Andrew Flintoff hogs the show

ENGLAND, predictably, won the one-day series 3-0 and completed a double whitewash as it had beaten Bangladesh 2-0 in the preceding two-Test series.

UTPAL SHUVRO

ENGLAND, predictably, won the one-day series 3-0 and completed a double whitewash as it had beaten Bangladesh 2-0 in the preceding two-Test series.

The victorious England team. -- Pic. AFP-

There was an uncanny sameness in the three matches of the series. In all the three matches, Bangladesh captain Khaled Mahmud won the toss and batted first. In all the three matches, Bangladesh struggled throughout its innings and never got to any position, which could have remotely threatened England. In all the three matches, England won by seven wickets after an early hiccup. And the biggest similarity of them all, it was Andrew Flintoff who starred in all three victories for England.

`Starred' is not the right word to explain Andrew Flintoff in this series. He dominated the series to such an extent that it virtually became an `Andrew Flintoff show'. He was the highest wicket-taker in the series — his seven wickets came at an average of 9.00 and his economy rate (2.12) was also outstanding. In the first two matches he was as miser as Shylock. After conceding only 14 runs from 9.4 overs to take four wickets in the first match at Chittagong, Flintoff gave away only 17 from 10 in the second match at Dhaka.

And after all the heroics with the ball, it was in batting where Flintoff was at his magical best. He scored 177 runs in three innings without being dismissed even once. It was not the number of runs, but the manner in which they were scored that set Flintoff apart. His three unbeaten innings of 55, 70 and 52 came off only 52, 47 and 39 balls respectively. Boundary hits (22 fours, 10 sixes) accounted for 83.62 per cent of his runs. Flintoff 's batting was a blend of power, timing and grace and it was exhilarating to watch him in full flow.

Andrew Flintoff dominated with both the bat and the ball and was rightly adjudged the Man of the Series. — Pic. AP-

The Bangladeshi bowlers wouldn't agree, but it was entertainment of the highest order and one was reminded of someone whose growing stature as one of the best all-rounders England has ever produced would never be questioned.

Interestingly, during this series, Flintoff dispossessed Ian Botham of the record for the highest number of sixes by an Englishman in ODIs. Flintoff has now hit 48 sixes in 57 innings (65 matches). Botham needed 106 innings (116 matches) to record his 44 sixes.

Flintoff was adjudged the Man of the Match in all the three encounters and it was obvious that he was the Man of the Series too.

Acrobatic Englishmen. Ashley Giles (above) dives to his left to bring off a spectacular return catch to end Mushfiqur Rahman's stay at the crease in the first one-dayer at Chittagong. Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES-

Flintoff, who missed the Test series due to injury was ecstatic, but was much subdued when talking to the media. "I've been striking the ball well and I hope to continue the good work in the future assignments," he said. Hardly a reaction one can expect after such a memorable performance. But, then, Andrew Flintoff had seen many ups and downs in his career and it might have made him a bit more philosophical about success as well as failure.

The England captain Michael Vaughan was lavish in his praise. "It was a special performance from him. I have never seen an English player dominate a series like this."

Vaughan was very happy about his team's performance in England's first ever tour to Bangladesh. "I thought we did everything we set out to do in Bangladesh and winning the Tests 2-0 and the one-dayers 3-0 was a wonderful effort from a relatively inexperienced side."

Speedster James Anderson lies on the ground after catching Moni Ruzzaman off his own bowling in the third and final one-dayer at Dhaka. - Pic. AP-

For Bangladesh, this series again exposed the shortcomings of its players in the shorter version of the game. Much has been said about Bangladesh's Test status. Though Bangladesh's Test performance showed a marked improvement since coach Dav Whatmore took over, its one-day record continues to get worse. Since the win against Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup in England, Bangladesh has now played 47 matches without a win. It is a staggering statistic for this form of the game, which is supposed to give the minnows a much better chance to cause an upset.

In this series, Bangladesh was nothing less than miserable. The bowlers put up a brave fight but they were not given any sort of total to defend. There was not a single half-century from the Bangladesh batsmen and the team could not cross the 200-run mark even once. After scoring 143 and 134 in the first two matches, there was a slight improvement in the third match. But the score of 182 was good enough only to delay the inevitable and nothing else.

In the first match in Chittagong, Bangladesh lost four wickets for just one run in an amazing middle order collapse. The team was cruising along nicely and at one stage, was at 65 for two. But then, it kept losing wickets in a hurry and all of a sudden the score read 66 for six. Bangladesh never really looked like recovering from this shock and it seemed to haunt the team throughout the series.

For Bangladesh, the only positive aspect was the emergence of Mushfiqur Rahman as an all-rounder of some promise. Here he celebrates the dismissal of England skipper Michael Vaughan in the final one-dayer. -- Pic. REUTERS-

In the second match in Dhaka, it was the other way round. After 9.1 overs of the innings, Bangladesh managed to score only seven runs. But the run-rate of less than one was not the main problem; the fact of the matter was that the team had lost four wickets to score those runs. Rajin Saleh and Mushfiqur Rahman added 53 runs for the fifth wicket and saved Bangladesh from the ignominy of getting out to its lowest ever total of 74. Eventually, Bangladesh reached 134 and when England was reduced to 37 for three by some fine seam bowling from Tapash Baishya and Mushfiqur Rahman, there was some excitement among the crowd. Then entered Andrew Flintoff. After being dropped on 26, he raced to 70 not out from only 47 balls.

There was no dramatic collapse in the third match, but Bangladesh lost wickets at regular intervals and eventually managed 182, which was never enough to test England.

For Bangladesh, the only positive aspect was the emergence of Mushfiqur Rahman as an all-rounder of some promise. He was easily the best player in the Bangladesh side, but the rest of the players, particularly the batsmen, were completely out of sorts. Coach Whatmore was disappointed with the performance of his team. "It's the volume of losing matches that has brought the players' performance down. I don't mind getting defeated 3-0 if we run the opponents close. Although we did a little better in the third match, in the other two the manner of losing was not that clever. We lost in Pakistan too but the boys put in a fighting performance. Looking back at this series, you've got to say that some things were not working quite right."

Captain Khaled Mahmud was under increasing pressure due to the team's poor performance as well as his personal failure. He scored only 15 runs and captured one wicket in the series and had to bear the brunt of the home fan's wrath. It was a painful experience for him and he didn't try to conceal his feelings. "The crowd was shouting even when I was going for the toss. That kind of reaction from the supporters is very painful. It hurts a lot."

The diminutive all-rounder was made captain after Bangladesh's nightmarish World Cup. He impressed everyone with his captaincy, but his personal form was hardly anything to write about. It is widely believed that he would be stripped of the captaincy before Bangladesh's next series against Zimbabwe in February. But Khaled Mahmud has other ideas. "Whether I remain captain or not is up to the selectors, but I don't want to quit," he said.