

Comments below.

By way of an update, I thought I’d just do some basic stats on how you can extrapolate success in your first test with the potential for a long career with England. I think we all hope that Ben Duckett is the answer, but his first test has thrown up scores of 14 and 15. Of England’s top 20 run-scorers in history, just four did not pass 20 in their first test (Gooch, infamously; Stewart – although he had one knock and was 0 not out when we won in Kingston in 1990; Sir Len Hutton (0 and 1); and Nasser Hussain (13 in the same test as Stewart, and thus one innings).

Of the top 20 run scorers 10 made half-centuries in their debut match, three made centuries, one made it in their first ever innings (Strauss). Cook, Gower and KP all made two scores of 50 or more in their first test. Players to have made 14 in their first test innings? Peter Such and Alan Mullally!!!! Those with batting reps to do it include Rikki Clarke and Darren Maddy. CB Fry made 15 on his second innings.

The most amount of innings between a debut and a half century was Alec Stewart, who took 10 innings. Of the 10 that didn’t make 50s on their debut, Gooch took five innings, Boycott four innings (debut score of 48), Athers took five (a century, also made 47 in his second innings), Cowdrey took five innings (and made a hundred in the sixth), Hutton made a hundred in his third innings, Barrington a 50 in his fourth, Hussain a fifty in his sixth, Vaughan in his seventh and Botham in his fifth.

A good rule of thumb therefore, is if you don’t get to 50 in your first five innings, you might be struggling for a test career. Just three of our top 20 did that.

 

Bangladesh vs England: 1st Test, day two

Whisper it quietly, but there’s a game on here.  If England were reasonably pleased with their first day efforts, then Bangladesh will be much the happier with day two.  England only added 35 to their overnight score, which having lost Woakes first ball of the day was probably around about what they might have hoped for.  293 might not an imposing total, but given the turn and bounce available they’ll have been fairly content with their efforts.

Tamim Iqbal clearly likes batting against England though, and having already scored two centuries against them seemed likely to make it a third as he batted through most of the day, accumulating in a more restrained style than was seen in 2010.  It was hard work, as it has been for all the batsmen so far, but it provided the platform and the stability to give his team the chance not just to match England, but to go past them.  Mahmadullah and Mshfiqur Rahim both gave good support, while much now rests on the shoulders of Shakib Al Hasan.  However, there is still some batting to come, Mehedi Hasan at nine is considered an all rounder.

For England, they toiled hard, but they never looked to be on top, except early on when Moeen dismissed two in an over, one of which from a terrific delivery that bit on the surface.  Moeen did what Moeen does – bowl some unplayable stuff amongst pretty ordinary fare.  Likewise the returning Gareth Batty, often too short, often too wide, but it was he who picked up Tamim with a nice change of pace that had him playing back when forward might have been the better option.

Indeed, it was the seamers who looked the greater threat, Broad in particular went through his range of variations, sometimes in a single over.  While he went wicketless, he was also extremely tight, and in a low scoring game that in itself is valuable.

Much will depend on how the wicket plays over the next couple of days.  Should it deteriorate from here Bangladesh will need a useful lead given they’re batting last.  But it didn’t appear any different to day one today (perhaps it shouldn’t either); this is a war of attrition.  At the moment Bangladesh have the upper hand.  But only just, and that can change in an instant.

Day Three Comments below

The Phantom Menace – Bangladesh v England Preview (of sorts)

Why The Phantom Menace. It’s a prequel to the best ones, innit?

There’s something about the commencement of a winter test tour that gets the old fires burning in DmitriWorld. It has long been a tradition of tuning into matches at ungodly hours, or waking up to news of either stirring deeds or abject failure. Of trying to piece together what might have gone on from the overnight score to the score at the time I rise from my pit. In short, it’s a bit of bloody good fun. Unless you have to write about it!

However, as is rapidly becoming apparent, the world of cricket is changing, and tests are crammed into increasingly shrinking windows. In the space of just over two months, England will play SEVEN test matches, in very hot conditions, on alien pitches to our way of playing, and with the evident possibility that we face challenges we cannot match. While this test is going on, West Indies will be playing Pakistan, Zimbabwe will commence against Sri Lanka, in a few weeks Australia face South Africa, then we meet with India not far into the future. It’s compression of the schedule and it is going to diminish the sport. Context? You don’t even have enough time to digest the last test match before one is on you like a flash.

But enough of that. England face an intriguing challenge from Bangladesh in a two test series that a cynic might say is being used as preparation for the series against India in a few weeks time. While Bangladesh still have a laughable test record, there are definite signs of improvement. Whether this is enough to mean England will have a great fight on their hand is for debate. What won’t help is that, astonishingly, this is the first test Bangladesh have played in 14 months. If Alastair Cook is worried about a lack of practice and sharpness, Bangladesh have one up on him!

