March 30, 2017

Batters pick up where bowlers left off

Batters

There was some anxiety leading into this Test match around Bangladesh’s batting because they had not played a Test match for nearly 15 months and they might not have been up to the task against a well-oiled England attack. But on the second day of the first Test at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong yesterday, the batsmen responded with a show of maturity after the bowlers had done the job and bowled out England for 293 in the first hour of play.

Bangladesh reached 221 for five at stumps with Shakib Al Hasan batting on 31 and Shafiul Islam keeping him company as the nightwatchman. Although there were no huge innings or huge partnerships, the innings so far has continued to show that Bangladesh have gotten the strategy right and, for the most part, the execution as well.

The idea was to prepare a spinning pitch that aided their arsenal of spinners, but having done that they needed to ensure that the batsmen were able to negotiate England’s more than capable spin trio of Gareth Batty, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.

The effort, crucially, was led by star opener Tamim Iqbal, who showed what an effect his changed outlook on batting and fitness has had. He played comfortably the best innings on either side, rarely looking troubled by a pitch on which the ball was turning square. His 179-ball 78 was an example to the rest of his teammates that it was possible to stay on this wicket and score runs, but it required exhaustive concentration.

But as much as application and skill, of which there was plenty from the big four of Tamim, Shakib, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah Riyad — it was the attitude that was the most encouraging aspect of Bangladesh’s batting.

Every bad ball the England bowlers bowled was punished and that was crucial on a pitch that could spring a surprise at any moment, like it did when Moeen Ali did in Imrul Kayes and Mominul Haque in a brilliant over before lunch.

But Riyad and Tamim responded to that with a 90-run third-wicket stand in the second session. On a pitch where runs were probably worth twice the number on the scorecard, Riyad’s 38 was priceless but Mushfiqur’s response after tea, which was taken when Riyad fell to Rashid, was even more so.

He came out attacking, but his judgement in picking the right balls to hit was impressive. He played out Rashid’s over but then targeted Ali and hit him for back-to-back boundaries. There was even a reverse sweep employed off Batty late in the day.

Shakib, who came in after Tamim was dismissed, did much the same. Along with Mushfiqur, he ran aggressively between the wickets and in the 61st over, characteristically rubbished talks of a spinning wicket by charging down the track and hitting Batty against the spin for a straight, lofted boundary. England at one point operated without any slips as they tried to stem the flow of runs, but the hosts were not about to accommodate that wish.

The job is nowhere near done, with Mushfiqur’s dismissal near the end of play bringing England right back into the game. But as they have shown throughout the day, Bangladesh in this Test have the wherewithal to bounce back from setbacks, which should be a source of optimism as they try to take the lead today.

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