| Duncan Fletcher thinks his team, under Michael Vaughan’s captaincy, is developing more options
England have sensibly refrained from too much jubilation after their 329-run thrashing of Bangladesh on Saturday, which lifted them into third place in the ICC’s Test championship table. Everyone knows that, on a scale of cricketing achievements, beating Bangladesh ranks at the bottom end and regaining the Ashes at the top.
Still, there was a welcome touch of ruthlessness about the way the tourists finished the job, needing little more than two-and-half hours on the fourth day to clinch a 2-0 series win. Having beaten Zimbabwe by the same margin in June, England must feel that whitewashes are now back. After 25 years without one, they have now secured two in six months.
Weaned on a diet of one-day junk-food cricket, Bangladesh fell away badly towards the end of both Tests. By Saturday, all Dav Whatmore’s lectures on crease-occupation had been forgotten. “This was a very disappointing match for us,” said Whatmore afterwards, “but now is not the time when we need people to say, ‘you’re terrible’. When you look to improve from a position of weakness, it is never, ever, going to be a straight line upwards. It is how the team handles this sort of situation in the future that will determine how they shape up.”
In the sphere of statistics, at least, Bangladesh were a good deal less accommodating than many had expected. Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan each finished with just over 200 runs in the series, but the main beneficiaries were England’s opening bowlers — all three of them.
Steve Harmison’s nine for 73 in the first Test lifted him to 18th in the world rankings, two ahead of Matthew Hoggard (nine for 204 over the two Tests). And when Harmison’s back went, his replacement, Richard Johnson, completed the equilateral triangle with nine for 93 in Chittagong, not to mention the Man of the Match award.
When you add Martin Saggers to the mix, England have used a full XI of seamers in their last six Tests. As is now the norm in English cricket, most of those changes were forced by injuries. But Duncan Fletcher, England’s coach, chose to accentuate the positives Sunday.
“It’s nice that we’re developing more options,” said Fletcher. “If the guys stay fit we have about four or five bowlers we can use now, and that’s important when you consider the amount of cricket we play. We’d like to be in a similar situation to Australia where they have a workmanlike guy like Andy Bichel sitting in the background in case of injuries.”
The look of the attack is about to change again as England head into a three-match one-day series, starting with a warm-up on Wednesday at Dhaka’s National Stadium. While Hoggard heads for home, Johnson is likely to be joined by James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff, with James Kirtley filling the Bichel ‘background’ role.
Perhaps this form of cricket may prove better suited to the home team’s temperament. But even in the short game, they have claimed just one success over Test-playing opposition, and that was four years ago in a rumour-blighted World Cup match against Pakistan.
According to the then Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s World Cup win was the greatest day in the country’s history. So it is hard to imagine the pandemonium that might follow a home victory over England.
In cricket, as in life, the Bangladeshi people have endured their fair share of setbacks. So deep-rooted are the country’s problems that its medieval nickname Dazaki-i-pur-Niamat — or A hell crammed with blessings — still seems both poetic and apt.