Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Collapse

Thursday, 3 November 2016
It was well and truly the collapse to end all collapses. England lost ten wickets in a session, going from a position of promise when 100/0 at tea - to 164 all out and beaten within three days. For Bangladesh, it was perhaps their greatest day since gaining test status in the year 2000. For England, who have managed many horrible collapses in their time, it was one of their worst.

The focus has to be on Bangladesh. They came so close to victory in the first test, only to fall at the final hurdle, but they didn't have to wait long for an even better chance. From Tamim Iqbal's dominating century on the first day, to having England struggling at 144/8 in their first innings, to going on the offensive in their second innings before running through England at the end; it was a match which they controlled almost all the way through. And it was a series in which they consistently looked the better side. Every batsman in the top order made an important contribution at some stage, Tamim Iqbal leading the way. In spin bowling they were a class apart - 7 wickets for Taijul at 22.85, 12 for Shakib at 18.41, and of course 19 for Mehedi at 15.63.

19 wickets for Mehedi Hasan, only turning 19 in the middle of the series. 19 wickets in his first two test matches, with three six wicket hauls. What better way to announce himself on the international stage? His offspin was a most potent weapon, accurate and always testing an English batting lineup littered with left-handers for him to prey on. There was never any other candidate for man of the series.

An area where England could claim to have outperformed Bangladesh this series was in the lower order batting. Where England might often collapse at the top of an innings, Bangladeshi wickets would fall quickly towards an innings's end. England's lower order had to bail them out again in this match, with a 99 run stand and a pair of forties from Woakes and Rashid seeing England scrape a first innings lead after being 144-8. The defeat might easily have been much worse. The second time out, even the lower order couldn't save them.

It had all started so well. A total of 273 was always going to be a tall order to chase, but they had at least given themselves a chance. A strong opening partnership had been elusive up until this point, but this time they made their mark. Ben Duckett showed just why he had been selected, playing with that special quality that makes him so exciting to watch - the inventiveness, the flair, never showing any fear. The special shots came out, and early in the innings too. A first test fifty came, a score of 56 from 64 balls. England will be making changes to their batting lineup, but he will likely have done enough to secure his place at the top. The captain Cook was there at the other end, his score of 59 contributing to the century stand.

But the first ball after tea, Duckett was out, Mehedi hitting the stumps. Joe Root, who had been in 'quarantine' the previous day through illness, soon followed. Ballance hit a leading edge to Tamim, a nightmare tour reaching its conclusion. And so on, and so on. After the openers, only Stokes made double figures. Moeen, Rashid, Ansari, and Finn all made ducks. Batsman after batsman came to the crease, only to turn round and go to the changing room moments later, undone by the spin of Mehedi or Shakib. The collapse was total. Bangladesh had beaten England at last, and comprehensively - by 108 runs. History had been made.

Where do England go from here? Well the obvious answer is, India. With no warm-up matches inbetween, England head into the first of five test matches next week. There will be no opportunity for squad members to play between games, and with the tours so close together there was no chance for the squad to be changed - something already appearing problematic. With Duckett opening the innings, Haseeb Hameed looks unlikely to get a chance; meanwhile Gary Ballance's England career looks to have reached the end of the road after four innings on this tour brought four single figures. That leaves Jos Buttler, not proven in red ball cricket (though highly successful against spin in the ODI series), left as the only specialist batting option to join the team. With five matches in a six week period, the Lions squad is also likely to come in play.

Whatever disappoint inevitably comes from such a collapse though, the most credit must be given to Bangladesh, and a thanks to a fantastic tour. The ODI series was a thriller, a close contest between both sides, and the test series did not disappoint either. Both matches brought their share of drama, the tightest of contests in match one, and a day to celebrate for Bangladesh in match two. No longer are they the minnows of old - they haven't been in a long time, especially in ODIs. But this was the big breakthrough, a defining moment to build upon. And as the team, the stadium, and the nation smiled; it was hard not to raise a smile too.

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