Monday, 24 October 2016

Tension, joy, and broken hearts

Monday, 24 October 2016
Darkness had come again, but still the final words had yet to be written. A thrilling test match had been left in the balance, narrow margins separating both sides from victory. For England, two wickets; for Bangladesh, 33 runs for a historic victory. A low scoring match had proven a thriller. The tension would be carried overnight.

Of course, that was just part of the story. There had been England's recovery on the first day, and Bangladesh for the most part looking comfortable with the bat on the second. They were led again by their talisman with the bat, Tamim Iqbal, who simply seems to love playing against England - as two centuries and five fifties in ten innings can attest. The last wicket of the day was the first in the game to fall to seam, when Mushfiqur Rahim (48) was caught behind off Stokes in the final over of the day. Spin dominated proceedings on a turning pitch, but it was still far from a paradise for England's trio. There were undeniably some cracking deliveries - Rashid's dismissal of Mahmudullah (38) a prime example, a classic legspinner's wicket - but a lot of the time, batsmen raised on a diet of spin were more than happy to face them.

Where England were strong, however, proved to be where Bangladesh were weaker. In the first innings, England's last five wickets contributed 187, transforming a struggling innings to a decent score on the board of 293. Bangladesh's lower order were less successful, the last six wickets falling for only 27 runs; their hopes of a lead at 221/4 faltering as they stumbled to 248. Ben Stokes had been the pick for England, striking three times on that third morning for figures of 4/26, his reverse swing proving a potent weapon.

As is the glory of all-rounders, he wasn't done for the day. Frustratingly, England's top order faltered once again - and I really hate sounding like a broken record, but it just keeps happening. Gary Balance is one whose place looks increasingly under threat, and as much as I would desperately like him to succeed, even I'm not sure how much longer he can hold down his place. Hameed, Buttler, and Ansari are all waiting in the wings. But, at 62/5, Ben Stokes (85) stood up and made his mark for the second time in the day. His batting on the subcontinent has come on hugely already this tour, and his growing maturity shone through in a patient innings that was still aggressive when needed, and thoroughly hard-fought. Bairstow of course joined him, chipping in 47 runs as the two shared a partnership worth 127 runs. England's innings was rescued again, a total of 240 setting Bangladesh 286 runs to win.

The big wicket of Tamim Iqbal fell early, a start that boded well for England. But Bangladesh were on the counterpunch, Imrul Kayes scoring a 61-ball 43 that saw the initiative go back in the host's favour. It was an approach enough to put Alastair Cook on the back foot, a captain always likely to edge towards the defensive, particularly when bowling his spinners. But either side of lunch, England wrested control again - first through Rashid's dismissal of Kayes, and then Gareth Batty picking up the wickets of Mominul Haque and Mahmudullah in quick succession. Batty's call up for this tour - at 39 years old and with a gap of 142 tests since his last cap in 2005 - certainly raised some eyebrows, mine included. But this was him doing exactly what he was picked for - always having the fight about him, and often more control than his younger spin colleagues. At 108/4 and then 140/5, England looked in control again.

Sabbir Rahman had other ideas. It might have been his debut, Bangladesh might have been chasing their most significant test victory to date, but you couldn't tell that from the way he batted. He took on England's bowlers from the start, putting the pressure back on Cook and testing his faith in his trio of spinners. It was a battle Sabbir won when after tea England bowled a pair of quicks together in Woakes and Stokes, with the ball not yet offering a great deal of reverse swing. In terms of the run rate, the thinking was clear - spin went at over three an over whilst pace went at under two - but when Batty returned and picked up the wicket of Mushfiqur almost straight away, it felt that maybe an opportunity had been missed. It was the key breakthrough, a partnership that was starting to look like a matchwinning effort as Bangladesh edged ever closer to England's target. With it broken, England looked the most likely winners.

But Sabbir fought until the very end. Stuart Broad ran in to bowl - a nine over spell on the fourth evening - and whilst his partners were dismissed, Sabbir was still there, still batting. Broad might have been anonymous for periods of the game, but at the crunch end he was delivering, doing his job as the leader of the attack. Darkness had fallen, but Broad was bowling too well to be taken off. The contest would be carried overnight.

Cricket is a cruel and beautiful game. For all Bangladesh's fight, for all Sabbir Rahman's best efforts, he could only watch from the other end when Stokes had his way, two LBWs in three deliveries wrapping up the game for England. Sabbir finished with 64*, but it will be the 23 unscored runs that will have the most impact. The match ended in heartbreak for the hosts, elation and relief for the visitors.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Two Short Legs © 2014