Bangladesh v England Tests
Bangladesh expose England shortcomings
England narrowly avoided defeat in Chittagong but a similar performance would be brutally exposed by India
Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.
Ben Stokes underlined his growing reputation as the finest allrounder in world cricket with another show-stopping performance on the final day of the first Test against Bangladesh.
However, if England believe it has done anything other than paper over the cracks ahead of the upcoming five-Test series in India, then they are mistaken.
This tour of Bangladesh has been seen by many as a glorified warm-up before the main event of England’s winter begins.
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Yet this emerging nation showed they are a side who should be feared in home conditions after giving Alastair Cook’s side an almighty scare in the closest Test finish since England beat Australia by 12 runs in the opening match of the 2013 Ashes series at Trent Bridge.
England, who were victorious here by 22 runs, did manage to avoid humiliation thanks to two Stokes wickets on the final morning.
Yet similar shortcomings in their performance will be brutally exposed by India.
Two top-order collapses on a spinning pitch might have been terminal to their hopes if it were not for momentum-changing half-centuries in each innings from Moeen Ali and Stokes.
The spinners, too, came up short as a collective despite moments of individual brilliance from Moeen, Adil Rashid and Gareth Batty.
Cook defended his spin trio after this first Test, despite showing little faith in their ability to finish off the job on the final morning.
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Stokes and Stuart Broad were instead entrusted with securing victory, Cook gambling on that pair’s ability to find the reverse swing that they had in the first innings.
That Stokes did – finagling the final two wickets in the space of three balls – justified Cook’s decision.
But the spinners are going to have to step up if England are to remotely stretch India in the five Tests that await.
Moeen had a good Test, scoring 68 in the first innings and looking the most threatening of his side’s spinners as he took five wickets in the match.
However, Batty struggled for long periods despite taking four wickets, while Rashid, the leg-spinner who should eat tail-end batsmen for breakfast, took just three in the entire match.
The Yorkshire leggie is still too prone to bowling loose deliveries and in such a tight contest as this, he could not be trusted.
Cook, though, leapt to the defence of his spinners when saying: "I think they bowled pretty well. It’s a different mentality when the ball spins like that - very quickly the expectation goes onto the spinners - ‘oh you must take wickets.’
“I thought they handled themselves very well. We maybe missed length a little bit too much to be absolutely on it, and maybe let the pressure off, but I genuinely believe they will get better.”
The top order, too, need to improve. Cook, who dashed back to Bangladesh 72 hours before the Test after returning home to attend the birth of his second child, made 16 runs in his England-record 134th Test.
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Debutant Ben Duckett, Joe Root, and Gary Ballance also struggled as England collapsed twice in each innings.
"Scoring however many runs on that wicket was a real credit to us as a side," said Cook. "Not everyone scored runs but it was as tough batting conditions as I can remember, certainly early on and against spin, so to be able to score that number of runs shows that what we’ve been working on as a side over the last two years."
Changes will be made for the second Test in Dhaka, starting on Friday, with Stuart Broad and perhaps Chris Woakes rested ahead of India.
"I’m pretty sure there will be some changes, just due to what we have coming up," Cook said. "In an ideal world we don’t want to get to India with people having not played much cricket."
However, despite England’s shortcomings they won a match in conditions and against a team some other teams around the world – perhaps even Australia – would have lost.
For that they can thank Stokes, whose six wickets and 85 second-innings runs were the difference between the two teams.
"I say it every single time we speak about Ben, the guy is that x-factor cricketer which every side would love to have," said Cook.
"He balances our side, he gives us options, he allows us to play the extra seamer here or an extra spinner, whichever you look at it."
England, though, will need more than just Stokes to be at the top of his game if they are to continue their winning ways on the sub-continent.