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Wrong captain

So to Captain Cook, leader of the troops, taking the battle to the oppo, leading from the front. This will be his 134th test, passing Alec Stewart for the England record. It’s been a long and distinguished career, but as Cooky doesn’t like talking about personal milestones, I won’t bother either.

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134 Dutiful Tests

Cook is clearly the key man. From the team that played last in Bangladesh, only Cook and Broad remain. Cook’s record in the sub-continent (and including UAE) is a really good one, and his experience is going to be vital. Without him making runs, one fears for England. This tour will expose our two key weaknesses; the spin bowling has been getting the most attention, but our middle order probably is more concerning. Joe Root missed the ODI tour and didn’t seem to get much time in the middle in the practice matches. One hopes it will be alright on the night. Gary Ballance looks to be locked in at number 4, something that would have seemed unthinkable after the last series (but this was really Gary B being Gary B – because he’s not elegant, he has a technique only his mother could love, and well, he’s Gary B he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt the dashers get). At 5 is possibly Moeen, possibly Stoke, possibly Bairstow, and there will be times when we need them to keep us afloat. This is a big tour for Stokes. He showed in the ODIs that he came to terms with slower wickets, but this is test cricket. A good start in Bangladesh seems necessary, because I think he’s a confidence player.

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A sight for sore eyes….

Which leads me to the opener slot. Ben Duckett looks like getting the nod. That’s interesting. I wonder if it is the fear that Hameed will be a sort of Compton to Cook, and make our captain think he has to play a different game to his norm because the other opener might be a bit pedestrian. If that’s the reason, it’s a shame. Attrition and stickability are going to be keys in the next seven tests. Now that’s not to say I don’t want Duckett getting a go, because he looks middle order material to me in the times I’ve seen him (and I know he opens for Northants). I wish him well, like every debutant, and he’s certainly an exciting, talented prospect.

Bowling looks to be three spinners (Ansari missing out, it seems) and three seamers (Broad, Woakes and Stokes). Seriously, that could go any way you like. Broad doesn’t have a great record on sub-continent wickets, Woakes is going to be really tested, and Stokes? The spin is going to be “hands over eyes” stuff.

If England are in any way complacent, one should look at the last test played at Chittagong.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/bangladesh-v-south-africa-2015/engine/match/817213.html

South Africa were far from having matters their own way in this match. Rain washed out the last two days of play with the test fascinatingly poised.

England’s last visit to Chittagong produced this match:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/bdeshveng2010/engine/match/426423.html

Kevin Pietersen made 99, only the second England player to make that score this century. Without looking at Statsguru, a pat on the back if you can name the other. In that match Lovejoy took 10 wickets, Mushfiqur Rahim was a right royal pain, and Junaid Siddique made a century.

Rahim made his runs from 8 in that match, whereas tomorrow he might line up at 5 or 6. Tamim and Imrul have made decent impressions in their most recent tests, and Mahmadullah always look a decent player to me. Shakib is a canny old customer. These aren’t the muppets of yesteryear. They may not be a formidable force, but they appear on the upward path. I hope we see two really good games of cricket in their own right, and not as some Jar Jar Binks warm up act for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Ravi Ashwin and Virat Kohli.

Enjoy the test match winter (which ends at Christmas with England) and feel free to fire away as per usual. Because when you do, you put a skip in my step and the sun in my heart.

Comments on Day 1 below.

 

Champions in Chittagong

England chased down a testing total, not without a few scares here and there, to win the series. According to the stuff I have read, Ben Stokes played a very mature innings to see us home. Hallelujah to that, just what we want, especially on slow surfaces against spin where he’s been found wanting in the past.

This is really a very short post. I am incredibly snowed under at work at the moment, and yes, it doesn’t happen too often, so posting is going to be tricky at the best of times. Chris and Sean are in similar positions too at the moment. But I want further comments to come on the back of a victory posting rather than more misery. It is amazing how the press are trumping up a series win in Bangladesh when they probably expected a whitewash by the visitors before our departure (and ignoring the results that the Bangladesh team had achieved). I can’t help but thinking there’s an itty bitty agenda behind that.

A message from your local station, as they say in the States. Mr Newman, I presume…

And they did it without their regular top four one-day batsmen after Jason Roy was ruled out through injury to join Alex Hales, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan in being absent from the decider.

Ah. As if we didn’t know that Hales and Morgan weren’t there.Note also, starting a sentence with the word And…. horrendous. You never get me doing that.

I come to praise Rashid, not bury him…

Yet three of those wickets came from bad balls and Rashid was a little flattered to record figures of four for 43 on a ground that is not conducive to the modern dynamic brand of one-day cricket being played worldwide.

