(Photo: Action Images)
By Harvey Burgess
Embarrassing. Shambolic. Disastrous. All words you might associate with England’s national football team, however it seems the country’s cricketers have taken on similar attributes to their much-maligned peers.
England lost a Test match to Bangladesh for the very first time, and that does not even tell the whole story of the touring side’s ineptitude. In the end, a convincing 108-run victory for the hosts was well deserved after England had collapsed from 100-0 to 164 all out in a performance bearing a faint resemblance to the football side’s defeat to Iceland in Euro 2016.
Alistair Cook blamed inexperience for the loss, however there is more to it than that. The away side’s inability to play against spin – the teenage spinner Mehedi Hasan for example, took 19 wickets in the series – looks particularly concerning given they come up against India, the world number one Test side, in just over a week’s time.
It is worth remembering too, that India can boast two of the world’s best spinners in Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, who will no doubt relish the opportunity to bowl against such an out-of-form side in the lead-up to the first Test in Rajkot.
On the other hand, Captain Cook will surely be wondering how on earth his side will be able to cope with five Tests in just under six weeks, especially considering his XI do not have the luxury of a warm-up game in India to prepare.
The one positive to come out of that final innings was the aggressive and assured performance of Ben Duckett, who scored 56 in a partnership of 100 with the captain. There was very little else to cheer. Gary Ballance once again underperformed, further provoking criticism of his place in the side. Were the selectors to be brave enough to change the side before next week, either Jos Buttler or Haseeb Hameed will get their chance in place of Ballance.
It must be noted too that England had rested Stuart Broad and were without James Anderson again, with Steven Finn bowling just 10 overs in the match without anything to show for it. Woakes was only given one more over than Finn to show his worth and admittedly impressed in the first innings, taking three wickets for the loss of just 30 runs.
However Woakes also impressed with the bat, putting on a very respectable ninth-wicket partnership of 99 with Adil Rashid to help England to 244 all out and a first innings lead of 24. If it weren’t for that stand, it may well have all been over within two days.
Zafar Ansari, the debutant spinner who had replaced Gareth Batty after the first Test, improved greatly in the second innings and took two important scalps in captain Tamim Iqbal and Mahmadullah. However, none of the bowlers were helped out by some unexpectedly slack fielding, an issue that coach Trevor Bayliss will be looking to rectify as soon as possible.
A total of four dropped catches in Bangladesh’s second innings indicated that perhaps the touring team were feeling the pressure a little. These kind of missed opportunities will need to be taken if England are to avoid a humiliating series defeat in India.
Cook said of the target they were set: “I don’t think we should have been chasing 270. We bowled OK but there were chances that we needed to take.” He still would have been surprised at how England fell to pieces so astonishingly after tea on the third day. 22.5 overs was all it took for Hasan and Shakib Al Hasan to tear through the opposition’s batsmen with considerable ease.
Trevor Bayliss has much work to do in the next week, however the lack of experience in the subcontinent that Cook alluded to is a problem that clearly cannot be solved overnight. A change to the line-up is almost inevitable, however Hameed and Buttler barely have any experience between them, having played 0 and 15 Tests respectively, while James Anderson is definitely out of the first Test and will find out this week whether he will be available for any part of the India tour.
A Twitter poll suggests that England fans would especially like to see Hameed in the side and after yesterday’s performance, their wish is increasingly likely to be fulfilled. Here’s hoping that England – and James Anderson – can recover, improve and provide India with a competitive match in Rajkot next week.