Bangladesh shows some verve in defeat

IF the scoreboard is your only source of information, it will only tell you that Bangladesh lost yet another Test match, which is its 24th defeat in 25 Tests.

UTPAL SHUVRO

IF the scoreboard is your only source of information, it will only tell you that Bangladesh lost yet another Test match, which is its 24th defeat in 25 Tests. Since the draw against Zimbabwe two years back, which was largely due to inclement weather, Bangladesh has now lost 19 in a row.

Man of the match Steve Harmison is applauded by team-mates for his fine bowling effort, which fetched him nine wickets in the match. -- Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES-

So you can easily conclude that Bangladesh's horror run in Test cricket continues and as is fashion for quite sometime, raises questions about the wisdom of granting it Test status.

But that would only be half the story. Yes, Bangladesh lost another Test match, but not before putting up a brave fight which caused some nervous moments in the England dressing room. At the start of the last day, any one of the three possible results was on the cards. That itself manifested the change.

Bangladesh is still losing, but the difference is, nowadays it is not losing without a fight. Not long ago, Test matches against Bangladesh were like a stroll in the park for the opposition, if the match was extended to the fourth day or it was forced to bat the second time, it was considered as a failure.

Not any more. Since Dav Whatmore, the coach with the magic wand, took charge last June, there has been a remarkable change in the attitude of the Bangladesh team. Suddenly there is lot more self belief among the players and as a result the same team which was so miserable only a few months back, is now looking more and more a Test side.

Marcus Trescothick made a masterful hundred in the first innings. -- Pic. CLIVE ROSE/GETTY IMAGES-

Victorious England captain Michael Vaughan also acknowledged this, "We always knew it was going to be tough in these conditions, and against an ever-improving Bangladesh team. After Bangladesh's performances in Pakistan, we knew they'd be a tough nut to crack, and it took a lot of hard work. On days three and four, they were excellent and put us under a lot of pressure."

From the way Bangladesh is playing, Vaughan is sure that its maiden victory in Test cricket is not far away, "I'm sure, they have a Test win just round the corner, but hopefully not in the next."

As Vaughan has said, on days three and four Bangladesh was really good. If the third day belonged to the Bangladeshi bowlers, the fourth day was dominated by its batsmen.

Only 15 overs were possible on the first day primarily due to rain and poor drainage system at the Bangabandhu National stadium. Starting the second day on 24 for two, Bangladesh was in deep trouble when it was reduced to 72 for five. A fighting 60 runs partnership between Mushfiqur Rahman and wicketkeeper Khaled Mashud and some gutsy hitting by Mohammad Rafique brought some respectability to the total. But a score of 203 in the first innings cannot be termed as satisfactory and if you remember that Bangladesh has passed 280 in the first innings in its last four Test matches, all played abroad, it was really disappointing.

Debutant Rikki Clarke is bowled by Mohammad Rafique (not in picture). By claiming five wickets in the match, Rafique became Bangladesh's highest wicket-taker. — Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES-

Steve Harmison, the tall fast bowler from Durham, was the wrecker-in-chief with his extra bounce and pace. He got his first five wicket haul in Test cricket and with another four wickets in the second innings was adjudged the Man of the Match. He was especially pleased because this performance came in the sub-continent. "The conditions here are most testing that I have ever come across. And as I had no previous experience of playing in the sub-continent, it was satisfying to take 9 wickets."

At the end of second day's play England swaggered on to 111 for no loss. But on the third day Bangladesh fought back gallantly and England, at one stage 137 for no loss, lost three wickets for three runs and finally was all out for 295, the lowest score against Bangladesh on its home soil.

Marcus Trescothick, who scored a double century at Oval against South Africa just before coming to Bangladesh, sent ominous message to the Bangladeshi bowlers by scoring 91 and 96 in the two practice matches preceding the Test series. His form continued in the Test and he scored his fifth Test century (113, 194b, 4x19, 6x3), but Trescothick should remain grateful to Mushfiqur Rahman, who dropped a simple chance in the slips off Rafique's bowling when he was on 88. He also survived a very close lbw appeal from Mushfiqur when on 94. Being twice dismissed in the nineties in the tour, Trescothick took the short cut and reached the century by hitting a huge six off Mohammad Rafique.