And just in case you might have forgotten…

But the calm figure of Woakes joined Stokes to sensibly see England home to what is – with their captain in Morgan choosing to stay at home and others missing – an against the odds and hugely satisfying one-day triumph.

I sometimes wonder if he writes for his goldfish, so short a memory he expects of his readership.

Now, of course, Oliver Holt was over there, on a little flying visit to confirm the security was OK and that the stayaways were wrong. I call Holt by the name Mr Sanctimony. It was once said by Mark of this parish that the “Hold the Back Page” generation were the first set of journalists to gain TV prominence. Mark once said, and it’s a line I love, that they turned up on Sunday morning TV, with a leather jacket, often unshaven, and they thought they were Keith Richard.

He (Holt, not Mark) had a little snip back at yours truly at the weekend for an observation I made about a lamentably researched piece on the Minnesota Vikings stadium (a standing joke in the U S on the way it was financed) just to bash West Ham and their move to the Olympic Stadium. It was agenda driven claptrap. I cannot wait for his piece on his journey to Chittagong. The old fisking keyboard may be brought out for one more go. You do wonder how Newman thinks when old superiority bollox flounces in to Bangladesh, has his say, and then flounces out again, like some modern day envoy from the FO. “Natives a bit restless, showed ’em a flash of the old double barrel, a couple of tanks, kept ’em in line, no bother at all.” Let’s wait and see, eh?

Meanwhile India are world #1 test team and Australia have been whitewashed in an ODI series by South Africa. International cricket, bloody hell.

England in Bangladesh: Preview

Friday sees the England team back in action after a break that scarcely warrants the term.  To put it into context, they begin the ODI series in Bangladesh on October 7th.  In 2017, they will finish their home international season on 29th September.  It’s been pointed out before that England’s schedule is beyond ridiculous, and irrespective of all the other matters around whether England were to tour at all, it would be unsurprising if some within the England camp were hoping for it to be cancelled for no other reason than to provide a more meaningful break.

Some players are missing anyway of course, Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan deciding not to tour, while James Anderson is injured, and in so being thoroughly justifying the medical team once again who advised so firmly against his selection during the English summer.  If this series feels like a warm up for the India tour, it’s not helped by the lack of any scheduled preparatory matches before the first Test in Rajkot; the implication that Bangladesh will provide what is needed is hard to avoid.  Nevertheless, despite the debates over the security issues, Bangladesh as a cricket nation desperately needed it to go ahead.  If England had not agreed to go, the likelihood of other countries visiting would take a big hit.  There may be lots of criticism about how deserving Bangladesh have been over their Test status in the last decade, but losing home matches would be a body blow to the prospects of the game there.  Cricket is not in the healthiest state it could be, and while Pakistan reaching the number one ranking (since overtaken by India) while playing in exile might be a notable achievement, it doesn’t mean it’s a template for others to follow.

This series comprises three one day internationals and two Tests, but few in England will be excited about it.  That isn’t the point though, and while it is easy to play a game of whataboutery, whether it be concerning Ireland’s treatment or the actions of the ICC, for the game to have any chance, the weaker and poorer members of the international firmament need to play against the rest, and play at home.  On my recent travels I had the opportunity to talk to a number of people from Bangladesh, hoteliers, ground handlers and so forth, and while this cricket tour is not something from which they expect to see any business, the very fact that it is happening at all was clearly uppermost in their thoughts.  In difficult times even the most peripheral action can have an impact on the future and on the degree of confidence in the future.  They need this, and they need it badly.

England will expect to win, and although Bangladesh’s progress is uneven, they are even more hampered by having not played international cricket since March’s World T20.  In a time when the ECB are heavily criticised for grinding their players into the dust in an attempt to extract the maximum financial return, it is easy to forget that other countries might regard that as a nice problem to have.

This tour will be low key on the field, and all hopes are that it will be equally low key off it.  Yet for England fans the selections of Zafar Ansari and Ben Duckett will be of interest, as will the performance of some of the bowlers given the challenges ahead.  Chris Woakes has had the kind of summer he would have dreamed about, but rising to the challenge of sub-continental pitches will be something new to deal with.  How he does that, particularly in the absence of Anderson, will provide an indication as to how competitive England will be in India.  The same can be said of the spin attack – the recall of Gareth Batty doesn’t inspire great confidence in the potential amongst the younger players, but dealing with the here and now rather than chasing a future that never arrives is perhaps something England haven’t done enough of in recent times.

However it turns out on the field, this tour says more than just about cricket, and perhaps that is the most important thing.  The debate about the rights and wrongs of players going, not going, how the ECB handled that, how the cricketing press responded to that has been done and not too many came out of it with a great deal of credit.  The matches themselves can at least provide a respite from that.