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WE HAVEN’T BEEN GOOD ENOUGH, SAYS COOK AFTER BANGLADESH BELTING

mvvvccRayhan Ahmed Topader

At the end of another topsy-turvy day in an ever-fluctuating series Bangladesh recorded their first Test win against England by the emphatic margin of 108 runs.It was a landmark victory for the home side, who had previously beaten only Zimbabwe (five times) and a depleted West Indies (twice) in the longest format of the game. It was something of a humiliation for England.At the start of the day Bangladesh, 128 ahead with seven wickets left, were favourites to make some history.They set a target of 273 on a devilish track but by tea England had cruised to 100 without loss.After the break, though,Alastair Cook’s side, tormented by the teenage off-spinner Mehedi Hasan,were bowled out for 164, losing 10 wickets in 110 minutes.

Cook has experienced many highs and lows as England captain but here he was not altogether surprised by the defeat.England had extricated themselves from a tricky situation in Chittagong in the first Test but they could not manage a repeat.

“It’s very easy sitting back and saying it’s just Bangladesh,” he said. “But on spinning wickets their bowlers are good, they’re experienced – I know one of them is only 19 but he is experienced in these conditions and very good. It has been really tough but I don’t think this is the toughest defeat I’ve had to bear.”

Indeed Cook’s mood was phlegmatic, verging on philosophical. He knows there is a long tour ahead in India and that he needs to keep spirits high.

However, he was not quite in the mood to match the immortal words of the England rugby captain John Pullin, who led his side to an 18-9 defeat in Dublin at the height of the Troubles in 1973. At the dinner afterwards Pullin had to speak. “Well, we may not be very good,” he said,but at least we turned up”which won the hearts of the Irish. Here England have also won a few hearts by agreeing to come to Bangladesh as well as spreading even more joy by their defeat.

Cook was candid enough afterwards, admitting England’s spinners had been outbowled by those of Bangladesh.“In these three days we just haven’t been good enough to win a game of cricket. Sometimes you have to remember it’s just a game of cricket,”he said.

However, at times on the last day it became a very heated game, with Ben Stokes getting a little too animated in his exchanges with the young Bangladesh batsman Sabbir Rahman.Stokes was fined 15% of his match fee and received one demerit point; three more of these in the next two years and he might be banned.

According to the International Cricket Council: “Stokes ignored the repeated requests and instructions of the on-field umpires by continuing to verbally engage with Sabbir.The on-field umpires had also advised the England captain of Stokes’s actions but the player didn’t comply with the instructions.”

This response to Stokes’s behaviour did not impress Cook greatly.“I do find it a little bit frustrating,”he said.“Both Sabbir and Stokesy are very competitive cricketers.To me people love it [when they confront one another];that’s what people watch.Sometimes I believe the umpires can get involved too quickly and then it blows up even more.It drags the episode out and brings more theatre to it than you need.”

Even without this little contretemps there was a wonderful abundance of theatre in this series, the best between these two countries.While Bangla desh savour their win in Dhaka, Cook will be far more concerned by the frailties of his team exposed by the home side than the behaviour of his talismanic all-rounder.

England have 10 days to regroup before the first Test in India,which begins in Rajkot on 9 November.Between now and then there is a lot of thinking to do but no cricket planned beyond the confines of a net.

A historic victory for Bangladesh, and a crushing defeat for England before they head off to even more taxing territory. As the home side celebrated joyously at the fall of the last wicket, Steven Finn, the dismissed batsman, stood there wondering why his request for a review was being ignored – there were no reviews left. This somehow epitomised a session in which England went from hopefulness to hopelessness in record time.

Needing an unlikely 273 for victory,England had managed to race to 100 for nought at tea with Ben Duckett delivering his best yet and Alastair Cook looking on admiringly.Suddenly anything was possible.Well,yes.Sadly for travelling supporters, who numbered about the same as the number of the employees of the England and Wales Cricket Board in Mirpur,this included England subsiding to 164 all out in the space of an hour and 50 minutes.