After the 137 runs opening partnership between Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick, it was downhill for England. The second best partnership in England's first innings was only 49 between Graham Thorpe and debutant Rikki Clarke. Bangladesh's two left arm spinners, experienced Mohammad Rafique, who by claiming five wickets in the match became the highest wicket taker for Bangladesh in Test cricket (31 wickets in only seven Tests) and rookie Enamul Haque Jr., who made his debut at the age of 16 and impressed with his turn and variations in flight, bowled really well in tandem. Pace spearhead Mashrafe Bin Mortaza's spell (6-1-12-3) with the second new ball was outstanding.

Bangladeshi batsmen fared much better in the second innings, though they finished quite disappointingly. At the end of the fourth day, Bangladesh was very well placed on 245 for six. With 153 runs lead and four wickets in hand and only the last day's play remaining, Bangladesh has every right to feel optimistic. A draw was very much on the cards, the English media which accompanied the team was even talking about the prospect of an improbable win for Bangladesh.

Bangladesh reached this position of strength thanks to the second wicket partnership of 108 between Hannan Sarkar and Habibul Bashar, their third century partnership in the last five Tests. Two overnight batsmen almost batted out the extended morning session of two and half hours, but Habibul Bashar (58) got out playing a needless drive to debutant off spinner Gareth Batty in the last over before lunch and gave a simple catch to the lone slip fielder. Hannan (59) also failed to convert his fifty to a big score. Coach Dave Whatmore identified this as a major problem area. "The difference between the Bangladeshi batsmen and others is not failure because every one fails. Even Tendulkar fails. But it's the ability to convert the starts into big scores that makes all the difference. Bangladeshi batsmen are now scoring only 50 and 60, as soon as they start converting this into big scores, I think they will be much better off."

Michael Vaughan persevered to find his touch with knocks of 48 and 81 not out and returned to the sublime level of his Australian form. — Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES-

Habibul Bashar is a classic example. He is Bangladesh's best batsman in Test cricket by a long distance. He averages a very respectable 38, but after crossing the fifty mark 18 times, only twice he was able to score centuries.

After two good days on the field, the fifth and last day was a bit of an anti-climax for Bangladesh. Two English pacemen, Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard took only nine overs on the fifth morning to mop up the tail. Bangladesh could add only 10 runs to its overnight score. Mushfiqur Rahman, who was staging a comeback after two and half years, was stranded on 46 and denied of a well deserved half century.

The target of 164 with lot of time in hand was never going to test the English batting. Dave Whatmore was philosophical, "It would have been nice to add 40 to 50 runs and take a little bit more time out of the game. It would have put more pressure on England in the fourth innings. But it wasn't to be. Sometimes play doesn't always go the way you want it to go."

Habibul Bashar acknowledges the cheers after he and Hannan Sarkar (left) had put on 108 for the second wicket in Bangladesh's second innings. — REUTERS-

But overall Whatmore was pleased with what he saw. "There were some good passages of play. I thought the team bowled very hard and we took it to the fifth day's second session. I think there is every reason to be happy and proud of the boys in certain aspects."

England also had some reasons to be happy. Yes, the form of Nasser Hussain and Mark Butcher remains a concern, their two spinners Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty were overshadowed by Bangladeshi spin twins Rafique and Enamul. But the performance of two pacemen Harmison and Hoggard in unresponsive conditions, taking 16 wickets among them, was really outstanding and won lavish praise from Michael Vaughan. "Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard did us proud. In that heat and humidity, and on a placid wicket, to pick up that many wickets was a true testament to the hard work they've put in over the last three weeks."

But England's greatest cause for celebration was the skipper himself. Considered as one of the premier batsmen of the world, Michael Vaughan was going through a lean patch since becoming the captain. Before this match, his highest score as England captain was only 33. In the first innings he surpassed that, but that innings of 48 was not his patented one. But in his second innings knock of unbeaten 81, there were some shots that reminded everyone of the batsman who took on Glenn McGrath and scored three centuries against Australia in Australia.

Vaughan was happy and relieved. "I am very happy that I am back among the runs. Whether I'm captain or not, as I've said before, I'm an opening bat first and foremost, and my job is to score runs. The first 10 runs in the first innings were among the hardest I've ever had to get."