Thursday, 13 October 2016

Selected thoughts: Bangladesh vs England ODIs

Thursday, 13 October 2016
And so the winter begins, three ODIs and two tests in Bangladesh to form the first leg of England's tour to Asia. Maybe a few years ago, it might have looked a relatively straight forward prospect. But not any more. Over the past couple of years or so, Bangladesh have been one of the most improved teams in ODI cricket - six series wins on the bounce can attest to this, and who can forget their victory over England to reach the World Cup quarter finals last year? With England another team on the rise, the series offered an interesting contest.

Game one, and it was the Bens who shone for England. Duckett, on debut, and Stokes came together at the crease at the not-so-simple position of 63/3 for England. But Duckett looked up to the task from the start, tough and ready for the challenge in the first game. It wasn't simple by any means with unfamiliar conditions and a difficult situation, but he passed his first test on the international stage, a crucial score of 60 anchoring England's innings. Alongside him, Ben Stokes made his first ODI century. Perhaps it wasn't as flamboyant as we've seen before, just over a run a ball though still with four sixes, but it showed his improvement in slow, turning conditions - and an upward curve as an ODI batsman. At the start of this year, he had passed fifty just twice in 34 games; this year he's passed the mark five times, and this was his third score above fifty in a row. The pair's partnership was worth 153, giving the captain Buttler time for his customary blitz (63 from 38, making it look all too easy), and England finished on 309/8.

Yet in response, Bangladesh looked to be cruising. At 153/4, it might have gone either way. But at 271/4, they were safely heading for the win, a brilliant century from Imrul Kayes (112) and an attacking 79 from 55 for Shakib Al Hasan setting them on the path for victory. England were drifting, a bowling attack possibly suffering from a lack of variety without the extra pace of the injured Plunkett. But they didn't give up. Somehow, Bangladesh lost five wickets in the space of nine runs and the match was transformed. Jake Ball became the first Englishman to take a five-for on debut, whilst at the other end Rashid had picked up four - with a run-out to boot. England may have been wilting in the stifling heat and humidity - and Ball looked to be running on empty as he looked for that final wicket - but they fought to the very end. Buttler had passed his first test as captain, and England had dramatically drawn the first blood.

Match two, and it was a good bowling performance from England. Bangladesh could never quite get away, England being tight with the ball and regularly breaking partnerships before they could get going. For much of the innings, only Mahmudullah (75) could really settle and score at a decent rate. But the captain came to the crease and was the man to make the difference - Mashrafe Mortaza making 44 from 29, supported by Nasir Hossain with a run-a-ball 27. A total of 238 was one England might have fancied - but that blitz at the end was the sort that could make all the difference.

Straight away England struggled. Bangladesh opened the bowling with the spin of Shakib to great effect, and with three wickets from Mortaza England were 31/4 after the first powerplay. England were rebuilding before they'd even begun. And though Bairstow (35) and the ever-impressive Buttler - using his feet in a run-a-ball 57 - had made something of a recovery, three wickets from Taskin Ahmed brought the innings crashing down again. Tensions started to fly, the normally calm duo of Buttler and Woakes riled up after the celebration of Buttler's wicket, but despite a mini-fightback from the last wicket pair of Rashid and Ball, Bangladesh sealed a deserved victory by 34 runs. The finale was set, and now with an added spice.

And so, to the decider. Bangladesh made a good start, a pair of forties from openers Imrul Kayes and Tamim Iqbal - the latter becoming the first Bangladeshi batsman to pass 5000 runs in ODI cricket. Sabbir Rahman also made 49 with Mushfiqur Rahim top scoring with 67*, while England's fast bowlers struggled to make an impact. Plunkett had returned to the side in favour of David Willey, and - though in most cases I'm an advocate of his presence - in these conditions the extra spin option of Liam Dawson would likely have been a better call. Rashid was the pick of the bowlers, finding turn to pick up 4-43 (though the bad balls picked up more wickets than the good), but a score of 277/6 still looked a tricky one to chase.

But England had their own strong start. With an injury to Jason Roy, maybe Sam Billings wasn't the most immediate choice to open the innings - but he seized his opportunity with both hands, making 62 from 69 deliveries. Duckett was also in the runs, scoring his second fifty of the series after a duck in the previous game. It was a show of the fantastic young talent England have on offer; the only problem being who will miss out when the trio of Root, Hales, and Morgan also return to the team. Stokes was also there at the end with 47*, while Chris Woakes finished the job off with a six down the ground, cool as you like. It was a fine and mature chase, and a fine performance by England to win the series.

It might not always have been plain sailing, but the best challenges never are. It was a hard fought, competitive series, and after the second game, one with that extra spice about it. But England came through at the crucial moments - when Bangladesh crumbled at the end of the first match, and with a strong run chase in the final match. Then again, had it gone the other way we would have been saying that about Bangladesh - Mashrafe Mortaza's performance in the second game especially. In a hard fought series it's often a matter of fine margins, and how a team fares in the big moments. And this time, in a stern test, England pulled through.

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