Imperceptibly the stadium filled on a steamy Sunday afternoon,a work day here, and then the decibel level soared as they all realised that Bangladesh were storming to their first Test victory over England on another bewildering day of cricket in Mirpur.

The margin of victory was 108 runs, which may not be so surprising but the manner of it was astonishing. At tea there was still the prospect of Cook’s team digging themselves out of a hole far deeper than anything experienced in Chittagong. Yet within two hours the sides were shaking hands and the England team were the one that had the appearance of callow newcomers to this wondrous form of the game.

Before tea Duckett had suggested England might escape in alien territory.Apart from the occasional trip to Taunton, English cricketers seldom experience a spinning,uneven pitch of these proportions. No matter.Duckett reverse swept freely, defended occasionally and with Cook proceeding in his own more orthodox style Bangladesh were rattled; the pitch was having a siesta.

But after the break England were mesmerised by a 19-year-old off-spinner, whose name would not have rung any bells among their batsmen a fortnight ago.Mehedi Hasan grabbed another five-wicket haul his third in four innings,which meant he ended the series with 19 wickets,demonstra bly the best spinner on parade.This begged an awkward question:what might the infinitely more experienced Ravi Ashwin do to England if the pitch for the first Test against India in Rajkot is similar to this?

Once Mehedi had rampaged through the top order, Shakib Al Hasan, so innocuous before tea, mopped up the lower order with England batsmen coming and going like tube trains at rush hour. Mehedi finished with six for 77 and has been a revelation in this series.There is no mystery about him, just a high level of competence and calmness for a teenager.He bowls at a goodly pace, similar to Moeen Ali’s; he spins the ball vigorously enough; the ball dips naturally in flight and he knows where it is going to land. In this series on pitches that have turned from the start that is all that has been required.

Sometimes the ball spun for him, sometimes it skidded and it was the skidding delivery immediately after tea that defeated Duckett and started the ugly procession.Then Joe Root defended against Shakib and missed a straight ball to be lbw and paralysis set in.Indeed, it became a feature of the innings that England’s batsmen were dismissed when defending rather than attacking the only exceptions being Gary Ballance and Finn,neither of whom are in princely form at the moment.Apart from Ben Stokes, who was bowled by a jubilant and subsequently saluting Shakib,the rest were either lbw or caught around the bat by one of the increasing number of vultures hovering there.Then the celebrations, richly deserved,could commence.

straightforward in the morning when Bangladesh continued to play their shots.For England that session,which began with Bangladesh 128 ahead, was one of frustration and missed opportunities. Four chances,which ranged from the practically impossible (when Steven Finn leapt high at mid-on) to the unmissable (when Duckett dropped an outfield catch that he would have taken 99 times out of 100 in practice), went begging.

It was the hottest, steamiest day of the series and just before lunch England overheated.Sabbir Rahman, not for the first time, found the tourists easy to provoke.Ben Stokes had to have a word or two too many,which would ultimately cost him 15% of his match fee.England were seldom in control of the ball or their temper.

By lunch they had managed four wickets but they had cost 116 runs on a pitch where the ball was still spitting with ominous regularity. Cook put his faith in his spinners, Zafar Ansari and Moeen, who might have made early breakthroughs.

Bangladesh beat England by 108 runs in second Test to draw series.Imrul Kayes offered a sharp chance to Cook at leg-slip off Ansari and another, equally difficult one, to Root at slip off Moeen.All the while the runs were flowing,often from byes  though on this surface Jonny Bairstow probably deserved more sympathy than chastisement. Eventually Kayes swept at Moeen and was lbw for a fine 78 but England were wilting.When Cook turned to Adil Rashid after 90 minutes, it felt like he was turning to his last resort.The runs kept coming but at least wickets fell now,four of them to Rashid, two to Stokes,who ended the series with the staggering figures of 11 for 111 from 48.3 overs.After all this,Stokes is absolutely fundamental to England’s next campaign.

As for Rashid, his rush of wickets is just one source of confusion among many.After two stunning games in Bangladesh, England have no idea what constitutes their best XI in this part of the world.

                                    Rayhan Ahmed Topader

                                    raihan567@yahoo.co.uk

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