England exploits the conditions fully

Utpal Shuvro

Michael Vaughan (right), the England skipper, and Richard Johnson with the trophy after England won the second Test against Bangladesh at Chittagong. Johnson was the wrecker-in-chief with nine wickets in the match. England won the series 2-0. — Pic. CLIVE ROSE/GETTY IMAGES-

"The wicket suited our style of play," said a smiling Michael Vaughan during his post-match press conference at Chittagong . You can hardly expect this kind of statement from an England captain while playing in the sub-continent.

The wicket at the M. A. Aziz Stadium, Chittagong, was not a typical slow, low sub-continent wicket. It had good bounce and carry, and England, which was pleasantly surprised by this, fully exploited the condition.

"The wicket suited our style of play but still we needed to put the ball in the right areas that was exactly what they (England pacers) have done. We put Bangladesh under pressure, picked out their weaknesses and it paid off," said Michael Vaughan after his team won by 329 runs and completed a 2-0 clean sweep in the Test series.

Nasser Hussain's 95 in the second essay was praiseworthy. The former England skipper made 76 in the first innings as well, but it was not a classy innings. In the end his knock paved the way for England's thumping win. — Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES-

England pacemen exploited Bangladesh batsmen's weakness against short-pitched deliveries. With a 5-4 field on the leg side, the bowlers relentlessly aimed at batsmen's ribcage and on a wicket with a bit of uneven bounce, the Bangladesh batsmen fared miserably.

Bangladesh was shot out for 152 in the first innings and 138 in the second. The match total of 290 is the fifth lowest in its Test history, the margin of defeat is the biggest for Bangladesh in terms of runs. For only the second time in 26 Tests, none of the Bangladeshi batsmen was able to score a half century in the match.

Bangladesh's coach Dav What more thought it was the variable bounce, rather than the short-pitched ball that had done the real damage, "The short-pitched bowling was good test for our batsmen. I don't think that they would have encountered a barrage like this before, on a wicket with a bit of variable bounce. We did pretty well in Pakistan and Australia, and they have some pretty nasty bowlers. But I think it was the variable bounce which was the enemy of the batsmen, rather than the length of the bowling."

Bangladesh's second innings ended in less than three hours in 37.1 overs. In the face of hostile short-pitched deliveries, the home team played some indiscreet shots which were more suitable, probably for, the shorter version of the game; two run outs didn't help the team either.

Whatmore thought it had more to do with the mental side of the game, "It has very much become a mental game when you are so far behind the opposition by day four. It takes a superhuman effort just to dig in, dig in and dig in. Things like that don't happen very often."

Rajin Saleh goes down flat to avoid this delivery from Matthew Hoggard. The English paceman was adjudged the Man of the Series. — Pic. CLIVE ROSE/GETTY IMAGES-

Though disappointed, Dav Whatmore took solace by looking at the bigger picture, "It's a very disappointing match for us, no question about that, but we need support. This is not the time when we need people to say you're terrible. We played nine days of Test match cricket against England. Two of those seven days England dominated, but you couldn't say they dominated on any of the other seven days. I'd rather look at the bigger picture, than take the negative approach."

Starting from the Pakistan tour, Bangladesh looked like a transformed side in its last four Test matches, where opposition had to fight really hard to win. The disastrous performance against England might have surprised a few, but not Whatmore. He knew this dream run had to come to an end at some time. "In my experience in sport, if you are looking to improve from a position of weakness, it is never, ever, going to be a straight line upwards. It is how the team will handle this sort of situation in the future that will determine how they shape up. I don't think we should jump to conclusions - I still think the team has done pretty well."

It can be argued that England read the wicket better than the home team. It dropped one spinner to include one more pace bowler in the team. But Bangladesh went into the match with the same team as in Dhaka Test, with two left-arm spinners and only one specialist pace bowler. Two more medium pace all-rounders made the bowling attack for Bangladesh. With this modest pace attack in his arsenal, Bangladesh captain Khaled Mahmud surprised everyone by electing to field after winning the toss.

The problem was compounded when Mashrafee bin Mortaza, only bowler in the Bangladesh side who has the ability to trouble the batsmen with his pace and bounce twisted his knee in only his fourth over in the second innings and was unable to take any further part in this Test. He was out of the one-day series as well.

Mohammad Rafique, who was adjudged the best bowler, receives the trophy from Ali Asgar, Secretary, Chittagong Sports Journalists Forum. — Pic. AFP-

It was Mashrafee, who really tested the English batsmen in their first innings. Bowling with pace and aggression, a trait as rare in a Bangladeshi bowler as the snowfall in Bangladesh, he achieved his best figures in Test cricket by claiming four wickets for 60 runs. England was cruising along nicely, but as happened before in this tour, there was a mini collapse after the two openers put on 126. After England lost four wickets for eight runs, Nasser Hussain steadied the ship with a 116 runs partnership with Rikki Clarke. Clarke, who got the nod because of injury to Andrew Flintoff, played some attractive shots to score his maiden half-century in only his second Test match. But Nasser Hussain's innings of 76, considering the circumstances, was valuable indeed. But it was not a classy knock that would remain in the spectators' mind. In his 349 minutes vigil at the crease, the former England captain was out of sorts. It looked as if he was batting from memory. But he was not player who would throw his wicket in disgust. Instead, he fought it out and spent valuable time in the middle. The result was immediate; he was more fluent in his second innings knock of 95. Vaughan was full of praise, "Nasser showed the kind of character he is. He got no runs in Dhaka and so he put in a lot of hard work between the Tests. He worked on a few technical things in the nets, and it didn't surprise me at all when he bounced back."

As said before, the absence of Mashrafee bin Mortaza made it easier for Nasser Hussain and other England batsmen. England's two innings in this Test was quite a contrast. For the first innings total of 326, England had to bat 135.3 overs. They needed only 67 overs to amass 293 runs in the second innings.

England lost Steve Harmison, the Man of the Match in the Dhaka Test, even before the start of the Test. The tall Durham paceman complained of lower back pain and had to return home aiming to get ready for the Test series in Sri Lanka.

But England didn't feel Harmison's absence as Richard Johnson stepped in. Johnson was named only for the one-day series in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but included in the Test squad as a replacement for injured James Anderson. He had to postpone his honeymoon to make the trip, but after his performance in Chittagong Test, Johnson certainly has no regrets. With his ability to extract extra bounce, Johnson troubled the Bangladeshi batsmen and captured nine wickets in the match. It was his only second Test after making his debut against Zimbabwe, last June, and Johnson won the Man of the Match award again and also pressed his claim for a place in the Test squad for the Sri Lankan tour. "Bangladesh are probably not used to the ball bouncing that much and we tried to exploit that," said a beaming Johnson.

Marcus Trescothick, who was consistent right from the beginning of the tour, was adjudged the best batsman of the series, although Michael Vaughan headed both the aggregate and the average. Left-arm spinner Mohammad Rafique was adjudged the best bowler. With his 10 wickets, he was the highest wicket taker on either side in the two-Test series. In a series dominated by pacer bowlers, Rafique's was a remarkable success story. So it surprised many, when English pacer Matthew Hoggard was declared as the Man of the Series. Hoggard took seven wickets in Dhaka, but only two in Chittagong.

England had a special reason to celebrate; it had won three Tests on the trot overseas for the first time since 1978-79. Michael Vaughan, in his first overseas tour as England captain is confident that his team is on the right track. "Of the ten Test matches we've played this year, we've won seven. So that's a pretty good indication of where we're going. The wins are just starting to come and we have a really tough series against Sri Lanka ahead of us, which will be the perfect test of how far we've progressed. We are coming together as a team."