Bangladesh pay the price for negativity
Nobody in their right minds expected this Test series to be competitive, despite the undoubted strides that Bangladesh have made in recent months, but the chasm that opened up on the first day at Chittagong was thoroughly and abjectly depressing.
All tour long, Bangladesh have talked a good talk and they even fought a good fight during the one-dayers, never more impressively than during the second match at Dhaka, when only a super-focussed Eoin Morgan stood between them and an historic result. But today every ounce of bravado deserted them - with the ball, in the field, but most crucially of all, in the demeanours of the two most combative characters in their camp.
Jamie Siddons and Shakib Al Hasan have been up and at England since the very start of the tour. It was Siddons who declared that his team intended to "bite England on the bum" after their decision to give Andrew Strauss a sabbatical, and while Shakib has let his cricket do most of the talking, he hasn't been afraid to sound off when prompted, such as his declaration after Dhaka that Bangladesh were more interested in taking on the big guns of one-day cricket, rather than fret about England's mediocre middle-rankers.
It's been refreshing, to be honest, to hear the small fry talking big, even when what they've been saying hasn't quite stacked up in the final analysis. After all, confidence begets confidence, as Kevin Pietersen knows only too well. But today Bangladesh's words and deeds were completely polarised by the reality that slipped in between them, and nothing reeked more of surrender than their decision to pack their team with spinners, and then bowl first on a shirt-front.
"We thought we knew a bit about the Chittagong wicket, and we thought that it would spin on day one, and get flatter and flatter like it has in the past," said Siddons. "In hindsight it was probably a bad decision." But seeing as England had taken their gift-horse at face value and clattered along to 374 for 3 at the close, hindsight wasn't really the most pressing of their problems.
Of far greater importance would have been a bit of foresight, a bit of conventional wisdom, and a nod to the small matters of pride and body language - all of these factors surely demanded that Bangladesh front up and play the game according to Siddons' often-mentioned "team rules". As they showed at times during the one-dayers, the team has the ability to bat calmly and assuredly against an England attack that, in the coach's own words, had not penetrated them to any great effect. By doing so, they could have set a platform for their spinners to attack.
Of course that policy could easily have gone wrong - it goes without saying, this is Bangladesh and they have a record of L55, W3. But at least by doing so, they might have spared themselves the "what ifs". Instead, the impression was of a team that had pulled its punches (just as they did in this same city when England last visited six years ago) and Siddons looked like the public the face of a broken dressing-room when he fronted up on behalf of his players in the post-match press conference.
On the one hand Siddons blamed the pitch for failing to meet his ambitious expectations - and while it is true that, back in January, India were skittled here for 243 after being asked to bat first (with Shakib claiming 5 for 62), the X-factor in that performance had been Virender Sehwag's dismissal of Bangladesh as "ordinary" and the righteous indignation that his comments had fuelled.
There was no such whiff of cordite in the air today, only the vaguest ripple of interest in a disappointingly sparse crowd, and the team reacted to the atmosphere accordingly, with Shakib's own return a mute 21-2-80-0. That said, it was hardly necessary for Siddons to trot out quite such a list of disclaimers afterwards, as he managed to shrug every ounce of blame onto the shoulders of the boys he professes to be nurturing.
His fast bowlers, he said, "had let the team down"; his left-arm-spinning captain, he said, had been the one who wanted to bowl first ("and I'll be supportive of [him]"), and suddenly his "world-class" four-man spin attack had been downgraded to "two genuine spinners and two part-time offies". As support acts go, it was about as comforting as Duncan Fletcher's declaration that he "wasn't the only selector" on England's disastrous Ashes campaign in 2006-07, except in Siddons' case he didn't bother to couch his criticisms in code.
"Our strength is our spin, so it didn't matter whether we bowled first or second," he added, incongruously. "Our quicks weren't going to be the answer on that pitch, and won't be throughout the game, they won't play a massive part." A statement which begs the question, did they even try to exploit the moisture in the first half-an-hour, or wasn't that even taken into consideration?
"We've probably put ourselves out of the game, which we tend to do a lot on the first day or the first session of a game, unless we bowl terrifically in the morning, and even then we'll have to bat the house down," Siddons concluded. "I expect them to make somewhere around 500, and that's if we bowl well. It's been a difficult day, and only one team can win."
In all honesty, only one team has ever been likely to win this match and this series from the moment the tour began. But as Siddons himself has declared at length all month, his tenure is not about victories, it's about making visible signs of progress. Today, however, Bangladesh were in full retreat before the match referee had retrieved his coin.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.